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a journey in strengthening communities

This is a speech by 3Pumpkins’ founder, Lin Shiyun, at the launch of the Singapore Government Partnerships Office (SGPO) on 19 January 2024. In this presentation, Shiyun tells the story of how 3Pumpkins’ flagship community development project, Tak Takut Kids Club, came about and how partnerships with the government agencies have helped propel the work forward. The delivered speech was slightly shorter due to time constrains. Shiyun would like to thank the SGPO team - Dawn, Gladys, Jeffery, Piao and Mervin - for inviting and supporting her in this presentation. 

[From left to right] Dawn Yip (Coordinating Director, MCCY), Shiyun, Minister Edwin Tong, DPM Lawrence Wong, and Yasser Amin (Chief Stridy Officer). Photo courtesy of Singapore Government Partnership Office.

Good morning DPM Lawrence Wong, Minister Edwin Tong, and distinguished guests. My name is Shiyun. I am the founder of 3Pumpkins, a community development organisation. Many people have asked me why ‘3Pumpkins’? The name is actually inspired by a Chinese parable ‘Three Monks’. 

The story of Three Monk is a story of human irony. A monk fetches two buckets of water from the river to the temple every day. When a second monk came, they tried to work together but began to quarrel, spilling one bucket of water. Two monks could only manage to fetch one bucket of water. When the third monk joined, they quarrelled even more. Three monks ended up fetching no water. 

The story highlights the human irony of ‘less work done when more hands are on deck’. The good news, however, is that when the three monks eventually worked together, they were able to save a temple from burning down. [Shanghai Animation Film Studio (SAFS) made an excellent animation film of this story in 1981]

I named our organisation 3Pumpkins because I see the work required in strengthening human connections to achieve many good outcomes. 3Pumpkins is about building supportive communities,  It’s not really about selling pumpkins. Why is it called pumpkins? Because my son then was obsessed with pumpkins, and I thought the name was fun and catchy for people to remember.  

Toa Payoh Lorong 1, 2016

In 2016, I felt a calling. I became curious to find out more about children living in the rental flats. I wanted to understand their environment. I didn’t want to engage them through the filter of a programming lens, so I tagged along a single mothers’ group which was giving out food rations in Toa Payoh. I simply brought art materials and met the children where they were - at the playground. Through the weekly interactions I gained better understanding of the children. 

I learnt that the poverty most keenly felt by the children is actually relational. Children from vulnerable backgrounds often experience disrupted relationships at home, with caregivers navigating different phases of finding stability. This, in turn, can lead to a spectrum of behavioural challenges that affect their relationships in school. 

Let’s consider it from a child’s point of view: If I am unable to find connections at home or at school, where do I go? We are talking about children who may not have internet access at home, so they go out to the streets. What I observed on the street was a situation where children and their role models, the older youth who share similar backgrounds, were trapped in a perpetuating cycle of hostile communications, patterns of dysregulation, and misguided information. 

I thought to myself, as a member of the public, I am not able to enter the home or school environment. What can I do? I believed that something can definitely be done in the community space, where the children actually spend a lot of time. We could bring in more people to be present in this space: to introduce different ways of talking, different ways of resolving problems, and whole new worlds. So I gathered friends and volunteers to play with the children week on week. I tried this approach in Toa Payoh, Lengkok Bahru, and Boon Lay and it went on for 3 years. The programme was called “Let’s Go Play Outside!”. 

[Top left] Children role play the story of Sang Nila Utama discovering Singapura, supported by sports and yoga trainer Balakhrisnan Matchap, artist Marla Bendini and Regina Foo. Toa Payoh, 2017

[Top right] Residents gather around a street performance by Roy Payamal. Toa Payoh, 2018

[Bottom left] Children are brought together to be engaged in a string game, facilitated by Shiyun. Lengkok Bahru, 2019

[Bottom Right] Comunity action puppet performance, The Rubbish Prince, was produced by 3Pumpkins and brought to the three locations of 'Let's Go PLay OutSide!'.

In the late 1980s, there was a singer-songwriter, Tracy Chapman, who wrote a song called “Fast Car”. The song received three Grammy Award nominations. The song is about a young lady who was struggling to break out of a poverty cycle. Chapman wrote two lines describing the feelings of the young lady as she sat in the moving car:

“I had a feeling that I belonged; 

I had feeling I could be someone, be someone be someone.” 

