Updated: Mar 21
By Ziv Oh
Edited by Lin Shiyun
Interview supported by Cheryl Gan
Amanda and Megan are a pair of fresh graduates who have been volunteering regularly at Tak Takut Kids Club (TTKC) since mid-2020. Both armed with a background in the arts, the centre’s process-based and relational approach has constantly piqued their curiosity. In this interview facilitated by Cheryl and Ziv, they share their experiences in forging relationships and co-creating with the community, and what TTKC means to them in their current adulting phase.
Amanda (left) and Megan (right) at a birthday celebration at TTKC, with a home-made cake brought by Megan.
Ziv: How old are you guys and what phase in life would you consider yourself in now?
Amanda: I’m Amanda, I’m 26 this year, and I’m a fresh graduate from BA Fine Arts in Lasalle College of the Arts. (At this stage of my life) I am trying to… figure out how to work, and then earn a wage from it. Now, I do find fulfilment from my job, but at the same time, I actually miss the liberty as a full-time student to pursue whatever it is that you are specialising in, so I’m trying to do both concurrently.
Megan: I’m Megan. I am 25 this year. I just graduated from SMU Bachelor of Business Management, Double major in Arts & Culture Management & marketing. Which phase of life am I at? I’m in a phase where I'm very confused and paranoid about a lot of things.... comprehending a lot more things, and constantly questioning my principles and whether or not I will be truly happy.… (laughs) All I know is that I have to try.
Ziv: How did you guys find out about TTKC and what brought you guys here?
Amanda: I only heard about TTKC during my internship period. We had to find a placement. What really drew me to it was how I have not seen something like that in the arts sector before, especially in Singapore. It’s a place that people find so hard to define. It is unlike an arts school, unlike the community centres that we’re used to, it’s unlike any other community space that I know. I just wanted to see what it is.
Megan: I came here when TTKC wasn’t really a thing yet. I got to know Shiyun previously in a Lengkok Bahru Placemaking project (Seeing the Obvious, 2020). Then she asked me whether I would like to come here on a weekly basis. I had an interest in equity, as well as access to the arts, particularly for children. Also because this is situated in a rental flat community, I said yes. Back then, I did a weekly tea time session. We would have random kids dropping by wanting to have tea. And when they have tea, they start to talk, and you don’t even have to probe. Conversations build a safe space for them to realise that there are certain things that they can talk about without judgements. But sometimes conversations can go a bit into uncharted territory, and you wonder how much you should intervene as well.
Ziv: During this journey when you tried to integrate into the community in TTKC, did you have challenges?
Megan: Of course! After Covid happened, I started to get busy with things in school, as well as external projects, so I was a bit dormant at TTKC. When at first you appear regularly, then suddenly you don’t, obviously the kids’ interactions in their relationships would have evolved when you’re not around. All of a sudden, I came back from like engaging 15 kids to like… 50… (everyone laughs)
The bustling scene of 'I draw you, you draw me', an online drawing event presented at the International Community Arts Festival. Amanda and Megan volunteered as the backstage heroes keeping the community engaged.
That actually tells you a lot about community work, which is all about the embeddedness. It’s all about needing to be there to facilitate very intensely, and that's the ethicalities that come with community engagement work. I have actually seen a lot of projects that were transient, touch-and-go, and they think it's a form of placemaking, which is, unfortunately, a term that is very loosely used. So the challenge is really that: if you’re not embedded within the community, you’re never going to form the relationship needed to build trust with the people, in the particular space. It’s not going to work, and then you will just fade out.
Amanda: I think I add on a bit to Megan’s sharing. TTKC gave me this chance to be involved in community-centric work that is unlike others I participated in like home refurnishing projects or food distribution... It's really spending time here. Time is the non-negotiable factor. When I was here, Farez was the one who guided me, and I was greatly influenced by him, out of many others as well. The first step to integrating into this community was to observe, to know the people here, and figure out what we can help them with, or what we are here for, as the foreign person in this place.
Amanda investigating an injured moth with the kids.
The children starting to call me ‘Teacher’ was one of the initial signposts of my adaptation efforts, to get used to being called a teacher… It’s quite funny because every time it happened I took it as an unsolicited existential crisis, like “Teacher? Why are you calling me that?” (laughs) I am not a teacher. Now, I think the journey for me has been trying to find out how to grow relationships with the people that we are coming in touch with.
Ziv: I too struggled with the teacher part at first...I used to let some of the youth and tweens call me Ziv, but recently, I only felt a greater clarity on being called a “teacher”. How do y’all define your roles in TTKC and how has it evolved over time?
Amanda: I think because of my interest in documenting— especially when it concerns records like photos, even anecdotes and all—I would like to organise files, keep these according to date, and highlight events of significance that happened. I like to know of these things in this community, in this space.
Ziv: you have been documenting- and it becomes a library. You’re a librarian. A community librarian!
Amanda: Ohhhhhh yeahh (laughs).... At this stage, I also want to know more about the adults, like the older people, caretakers of the children, or people who are just… watching from the periphery and are curious about TTKC. I think now I have the capacity to engage with them more.
Can Do Cooking Club: “What shall we make?” Wishlist as discussed by the children and youth.
Cheryl: How about your role in the kitchen, which you recently took up after more than a year? How has that been going for you?
Amanda: Being in the kitchen was an avenue for me to be more proactive with the activities. It started out as me being the instructor, but now, it has moved into a more collaborative thing. It’s a different focus when I have all the ingredients ready and tasks set, versus when all of them are here and then we make decisions together. These two modes elicit differing levels of investment from them. I like where this is going now, because fun and unpredictable things happen when everyone’s here doing their own thing. That’s the spirit of a programme like that. We play and discover things together, and I’m constantly impressed by their aptitude.
