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Tak Takut Kids club: Holding (Safe) Space

Marc Nair

It is Friday evening in Boon Lay. People are hurrying home for dinner, tired after another week at work. Most pass by the common corridor with barely a glance into the two units that are occupied by Tak Takut Kids Club (TTKC).

This evening is particularly busy. In the maker space, lovingly called Big TTKC, a table filled with youth of various ages are carefully cutting out paper masks from a template. The masks are roughly feline in nature. They’ll start colouring and painting on them when they’re done.


The makerspace takes on the layout of an old 2-bedroom flat. The TTKC community uses the space like a large family would in a small space, always making space for the individual while co-existing. Separated by a tall storage shelf, the ‘costume department’ is rattling away at the sewing machine. Tonight, it’s about making adjustments to a cosplay costume.


A few doors away, past a clinic and a laundromat, is the community kitchen. Amanda, a volunteer, is showing youth how to cut slabs of cheese to coat with breadcrumbs before dipping them in a frying pan to make cheese balls. The youth suggest food that they would like to cook weekly with Amanda when she comes on a Friday.



Just outside, Ziv is on a ladder, tacking up a large cloth to create a makeshift projector screen. He has just finished a dance mentoring session with a youth and is setting up for ‘Just Dance!’, a Nintendo Switch game. Since 2019, the game console has been the first ‘facilitator’ to have brought dance to TTKC.

Walk a little further past the playground and Jimmy, TTKC’s beloved community artist, is pulling a sheet taut between two trees and back-lighting it with a small spotlight that’s been rigged from multiple extension cords.



This evening’s entertainment is shadow puppets. A small crowd gathers to watch when it gets dark. The players move the hand-cut puppets about. There’s no script, so everything is improvised. But it isn’t about putting on a show with a story, it’s about the experience of watching shapes come alive in the dark, of capturing a kind of magic, something only fleetingly felt in camping trips or other in-between spaces. It is about possibilities.

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Introduction

Tak Takut Kids Club (TTKC) is a community building and development programme by 3Pumpkins. Located at the foot of a rental block in Boon Lay, it is a safe and attractive environment to engage with youth and children, facilitating a space where they can express themselves and feel accepted. With better understanding of the individual and their communities, TTKC designs participatory programmes to benefit one or more areas of the mentee’s development. Because of the trusting relationships that develop over time, TTKC finds itself to be in the unique position of supporting casework and group work in times of crisis.

Currently, TTKC engages with about 110 youth on a regular basis and works with Comlink@Jurong West, social service agencies, schools, community and corporate organisations and various programme partners. While membership to the centre is open to all children and youth residing in the vicinity, the key objective is to identify and deliver support to children and youth who, for various reasons, fall through the cracks of adequate guidance and care.

Safe Spaces

What is a safe space? The Macmillan Dictionary defines it as “a place where everyone can feel comfortable about expressing their identity without fear of discrimination or attack.”

This space, for TTKC, is both in-person and online. The latter emerged as another space over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitating a platform to carry on connecting with youth and volunteers when physical spaces were not able to be accessed.

Safe spaces allow people to feel supported and respected. They offer a refuge from unsolicited opinions and engender a site of physical, mental and emotional safety. This is important for minorities and other marginalised groups. And in the case of TTKC, youth are drawn to the space because it is not just a place to escape to, but also a site of growth, which embodies the English translation of ‘Tak Takut’, a Malay phrase that means ‘not afraid.’

Here are two examples of why TTKC is so important for the youth:

Scenario 1

M, an 11-year old boy, would continually pick on another TTKC child, J, putting her down and belittling her due to her inability to read. This carried on for a while and resulted in J having a breakdown. Coupled with several incidents where M had caused hurt to other children either physically or emotionally, he was deemed to have violated the ethics of a safe space. As an intervention, he was spoken to privately and asked to recall a list of aggressions displayed to others and to make amends. He was not allowed to have access to TTKC as a social space until he displayed better self-regulation, however, he was allowed to continue attending a workshop as he performed well in it. His mentor in another youth agency was also contacted to understand the cause of his behaviour so that personalised counselling could be provided as well.

Scenario 2

When L, 14, one of the more gregarious kids at TTKC, first came to the community, he displayed wonderful people skills and the aptitude to learn. As he began to drop in more often to cook meals, it was discovered that he wasn’t attending school regularly and found comfort working at MacDonald’s three days a week. With more understanding about his personal and relational strengths and difficulties, TTKC facilitates conversations with the school disciplinary team, industry partners and especially L himself, with the hope to connect him to an arrangement that will further develop his potential.

The time and energy set aside for such personalised outreach and developmental work is something that would not be conceivable, or possible, in the mainstream school system. TTKC provides a flexible space to engage youth who come with a whole spectrum of needs.

Numerous practical and artistic programmes run by TTKC staff and a small, dedicated group of volunteers help to keep the youth engaged Tuesdays through Saturday afternoons and evenings. In every intervention that is made, the governing question is: what do the youth need? There is never any one answer, as each child presents various needs and these often change on a raft of circumstances, some unplanned for.

Organic Play


The element of play is written into many of the programmes at TTKC. “Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well-being of individuals and communities” (Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group, 2005, online). For TTKC youth, play is “an opportunity for youth to resist pre-determined goals and ends, learn to tolerate uncertainty, and welcome diversity” (Chung & Nitecki, 2016, p. 26). A safe space such as TTKC nurtures and protects the youth’s right to imagine, to play and to learn, where “new meanings can be tested and new relationships tried out before they are applied in the real world’ (Lumsden, 2000, p. 263). The kind of learning that takes place at TTKC can best be described as organic. It manifests in the various programmes that have been developed by Lin Shiyun, the executive director of TTKC, and her team. Here is the current roster of outreach and developmental programmes that TTKC offers to youth:

​Day

Theme

Exploration

Tuesday

Social

​- Holding open space for socialisation and youth-led activities

- Community Composting

Wednesday

Fantasy Play

- Various performative explorations to put together "The Ting!" Getai Show (working title)

Thursday

Socially-Engaged Play

Outdoor Play

- Townhall Meetings, Podcast Community Kitchen (working title)

- Outdoor play to engage younger children

​Friday

Visual Arts Play

Dance

- Playing with various visual art mediums

- Street dance/movement work outdoors

Saturday

Movie-screening

Social

​- Curated movies to increase attention-span and literacy

- Open space

Fig 1. TTKC Outreach and developmental Programmes

Not all programmes are developed simultaneously. Some, like composting, reflect the desire of the centre to inculcate an awareness and love for