My time with the children over the years taught me the same thing. They crave for a sense of belonging, and a sense of self-actualisation - basic psychological needs. I knew that the weekly playground programme was building a community to meet, but it could not do more to build a foster a sense of belonging and self-actualisation for the children. In fact, any programme that comes in and out weekly to ‘service’ the community or act as a ‘drop in centre’ stems from a very different assessment of what the children need.  It has to be something more empowering, something like a community club co-created with the children. 

I had a chat with the coffeeshop owner in Lengkok Bahru about my idea. Surprisingly, he said I could use half of his fruit shop to try this social experiment. So, I used it to engage children. 

Half the fruit shop was used as a pinhole photography lab. Children were also encouraged to hang out and do art and craft that they enjoyed. Lengkok Bahru, 2020.

In the 2-month experiment, not only children come, but also the families, other residents, and the seniors. The seniors came mainly for the fruits, as we were giving out fruits as well. The experiment, although short-lived, showed me that a local children’s club could pull in its local stakeholders to build a friendly community that cares for children. I then took this model and implemented it in Boon Lay, where I rented a half shop space from a laundromat and officially started Tak Takut Kids Club. Tak Takut means “No Fear” in Malay.

Tak Takut Kids Club, Boon Lay, 2019

Tak Takut Kids Club, or TTKC for short, was set up in 2019. As we all recall, Covid hit hard in 2020. Ironically, it was during this time where many ground-up organisations like mine were able to interface more directly with the government. The first government figure I met was Minister Desmond Lee, at the Emerging Stronger Conversation. I raised the issue of making better utilisation of shophouse spaces in the older HDB estate with more lower-income households to enhance social support. Coincidently, Minister Desmond Lee later became the MP of Boon Lay and minister-in-charge of integrated social services. He visited TTKC and helped us appeal to HDB to acquire a bigger space. We have also been able to have conversations on how we can strengthen social safety net, even up to now. 

During that time, the Resilience and Engagement division of MCCY (Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) came down to TTKC as well. The team saw the potential of TTKC partnering with MSF (Ministry of Social and Family Development) to complement the social service landscape. With MCCY support, we then entered a 3-year partnership with Comlink@Jurong West to experiment in creating workflows between the informal and formal care systems. This also led to 3Pumpkins having dedicated social work-trained staff to strengthen our lens and capability in intervention work. In late 2022, TTKC took up a grant from MOHT (Ministry of Health Office of Healthcare Transformation) to explore building health movements with the community. With these close encounters with the government, our community development work certainly went into an overdrive mode. 

[Top Left] The community gathers through a participatory art activity, I Draw You You Draw Me. Boon Lay, 2021

[Top Right] Community getai, an open mic talent show, is a weekly affair at the TTKC art studio. Boon Lay, 2022

[Bottom Left] Children learn about food sources in TTKC community garden, through the 'Better Eat Better' programme. Boon Lay, 2023

[Bottom Right] TTKC end-of-year party, where children, families, residents, volunteers, and various stakeholders come together as a big family. Can you spot Minister Desmond Lee? Boon Lay, 2023.

TTKC takes on a child-centric, community development approach. In essence, we are creating an environment that enables a child to be socially connected, practise better autonomy, and pick up competence of essential lifeskill through social learning. Change the environment, and we change the people. Because of this approach, we are able to observe and push for outcomes in different domains that matter to a child: safety, social integration, social support, health and education. However, because of this, we face a very unique challenge. TTKC does not neatly fit into any sector or sector guidelines. This prove to be challenging for long-term sustainability. 

When I first heard of the Singapore Government Partnership office, my reaction was “Oh, someone got the memo!”  I am happy that there is willingness to listen more to people on the ground and fix the disconnect in the system. My second reaction was “But how can we do this?” Because I fully empathise the problem. On one hand, we have a system that needs outcome metrics to be accountable; on the other hand, human-centric work, in my opinion, needs to be scrutinised and evaluated for its processes for it to be meaningful and successful.

The Singapore Government Partnership Office told me that this seems to be the exact problem that they would like to journey with me to iron out with the different agencies. This is not going to be a straightforward journey, but I am hopeful. So I look forward to more dialogues with our ministries, institutions, foundations and of course, the community themselves - the public, private and people sectors - on how we can relook, rethink, and re-evaluate the work of uplifting children and their families. 

Thank you. 

Group shot at the Singapore Government Partnership Office launch with DPM Lawrence Wong and Min Edwin Tong. Photo courtesy of Singapore Government Partnerships Office.


The Straits Times: New partnerships office launched to broaden and deepen Government-citizen partnership

Channel News Asia Report featuring TTKC and interview with Shiyun

8 World featuring TTKC and interview with Shiyun

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