There’s a Chinese saying, 远亲不如近邻 (yuan qin bu ru jin lin), which direct translated, means that a distant relative is not as good as a neighbour.
While family is important, sometimes we don’t get to see them as often as we would like, especially with restrictions on meeting up, even over the Chinese New Year period. In fact, it is often neighbours that give us the little moments of happiness that reminds us that we aren’t alone.
These moments aren’t big, life-changing events, like when Aunty Lily, who would always keep her door open so that she can hear if any of her neighbours need help.
Aunty Lily, who has been living in the same Bedok Town HDB block for more than 40 years, recounts how she once heard a neighbour fall down and went to her aid immediately.
Embodying the kampung spirit, Aunty Lily believes that giving is receiving and does not think too much about helping a neighbour in need. “Everyone in the community has a part to play in making their estate a more conducive environment for all to live in,” she says.
Aunty Lily’s story is just one of many submitted as part of the #DearNeighbour campaign by Filos Community Services and partnered with Singapore Kindness Movement and SG Assist, organised as part of SG Cares Giving Week last December.
The campaign was meant to promote good neighbourliness in the community through small acts of kindness, such as greeting each other, sharing food during the festive season, and helping neighbours run errands.
The stories demonstrated a kampung spirit that forges stronger community ties and promotes a culture of care and giving in society.
There are some dramatic moments too, of course. In another story, a contributor told of how she noticed that her neighbour’s kitchen stove was left unattended and caught fire, and how she managed to rush into her flat and extinguish the fire, preventing a possible disaster.
Many stories were of mundane small actions that nevertheless left their beneficiaries with a bounce in their step.
One neighbour recounts how a simple conversation along the corridor is enough to light up her day. Another told of how a neighbour offered his family a place to stay for the night when their flat had an unexpected blackout. Others told of how they would water their neighbours’ plants while they were overseas on holiday (not so much nowadays!)
Running errands for elderly neighbours was another common theme, which sparks off sharing of food that leads to more exchanges of goodies, especially during the festive seasons.
One resident, a Madam R, who is 90 years old, shares how her neighbour, Russ, would accompany her for her polyclinic medical appointments without fail due to her limited mobility. The outings brought the two of them closer together. Today, Russ still visits Mdm R at least once every two weeks to chat and keep her company.
Where there are grandparents, there are often grandchildren. And a few contributors shared about how their neighbours’ grandchildren would play in their homes or how they would offer to babysit for a few hours when the parents had to go out for errands.
Even Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin shared a story of good neighbourliness in Kembangan-Chai Chee estate about two Liverpool FC fans who bonded over their love for the football club.
He wrote: “Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, they often enjoyed weekend evenings together, catching their favourite team in action over potluck parties with their families. For now, both (men) are unable to hold large parties but enjoy a good laugh (albeit separately) when they hear each other cheering from next door. Years down the road, the shared experience will certainly bring a smile to their faces.”
Getting a helping hand from volunteers and organisations
Such neighbourly ties are not built overnight and it sometimes can benefit from a boost from volunteers and organisations.
Filos’ Adopt-a-Block initiative has also seen volunteers donate and distribute rations for the less privileged individuals living in Bedok’s rental flats.
One volunteer is Goh Kun Rong, 31, who works as an associate at DBS Bank, which is a regular partner with Filos in helping the community in Bedok.
She says that the Adopt-a-Block initiative is especially meaningful during Covid-19 because there are some community groups that need extra attention.
Says Kun Rong: “Volunteering is a two-way street. Not only do I help those in need, but I also benefit. It allows me to connect to the community, make new friends and strengthen relationships with other participants. It is also an energising escape from my day-to-day routine of work and family commitments, and allows me to take my mind off my own worries while attending to the beneficiaries’ needs.”
But what about those who are afraid of volunteering because of work or personal commitments?
Says Kun Rong: ”Start by looking at volunteering opportunities offered by your organisation. The key is to find an opportunity that you enjoy and are comfortable doing. Think about the reason why you want to volunteer. The opportunities that match both your goals and your interests will be fun and fulfilling.
“Ultimately, volunteering should be rewarding, not another ’chore’ on your to-do list.”
This article was contributed by Filos Community Services.