The HDB Community Building Seminar has spark off many participants’ passion to serve and connect with the community and at the same time left many provoking thoughts as the seminar came to an end. The entire seminar focused on using the concept of ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) to build strong relationships in a community. It encourages and promotes a bottom up approach, a long and continuous process of discovering the care and concern of the people in the community, and finding and promoting good social connectors to bring people with different interests and concerns together to tap on each other’s assets, to fully utilized what is available in each community to build about a stronger bond between members of the community. On the second day of the seminar, a community walk was conducted to allow participants to come into contact with the community assets. There are many assets in the estate of Toa Payoh, in particular, two assets that reflect a strong bond between members of the estate left a deep impression on me personally.

The first asset that struck me during the walk was the old convenience shop under a rental block. Old conveniences shop like these are available under older HDB blocks and occupied part of the void deck spaces, they are not air-conditioned, and sell a variety of provisions, just like our modern day 7-Eleven stores. Goods are not only arranged in the boundary of the shop, they actually spilled out onto the walkways, aligned neatly. Local residents make use of these shops and these shops are relatively self-sufficient. Shopkeepers are familiar with the residents that frequent the shop, and over time develop a deep relationship. Few shops away, a new convenience shop started operating few months ago, although the shop does not belong to a large chain of minimarts, and the goods are relatively cheap, the older traditional convenience shop still win most customers over this shop. The secret behind the success of this traditional business is the familiarity of the customers with the shopkeeper and the availability of credit system that this shop offers. The old or needy in this rental block could easily get goods from this traditional shop and pay at a later time or offer some services back in return for the goods. The trust between the customers and the shopkeeper is what keeps the business running and is the very essence of the basis of building of the community. This kind of intangible yet crucial relationship in building bonds in a community is certainly not seen or felt when compared to the modern day minimart setting.

Another interesting and valuable asset introduced during the walk was the usage of the void deck for informal business. Uncle Ang, a cobbler, has been there mending shoes for a good number of years under a block’s void deck. What is interesting is that he actually has a license to operate in the void deck, unlike many informal businesses that is operating in void decks in other neighbourhood. The reason behind this is cause the residents develop a strong tie and deep relationship with him over the years, not only is his service cheap, he also offers good craftsmanship, other than this, the kids love him and enjoy times with him when parents drop them off with Uncle Ang while they run some quick errands. These are the reason why he gets to operate a business free from rental in the void deck. There are many informal businesses that tried to operate in void decks but never succeed. The difference is the acceptance and recognition of this person as an asset to the community, instead of viewing him and his informal business as unsightly and invaluable. This is only possible through the acceptance and compromise of the whole community.

With the passing of time and increasing modernization, rising competitions from new modern businesses, traditional shops and trades definitely will suffer a blow and threaten the survival of many of such. However, we need to recognize their value of existence not only measurable in monetary terms, but also in how they help to build a strong sense of community unconsciously and involuntarily. And with this then could we help to stop the disappearance of these valuable assets in our community.

This seminar is definitely not an end but a start to bring communities together, to open our minds and hearts to listen to what the very people who made up a community have to say about their living environment and how to improve upon it. What is most important is to start, start initiating conversations, start listening, start connecting, start serving, as with every small effort will add up to a big success.



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