By Siti Zulaiha
The pandemic has not been kind to many of us.
One of the most disrupted occupations over the past two years has been private-hire drivers. They have gone through the highs and lows of Covid as frontline workers, and although we have appreciated their efforts, driving is often still a solitary burden — trudging the streets of Singapore in the dark of the night, or sitting in a traffic jam with a stranger in your back seat.
Khoo Keng Teck, 52, remembers the early days of the pandemic, when nobody went out. Times were really bad then.
“I remember when I worked from 6am to 6pm but could not even cover my car rental,” Miki, as he prefers to be called, says.
Miki has been a private hire driver for almost seven years. “Since Uber started in Singapore,” he explains with a smile.
After the American car-sharing service exited the country, Miki started driving for Grab and Gojek as well as doing other private hire jobs.
Over the years, the father of three has seen the ups and downs of the private-hire industry, but nothing was as bad as when the pandemic hit.
He says with a laugh: “For me, the (scariest) part was the first two months, when I could be out at 6am and home at 6pm, and my wife would ask me ‘how was your day?’ I’d say ‘very good!’ but in my heart (I know) I would have fetched only four to six passengers, not even enough to cover my rental!”
If not for private-hire driver group CoNVEy, he says, life would have been a lot harder.
Named tongue-in-cheek after the models of Toyota cars that they drive, CoNVEy, or the Community of Noah, Voxy, Esquire Yuppies, is a community and a sharing platform for private-hire drivers like Miki.
Founded by 42-year-old Choo Jen Sin in 2019, CoNVEy’s mission is to motivate and encourage members to drive smarter, serve as a private job platform and create a “sharing is caring mindset” via meet-ups that they call Members Kopi Sessions.
The 257-strong and growing community is a close-knit group. They even designed their own decals that they wear on their “uniforms” and paste on their cars!
“Without CoNVEy, I would have given up, it’s like I wouldn’t know where to go,” says Pricilla Lee, 49.
During the pandemic, the members of CoNVEy actively checked up on each other to ensure that they were coping well mentally and financially.
“Some of our friends downgraded to a smaller car to cope with rental prices, and some even stopped driving,” Jen Sin tells The Pride. Even if members downgrade their vehicles, he adds, most stay in the group because of the close-knit community.
“With CoNVEy, you realise that driving is not that lonely after all,” Miki adds.
Helping each other help others
But CoNVEy doesn’t just support each other, they also help others in need.
Once a week, CoNVEy drivers volunteer with local charity Willing Hearts, which runs a soup kitchen that cooks and distributes about 11,000 meals daily to over 70 locations across Singapore, 365 days a year.
Willing Hearts focuses on the elderly, the disabled, low-income and single-parent families, as well as migrant workers in Singapore, to improve their lives and help them contribute to society.
The casual partnership happened quite naturally, explains another CoNVEy member, Thomas Chua, 56. In 2021, he started volunteering with Willing Hearts on his own. When he shared with the rest of the drivers that the charity needed more volunteers, especially those with vehicles, they decided to give it a go.
The group reached out to Willing Hearts and the charity was more than happy for the extra help.
“They needed drivers who could send out the food to the homes, and we had the cars,” says Miki.
CoNVEy members even included their families in their charity runs. Says Miki: “Some have brought their kids, wives, and husbands to join us when we deliver the food!”
Kindness in action
I remember dark, cluttered hallways when I accompanied Miki, Thomas and Jen Sin on one of their weekly volunteer sessions. There were buckets in front of each door, as if the residents were already waiting for their food to be delivered.
As soon as I peeked into the homes of the seniors living in these rental flats, my heart sank. The flats were small and most of them lived alone. Such living conditions are far from ideal.
These seniors in rental flats all come with different stories. Some are childless. Others are abandoned by their children or estranged from family, and they continue to live in poverty, relying on help from volunteers, charities, and government handouts.
In contrast to the surroundings, it was heartwarming to see a big group of people, packing bags of food into their cars at 7am to be given out to these needy households.
Seeing people from different backgrounds and races — not just CoNVEy drivers but other volunteers too — coming together to help others, reminded me that there is still so much good in this world.
“When I volunteer, I start to realise the joy,” said Thomas.
Other stories you might like
“We hope more can take on this idea (volunteering) and the message will be spread to more,” Miki emphasised.
Those interested in volunteering with Willing Hearts can sign up on this page, while those who would like to find out more about CoNVEy can reach out via its Facebook. Alternatively, if you are keen on joining CoNVey, you can sign up via this link.