Facebook has always been a great tool for the ministers and politicians of Singapore. Whether it’s about a Big Ass Fan, or sharing fond and nostalgic memories, ye olde Facebook is a great platform for the public to get to know the faces and figures behind our modern Singapore.
And then there’s Minister for Social and Family Development, Tan Chuan-Jin, who recently posted on his Facebook page about the findings and informational tidbits of a group of youth volunteers on the lives of cardboard collectors.
According to him, the volunteers had initiated a Youth Corp project to get ‘first hand insight into the lives of elderly cardboard collectors’ and learn about their motivations and challenges. He even got to join the group for a day out with the cardboard collectors, and was rewarded with a fresh perspective on his experience.
His newfound worldliness from the session? He found that “the normal perception that all cardboard collectors are people who are unable to take care of themselves financially is not really true”. He said, “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.”
His post however, drew some backlash from the larger community, who slammed him in the comments section for being out-of-touch, “delusional” and flippant when he said it was “a form of exercise.” Some went as far to say the entire thing was staged for a little PR boost.
Flamers and PR stunt rumours aside, the images the minister shared did highlight a bleak aspect of an otherwise happy-clappy Singapore — the harsh reality that elderly as old as 80 years are still hustling out on the streets to make a buck (or exercise).
What do you think: is this a case of a careless comment which prompts perhaps media training for our ministers, or is it just netizens overreacting?
Cheng Jun Koh, a member of the student group that reached out to the cardboard aunties and uncles, has stepped up in response to the backlash from Tan Chuan Jin’s post to shine a little light on their movement. The long Facebook post he shared explained that the cause originally intended to help change the way cardboard aunties and uncles work, in order to make their lives better.
After getting closer to the people in the trade, the movement eventually became a medium through which students could better understand the aunties’ and uncles’ motivations and livelihood — while most of them are in the trade for financial reasons, not all of them are.
“In essence, we uncovered diverse reasons for cardboard collecting, which is a surprise as we initially thought ALL are in it for the money. But without doubt, the vast majority is in it for the money. However, most are consistent in saying that they do not require assistance. We do not know whether this is due to their resilience and independent streak, or if there are other reasons that they are unwilling to share. This would require more follow-up investigations.”