TAN CHUAN-JIN: While I often chat with them when I meet them, I haven’t gone so far up the value chain to know the middle man and the whole set-up. I was most happy to join a group of young Singaporeans from Youth Corp on a project they initiated – to get first hand insight into the lives of elderly cardboard collectors: what motivated them to do what they do; and the challenges they face. The youngsters devoted their weekends over a 2-month period to befriend the cardboard aunties and uncles on the streets in the Jalan Besar area, and spent time talking to them to understand what they are going through in life.
They shared with me that they were surprised by their own findings! The normal perception that all cardboard collectors are people who are unable to take care of themselves financially is not really true. There will be some who do this as their main source of income. Some do so to supplement what they have. Some prefer to earn extra monies, treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home. They do this to remain independent, so that they can have dignity and not have to ask their families for help.
For members of the public, the simplest thing that one can do for these people is to talk to them to understand them. More often than not, people make judgements without finding out the facts of the matter, in this instance, the stigma surrounding cardboard collectors. But of course, for those who genuinely need financial help because they are unable to find other jobs to supplement their income from cardboard collecting, the government will do what it can to help these people. If you know of individuals who need help, do let us know.
I’d like to thank Zaihan Mohamed Yusof who started it all with his article in The New Paper. The youngsters picked up on the idea and followed up. Cheers to Koh Cheng Jun (Tm Lead) and Muhammad Syazwan Bin Mohamed Suhri who were with me on the ground, and thanks to the team who shared their thoughts with me…Goh Pei Yi Valerie, Janarthanan Ahalya, Khoo Lay Keat Bryan, Lee Jun Xian, Serena Mok Jia Xin.
Inspired by you guys for taking that extra step. We all can too!