Hope Keeps Us Moving Forward Together
Yellow Ribbon Community Art & Poetry Exhibition
Hope is a powerful motivator. It keeps us moving forward when distressing circumstances would otherwise hold us captive. As the new President of the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA), I represented our team at the launch of the Yellow Ribbon Community Art & Poetry Exhibition.
This extraordinary event was held on 30 August at School of the Arts and ran for nine days after. Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth & the Ministry of Communications and Information was our Guest of Honour. After she gave a stirring speech, we proceeded to tour the exhibition led by the team from Sing Lit Station & Singapore Art Museum.
Through the beautiful art created by inmates, we understood their struggles and hope for a second chance. Funds raised from the sale of the artwork went to the inmates and their families. In addition, I learnt that the theme, “Moving Forwards Together” represents the importance of community support for inmates in their rehabilitation journey.
Some of the art pieces were positioned as collaborative efforts by the community. For instance, there was a tree with leaves made out of notes of encouragement. I wrote: “We are in this together!” and hung my note up high. At another station, there was a large board with pots of paint and brushes laid out. A sign invited the public to draw on this canvas. Initially, my seven-year-old daughter felt self-conscious. But I reassured her that the instructions suggested smudges and paint drips were welcome. Relieved, she gave it her best shot. In the same way, the organisers wanted us to understand that rehabilitation is a community effort.
For me, the most moving station consisted of audio recordings of inmates reciting their poetry. I’m not sure if I can articulate the stark sorrow, bleak loneliness and genuine appeal to restore hope. All I can say is, this fundraiser was emotionally-charged. I was especially glad that my daughter came with me. She now understands when people make big mistakes, they might go to go to prison, but everyone deserves a second chance.
ISCOS 30th Anniversary Gala & Launch Of ReGen Fund
A week later, on 5 September, I attended the 30th anniversary charity gala for Industrial & Services Co-operative Society Limited, or ISCOS. As ISCOS breaks down barriers to employment of ex-offenders and retrains skills, it promotes economic independence among ex-offenders. Consequently, ex-offenders have greater hope for improved self-esteem and reduced risk of recidivism.
At the gala, I learnt about the inception of ISCOS 30 years ago under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Many milestones mark the journey across three decades. For instance, in 2006, the inmates’ request for help for their children’s education resulted in the creation of the Fairy Godparent Programme. In 2008, ISCOS launched the Gift of Hope, a relief package that benefited over 1000 reformed offenders. This year, the ISCOS ReGen Fund was approved as an Institution of Public Character, hence tonight’s launch. Money raised benefits reformed offenders & their families who hope to rebuild their lives and make good in society. You can read more about the fund here: http://www.irf.org.sg/.
Living proof that ex-offenders can live their dreams with society’s support, is artist Barry Yeow. With flair, he painted & auctioned off an artwork the event itself. In addition, Chef Benny Se Teo, an ex-drug addict who is now a successful social entrepreneur created the main course. I enjoyed his fish in pumpkin broth, analogous for teaching a man to fish to feed him for a lifetime. Throughout dinner, the entertainment line-up was just as impressive. For example, ISCOS ambassador, Sara Wee, performed soulfully as a dancer leapt gracefully around her. Many others sang their heart out, including Chef Benny himself.
Hope Is Beyond Black & White
My team at SANA works closely with ISCOS as partners in the CARE Network. This is the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders Network. Together, we provide holistic support to ex-offenders & their families. In fact, after all our meetings and discussions, I was quite thrilled to take these commemorative photographs with my collaborators from the CARE Network. In addition, I congratulated society belles who organised the charity gala and thanked supportive media partners who help spread the word. What exactly is the word we want to spread? Hope, of course. Hope that everyone has the right to dignity through gainful employment and financial independence.
Without a doubt, the most significant photograph of the night was with President Halimah Yacob, the Guest of Honour. Why? Well, with the President of Singapore behind this important initiative, surely that should remove any doubt that supporting ex-offenders to reintegrate into the community is of paramount importance. A community that forgives and freely gives hope. Now that’s the kind of community I’d like to live in, wouldn’t you?