Curated walks through Singapore's urban spaces resulted in deep reflections on society and inspired follow-up community projects
In 2015, The Thought Collective organised a series of trails exploring the neighbourhoods of Jalan Besar, Toa Payoh and Little India. They were not the usual walking tours peppered with yesteryear stories of roads or buildings. Instead, participants got to know residents, discussed social issues with the trail facilitators, and some were even inspired to kick-start their own community projects.
134 trips into the heartland
Called “Diverse-City Trails”, the series of facilitated trails were put together by The Thought Collective, a group of social enterprises, in collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s and with support from the National Integration Council. Over a period of eight months from March to November 2015, more than 1,500 locals and foreigners took part in the 134 trails conducted.
In each of the two-hour experiential trails, participants were sensitised to the diversity in our communities and the impact of shared living spaces on the community. Trail facilitators prompted participants to discuss and reflect on the social and integration challenges in the communities, where people from different nationalities, cultures and languages live in close proximity.
For example, in the Little India trail, participants visited spaces where foreign workers frequented, back alleys, and shops in Little India. Facilitators also challenged participants to take the opportunity to converse with Indian migrant workers to understand their needs, culture and the tensions they faced. Such first-hand experiences prompted participants to review their assumptions, empathise with migrant workers and better appreciate their contributions to Singapore.
As one participant wrote in their reflection card, “Prejudices, stereotypes are narratives in my head. It’s my choice whether I want to continue believing it, or do things to prove my thoughts wrong.”
to be more
They came, they saw, they acted
Indeed, the imprints left on participants were deep and lasting. After attending the trails, many pledged to be more open-minded and understanding towards others and most indicated a desire to know more about the ways they could contribute to the community. In fact, a number of them were so inspired that they took action immediately and launched projects that contributed to a more caring and integrated society.
A group of international students from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) facilitated conversations between their foreign students and local elderly residents living in the Jalan Besar area and through such conversations, designed and sold art creations to raise funds to build a community kitchen for the elderly residents.
In another initiative, one of the Toa Payoh trail facilitators got together a group of volunteers to provide hot meals for elderly residents living in one-room rental flats in Toa Payoh Lorong 7 over the SG50 long weekend when the Senior Activity Centre was closed.
Another group of students from Singapore Polytechnic planned a surprise birthday party for an elderly resident when they found out she had not celebrated her birthday in years.
Through meaningful engagements and immersive experiences, the Diverse-City Trails challenged and inspired participants to bring about positive changes in their community. Everyone plays a part in creating a kinder and more cohesive society. And it can start with a simple smile at your neighbours today.