When Fengshan Member of Parliament, Ms Cheryl Chan noticed that queues at her weekly Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) stretched late into the night two years ago, she decided to make things easier for her residents by bringing MPS to their doorstep.
Instead of queueing at Blk 119, Bedok North Road where the MPS is held on Mondays, these days, the elderly or less mobile residents may get a visit from their MP or her team of volunteers.
Said Ms Chan: “Some residents were tired from queueing for several hours, long after registration closed at 9.30pm. So we made the process more convenient — by going to them.”
With the digitalisation of MPS at around the same time, the process was made easy as registration and data collection of cases were done online. Volunteers bring along a tablet during house visits and key in pertinent information on-the-spot. If there is a need to contact various agencies, follow ups or draft emails, it would be done thereafter.
Ms Chan observed that while there are many ways to contact the MP these days, either through online messaging or email, there are residents who may not have access to Internet, may not be tech savvy or who prefer to talk to her in person. There are also residents who do shift work and may not be free on Monday evenings, when the MPS are held.
Another touch point
The mobile MPS serves as another means for residents to reach out to her and vice versa, or what she described as “one extra touch point”.
“At the end of the day, MPS is just one avenue to seek help. As we move forward, we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to just that one day,” she pointed out.
In fact, residents are now so comfortable speaking to her outside of the Monday MPS that when she holds breakfast events on Sundays, some of them would bring their letters and concerns and discuss with her. So for her, MPS happens “anytime and anywhere”.
Mobile MPS is a concept that is also taking place at several branches islandwide, including Bukit Batok and Siglap.
Since 2014, volunteers from Siglap branch have been actively engaging with its elderly residents who are not mobile. They handle an average of one case a month.
Mr Jake Tan, vice-chairman of the branch’s Young PAP, said such a “service” is needed as there is otherwise no way for some of the elderly to make their way to the weekly MPS.
In Bukit Batok, the mobile MPS concept started in 2016 as a means to build a more inclusive community in the ward.
Volunteers work with community partners such as Family Service Centres and Residents’ Committees, which will refer the elderly with mobility issues who need help to the branch volunteers.
When visiting the residents, the volunteers will also arrange for a video call with the branch chairman for added assurance or advice, to affirm that the team is sent by the branch. Through the video call, the resident is able to connect directly with the branch chairman, said branch secretary Mr Leow Boon Swee.
In Fengshan, mobile MPS is also used to track cases of residents who were at the weekly MPS.
There are four core volunteers on Fengshan’s mobile MPS team. Armed with a list of people who need help, either from the MP or branch secretary, they knock on the doors of these residents.
They also do cold-calls in addition to follow-up cases and have covered some 70 flats in the last two years.
Such visits are useful to sift out residents who do need help, but for various reasons, have refused to approach the MP or go to MPS.
Said Ms Chan: “Sometimes, residents may not visit MPS because of pride or personality. But during house visits, while chatting, certain issues may surface and then we will discuss how we can help. Sometimes, they find it difficult to express their problems in public spaces and may be more comfortable speaking in their own home.”
Home visits are useful for another reason: volunteers can assess the home environment of residents who ask for financial aid, rather than take at face value what they say.
“There are some who ask for cash vouchers. But we would like to give them holistic help. At times, they may need certain fixtures at home like ramps and grab bars. We support through our Community Development & Welfare Fund or find sponsors for them,” added Ms Chan.
Ms Diana Pang, 45, director of an engineering firm who is one of the core volunteers, said such visits are time-consuming but she feels a sense of satisfaction with each case that they manage to help.
“We have been able to reach out and help more people. In a way, every case we get is one extra person helped because some of them will never turn up at MPS,” said Ms Pang, who is also the branch treasurer and the Women’s Wing Fengshan branch chairman.
“With the visits, residents know that they are part of the Fengshan family, and we’re here to help every single person who lives here,” she said.
This article was first published in the Dec 2019 issue of Petir Magazine.