Advofeste 2016: Uncovering Hidden Communities

By Carman Chew (17A01D)

Why is advocacy important? It is simply because advocacy is the first step to making a positive change in the systems and mindsets that perpetuate social problems.

This was a message that definitely reverberated throughout Advofeste, an outreach event organised by the J1 batch of Community Advocates (CA). The week-long event was held from the 21st to the 24th of November and attracted a diverse range of participants: those curious about social issues, others who just wanted to support their friends, and even guests from Alsagoff Arab School.

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Participants looking at write-ups of some of the migrant workers

Advocacy week kicked off with the informative booths stationed just outside the canteen. There, CA members fervently shared about their 3 causes: migrant workers welfare, mental health advocacy and equalising income inequality. Besides providing information on these local issues, the booths also gave students the opportunity to contribute in small ways such as making stationery packs for the children from REACH or folding stars for IMH patients.

One of the participants, Sadia Tasneem (17A03A), commented that despite these being seemingly small actions, “you can do so much for the community, like putting a smile on one person’s face is actually a lot that you can do and that makes me really warm and happy inside”.

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Some of the stars the participants folded for the IMH patients

The pinnacle of the event was on Thursday, where participants signed up to meet advocates from the various organisations for dialogue sessions and a workshop. The first section, the Human Library, allowed participants to meet advocates and hear firsthand the stories of struggle, hope and even love. Not only were the speakers full of passion, but they also provided constructive ways in which the layman could be more involved in advocacy and volunteering.

Of the many stories, there were a few that stood out for this author:

Dissatisfied with just learning facts on a page, Ms Shona Loong joined TWC2 as a public outreach volunteer to get more involved in what she was learning about in university. During the dialogue, she shared about a range of difficulties that migrant workers face, including salary conflicts and the long list of problems that come with accidents at work. One of the prominent points she raised was that “the system is stacked against migrant workers and by being more involved and aware of these issues, this would create a movement necessary for policy change”.

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Ms Shona Loong from TWC2 sharing about the plight of migrant workers

From REACH family services, there was the bubbly Ms Michelle Goh. Apart from sharing about her job as a Community Partnership Executive or ‘kaypoh warrior’, she emphasized the importance of face-to-face communication instead of being overly dependent on technology. She reminded participants of the need to be brave and approach people, saying that “when we see someone who looks like they’re a bit out of sorts, then we should really go and ask because there’s still a lot of stigma in asking for help, but it’s not okay to be suffering alone.”

Another memorable speaker was Mr Raymond Anthony Fernando, a volunteer at IMH. He shared about his 37-year journey caring for his wife Doris, who suffered from schizophrenia since she was seventeen. Using this heartfelt story, he highlighted the importance of recognising the signs of mental illness as well as recognising their strengths despite the disability.

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Mr Fernando showing participants a montage he made of his journey with his wife, Doris

Following the Human library activity, the participants then went on to join one of the 4 workshops available, where they engaged in activities with the stakeholders of the numerous organisations.

Held in the seminar room, was Mental Chat. Participants were informed of the prevalence of mental health and the media’s inaccurate portrayals of mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and ADHD. They then got to experience a simulation of what it’s like to have ADHD where distraction after distraction was hurled at them while attempting to read a passage.

In the ‘Artstronomy’ section, Astronomy Club’s presentation on the wonders of our solar system was met with gleeful responses from the children from the REACH family services, who screamed out the names of planets whenever they could recognise them. Participants then went on to join the children in creating their own planets out of paper-mache balloons with paint, stickers and even glitter — though most of which ended up on the participants.

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Madrasah students helping to steady the balloon as the child paints her planet

If you thought the children would be noisy, there were even more delighted squeals as the seasoned domestic workers from HOME were up against the competitive Rafflesians in traditional Bangladeshi board games like carrom and ludo. After a series of thrilling matches, both the participants and domestic workers declared a truce and went on a mini adventure to explore RIB Chill, enjoying ice cream, donuts and group photos together.

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A domestic worker hoping to win in an intense game of carrom

In contrast to the two other rooms, those in the communal sewing activity were wholly immersed in the piece of work. Ms Pixin’s from Pix-made Objects conducted an activity called ‘My Thread, My Word’, where people come together to sew on a piece of fabric that she brings from location to location. Despite how challenging sewing might sound, it was indeed a  fun and fulfilling capturing memories on the fabric; one worker came out of the room beaming, telling others excitedly that she had sewn the sun on the cloth.

Knowing about the many social issues in Singapore is one thing, but understanding them is another. Personally, this author had learnt more about the specific problems that the communities face and although just being aware of these problems might not seem helpful, awareness is that pivotal first step to create change in society.

Overall, Advofeste was undoubtedly a meaningful experience which opened eyes to the many hidden social issues in Singapore. The event was also met with praise from stakeholders who called the event a “well-organised” one and a “good platform to get the students more involved and aware”. Should you want to find out more about these causes or be involved in CA’s upcoming activities, you can follow their blog here.

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