Keeping the spirit alive

KampungKakis is a ground-up initiative co-founded by us — Mae Tan, Denise Tay, and Michelle Lau, three ladies who are passionate about helping others.

How KampungKakis works is really simple. We are a neighbourhood buddy system that matches a neighbour-in-need to a kaki nearby who is willing to help, based on location and needs. This can be as simple as buying a meal, purchasing groceries, navigating continually changing information and resources, etc.

What led us to start this initiative are our individual stories:

Before I was diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease and virus was nothing more than case numbers on the news media. Only after I was tested positive and witnessed the suffering of older patients while hospitalized, did I realize the damage and impact that this virus would wreck in our community.

Inspired by the healthcare heroes who treated me and risked their own safety to be on the frontlines, I felt compelled to pay their kindness forward in our community and do what I can to help Singapore recover as one #SGunited. Thinking about how the elderly and vulnerable families are not as digitally savvy and foreseeing how it will be difficult for volunteers to travel across the island with tighter lockdown measures, the idea of a neighbourhood buddy system, KampungKakis, was born!

Having moved from Beijing to the US for my MBA exchange program right before the COVID-19 virus pandemic unfolded, I felt relieved but at the same time worried for my friends and their families in China. Hearing about my friends’ first-hand experiences in their hometowns, especially one from Wuhan, made me think about my family back home, and vulnerable groups who have been impacted by the crisis.

While serving my SHN after returning to Singapore, I was very concerned after learning that Mae, a long-time friend of mine, was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was hospitalised. The moment she shared with me her idea and inspiration for starting KampungKakis, I immediately volunteered to be part of her team to launch this initiative, together with Michelle.

Although I had to juggle classes, assignments and interviews, I knew I wanted to do something for people in our community who need help but might not know where to turn to for support.

I met Mae through an RC mask distribution exercise and was very inspired by her story as a COVID-19 survivor and her keenness to make a difference to our vulnerable seniors and families who are struggling during this difficult time. Together with Denise, we brainstormed on KampungKakis, an idea to connect neighbours to provide and offer practical assistance. We launched it within a week with the support from the grassroots, similar community initiatives and several social service organisations.

I really enjoy being involved in community activities and strongly believe that the neighbourhoods we live in have multiple strengths and assets to be tapped on. I am also always intrigued by how olden Singapore was, bustling with the true essence of kampung spirit, and wondered how could I play a part in keeping the spirit alive.

In my experiences as a neighbourhood volunteer, I witnessed the power of neighbourliness and community friendships, which I hope the KampungKakis platform will help spread across Singapore.

Since starting the initiative 2 months ago, we have received an overwhelming response from over 630 volunteers island-wide. We are deeply moved by these volunteers who have stepped forward to support their fellow neighbours, especially during these difficult times. We have, however, been experiencing challenges in raising awareness and reaching out to those who might need help (kakis-in-need) who are less digitally connected. It has also been a challenge to avoid duplication of community resources as there are many white-listed initiatives that fulfil similar objectives.

The fast-changing circuit breaker measures also made it tough for us as we had to continuously update our processes to ensure regulatory compliance and that everyone is protected when giving and receiving help.

By actively connecting with other community initiatives (i.e. GoodHood.SG, Contribute.SG  and NVPC, Beyond Social Services etc.), putting up posters on the RC notice boards, and collaborating with food-court merchants, our hope is to reach out to less tech-savvy residents who might benefit from a kaki in their neighbourhood.

Launching and operating KampungKakis has been a very humbling and huge learning experience for our team. From understanding how to communicate with our kakis-in-need, supporting and engaging our volunteers, to managing day-to-day operations and expanding our team, the three of us have been learning on the go.

Working through these challenges has proved to be difficult at times but hearing the heartwarming stories of our matched kakis, and seeing the enthusiasm of our volunteers in stepping forward as ‘Kampung Chiefs’ to bring KampungKakis to their neighbourhood keeps us motivated.

Some of our kakis-in-need shared with us that they are very appreciative of KampungKakis as it made them feel that they are being cared for and listened to in their own communities by their own neighbours. For some of them, having a supportive neighbour who looks out for them is like a silver lining during a crisis situation. We may not be able to put a solution to every problem, but it can mean a lot to have someone who is willing to listen to your struggles and lend help in any way they can in a non-judgemental and compassionate way.

We hope that KampungKakis reignites a spark of the kampung spirit and no one will feel like a stranger in their own neighbourhood. In our fast-paced society that is becoming more technologically-inclined, we might end up neglecting those who find it difficult and intimidating to adjust to these changes around us.

Our vision is that, by connecting neighbours, they can utilise their own strengths and community assets to help support those in need. This can help to lighten the weight on formal VWOs and to focus resources on those who need it most. We also hope that more Kampung Chiefs will join our team and take charge of their own communities, to build stronger bonds and long-lasting relationships among neighbours.

KampungKakis is a neighbourhood buddy system platform that matches residents who need help and those who are willing to help a neighbour based on proximity and needs.

For more information about KampungKakis, visit their website at https://kampungkakis.org/.