ST Singaporean of the Year 2020: A kampung community to help those in need

SINGAPORE – Although the days of traditional kampung villages are over, its spirit lives on within some communities here.

In Queenstown, rental flat residents in Mei Ling Street know that when they need help, whether in terms of finances, food, or filling up forms, they can look for their “kampung head”, Mr Zulkifli Atnawi.

A retired cleaner, Mr Zulkifli, 60, spends his days helping others, such as buying food and groceries for those in need.

He is no stranger to tough times himself. When his four children were younger, some of of his family members had to sleep at the void deck for a time because Mr Zulkifli had lost his job as a technician and sold their family flat. He is now divorced and lives in a two-room rental flat with his children.

His children, who are aged between 23 and 28, are spreading the kampung spirit through an initiative they call Project Hills.

In April when Singapore was in circuit breaker mode and most were cooped up at home, Mr Zulkifli and his children knew that the circumstances were tough on their neighbours, and made sure to check in on them.

Beyond giving out groceries to immediate neighbours, Mr Zulkifli’s children recruited volunteers and started going to rental flats in other parts of Queenstown, like Stirling Road, and further afield in Kim Tian Road in Tiong Bahru.

This initiative, which was started in April, aims to help those in need who may have slipped through the cracks. The volunteers link them up with the authorities and non-governmental organisations who can provide relevant assistance.

About 70 volunteers are involved in Project Hills and they visit the residents of the various estates with Mr Zulkifli, distributing items and helping with home repairs and other immediate needs.

Mr Zulkifli said: “The goodness of man is not measured by his work, status or donations… It’s about how much you help others.”

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