TAN CHUAN JIN: ELDERLY CARDBOARD COLLECTORS ARE NOT POOR!

Elderly cardboard collectors are not “poor” or in poverty – or at least that’s what Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) Tan Chuan Jin would have you believe.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Tan said that he had received a report from ministry volunteers who had gone out to interview the elderly cardboard collectors in the Jalan Besar area in a bid to understand what motivates them. What they found “surprised” him and his volunteers.

“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,” Mr Tan wrote. “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.”

While it is conceivable that some cardboard collectors do have the means and ability to support themselves, this itself says nothing of the many elderly people who wind up homeless and sleeping on the streets, whether or not they collect cardboards for a living.

Instead of producing reports for the sake of political rhetoric, perhaps the ministry would do better by focusing its attention of cases of genuine poverty in Singapore, many of which remains masked by the government’s notorious anti-poverty stance.

Tan Chuan Jin’s Facebook statement:

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 http://www.tnp.sg/news/when-cardboard-gold 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!

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