Megan: My role? I think my role has always been like the aunty who just comes here and hangs out lah.
Amanda: (laughs) Isn’t that everyone?
Megan: I don’t specifically think about what I want to do before I come here, other than the fact that there’s more washing to do (everyone laughs), because we have a TTKC kitchen. I think that the kitchen was a very significant & strategic move because we are trying to connect to the kids here in their everyday life. And I know that there are some children here that are not getting the nutrition that they need...all of a sudden this place becomes a dinner place for so many people… yeah, if I come, I’m going to make sure that there is something cooking...
Because I have been coming regularly the past few months, that (relationship) has also made me realise that, like what Amanda said, there’s a possible way to co-create with the kids here. For example, when YX randomly texted me about a math question, then after that I asked her, “I'm coming tomorrow, what should I bake?” And then I think she went to ask Amanda what should I bake, then I gave YX a list of things which she shared with Amanda, and Amanda chose one among the list of things and it came back to me (laughs) and I –
Cheryl: Wow collaboration! (laughs)
Ziv: It literally went full circle. (laughs)
Megan: –And then when I came, right, it wasn’t even YX (participating in the making)!
Ziv: Ya! It was H and C, but it was so memorable!
Megan: Yeah, so I was actually looking for stuff in the kitchen, then C wondered what I was doing. I was like, “I’m baking chocolate chip cookies” and she was like, “can I bake?” and I was like, “yea yea sure but need to buy ingredients” and then H came in like, “teacher what you doing?” (everyone laughs)
I think I was very confused by the fact that I brought both of them to NTUC and observed how they both interacted with each other. These two rarely hung out together, but they looked like they have been friends for like 20 years (everyone laughs). They were pushing each other, and everyone went out of the supermarket holding a mini bottle of chocolate milk.
Cheryl: Awwww I think they love that.
Megan: And one guards the eggs, the other guards the chocolate chips.
Ziv: Yea it’s interesting because we never see them interact with each other.
Megan: I would much rather have a process like that with the kids from start to end, than to come in with everything all ready, then bake it. Because that would lose the purpose as to why we do this in the first place. I’m very proud of them for doing this from start to finish. One of the problems we identify within the community is that the kids tend to lose focus very easily, and that their distraction is always a problem. For them to focus, and to really wanna do something is incredible. . Yeah, so, when let’s say anything special happens, it happens lah. You cannot force it to happen one lah. You can’t always expect magic happening 100% of the time you’re coming here.
Ziv: Yeah… and when the magic comes, it’s just… chef’s kiss.
A TTKC youth all wrapped up frying DIY cheese sticks under Amanda's guidance.
Megan going through a proper hand-washing routine with the children.
Megan: Yeah, I do hope to continue engaging. I think I have always told Shiyun this, I would still always want to continue my relationship with TTKC, yeah, I think it’s very precious lah.
Ziv: What are your motivations for coming back to TTKC?
Megan: When I came in, it was very much a personal agency of sorts, that there might be a chance to do something for a community. But I think that it is to actually re-frame and not look at any community with a sympathetic eye, but at its own uniqueness. As someone who’s in arts management, it wasn’t until very recently that I understand what is meant by “process-based” work. There has to be a certain trust within the process, and there have to be certain kinds of strategies. So from how Shiyun started TTKC by coming out with money with Zai from their own pocket to fund the space, to now having a 3-year partnership with the MFS (Ministry of Social and Family Development)… by strategically shifting the agency that governs the work, it is actually crazy. Like nobody would have ever thought of it, or maybe they did but it’s very high risk. And I find that she is actually the kind of trailblazer that needs to exist. So for me, it was actually about witnessing this entire process and modes of intervention, whether it is organic or intentional programming. I’m really here to witness what it really means by community engagement. And I don’t think that in Singapore, we have a space like that at all.
Amanda: To study it lah.
Megan: Yeah I find so much value in this work, that I am willing to see how much I can contribute to keep this work going. I don’t have money, sorry, but maybe next time, when I win TOTO or something (laughs).
Amanda: I concur with Megan about wanting to witness the life of this space. How is it possible that you can have a community space that encapsulates the dynamism of the lives of the people around here, yet at the same time are able to keep track of goals and aims as an organisation, and of the various stakeholders? I guess it’s like a case study, to see how everything feels so effortless and natural. Nothing feels forced or contrived. But what exactly goes into the planning to be able to enable something like that?
Another motivation that keeps me coming back, a big part of it, is to be an audience, and at the same time, an agent in the network of relationships here. It made so much sense when I started to realise that this place is the existence of many interconnecting relationships and paths that unfold every day, and on any one day of being here I’m just looking into one window of it. To keep coming back here is to see how relationships morph amidst this community, and to live within the stories that grow here.
TTKC youths having dinner in TTKC Cafe.
Ziv: Okay, I will move on to my last question. What do you find the most rewarding about volunteering at TTKC?
Megan: Huh, didn’t I tell you about the cookies! (laughs)
Amanda: That’s the most rewarding thing for me. Having a part within the network of relationships.
Megan: I think we live in a world, where we don’t see building relationships as a process, but much more transactional. I think in the making of a space like that, it’s to show that relationships matter, and forming something that is really genuine. I think these kids really teach me a lot, lah. That you don’t make friends just because you want something from someone. You make friends because you play with people, and I think we forgot how to play.