Mallika Naguran catches up with one of the founders of a rare organisation - ONE (SINGAPORE) - that tackles poverty in Singapore and beyond, and thinks out of the box in doing so.
Can you describe the motivations and circumstances that led to the formation of ONE (SINGAPORE)?
Every three seconds a child dies from extreme poverty. Over two billion people live without proper sanitation. Every minute, a woman dies from problems in pregnancy or childbirth. Yet it doesn't have to be this way. The resources exist to transform the hopes and dreams of an entire generation.
Poverty is not natural. It's man-made. With the right policies – and action by each of us – we can and we will Make Poverty History.
What are some memorable programmes that have been organised to help eradicate poverty?
Rather than talk about “programmes” - which are charity or development projects – let's talk about commitments. In 2000, leaders from 189 countries signed the Millennium Declaration, which established eight clear-cut targets to halve extreme poverty by 2015 and eliminate it altogether by 2025. The problem is that we're more than halfway to 2015 and we're not on target. More resources need to be committed-- and promises fulfilled – if we are to obtain the promise of the Millennium Development Goals.
What are the organisation's main commitments and priorities now?
ONE (SINGAPORE) is dedicated to raising public awareness and taking concrete actions to Make Poverty History.
Our signature activity is Stand Up Take Action Against Poverty. Last year, 117 million people from over 130 countries literally took a moment to STAND UP and call on world leaders to honour their commitments to end poverty now. Here in Singapore, 14,514 people added their voices to the movement to Make Poverty History, ten-thousand more than a year earlier. ONE (SINGAPORE)'s partners meanwhile pledged money to support projects across the region linked to the Millennium Development Goals and as a result we were able to support anti-hunger programmes, distribute malaria nets, provide scholarships and even plant 1000 trees at a reforestation project in central Java.
This year, we expect even more people to Stand Up and we're asking participants here to bring a can of food, bag of rice or bottle of cooking oil to support needy families in Singapore! Stay tuned for more details on how you can join the food drive. ONE Can Make Poverty History!
ONE (SINGAPORE) is also committed to supporting The Cuff Road Project, a programme in Little India that assists homeless and jobless migrant workers. Migrant workers – cheated by rogue employment agents, injured on the job, laid off due to the economic crisis -- are stuck in administrative limbo. They live in squalid conditions, sleeping on footpaths exposed to the elements with no privacy or even a place to bathe. ONE (SINGAPORE), in collaboration with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), started a food aid programme where workers can eat with dignity in a restaurant. By the end of 2008, we were feeding up to 300 men a day. The meal programme is just a band-aid, though. Our partners assist men with their work permit cases and we encourage policy changes to assist these men and prevent others from falling into the same situation.
How does climate change impact poverty, in your opinion, and what is ONE (SINGAPORE)'s involvement in addressing climate change?
Poverty and climate change are inextricably linked. The poor suffer the most from climate change and have the least resources to deal with it. They are also the least responsible for it.
In the west African nation of Niger – where I used to live – the Sahara Desert is steadily moving south and droughts threaten the livelihoods of farmers and herders. Closer to home, a rapid rise in sea levels already endangers homes in the Pacific Islands and flooding all too routinely displaces people in Bangladesh.
2009 is a major year for climate action. In December, leaders at the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen have an opportunity to sign a deal to reverse climate change. This deal must be
AMBITIOUS enough to leave a planet safe for us all,
FAIR for the poorest who did not cause climate change but suffer the most from it,
And BINDING with real enforceable targets.
What are some of the challenges that your organisation faces, and what is needed to fulfil your goals in a bigger way?
Many people do not realise that we are in the midst of a global poverty crisis, that more people die from poverty every year than from war. So, the first step is awareness. The next step is action. The natural question to ask is “what can I do?”.
One way to help is to support ONE (SINGAPORE). Become a member; volunteer your time. We are an all-volunteer organisation. We need passionate supporters – individuals, companies and other non-profit groups – to realise our goals.
I also invite everyone reading this article to STAND UP and TAKE ACTION Against Poverty and For Climate Justice from 16 – 18 October. It's easy to do. Simply register at www.standagainstpoverty.org. Then at some point on the 16th, 17th or 18th, Stand Up and read the Stand Up Pledge (which you can download from the website). Take a photo, count the number of people standing up, then go back to standagainstpoverty.org to report your numbers. We're happy to share resources as well – videos, background information – plus details, for those in Singapore, on how to join the food drive.
Be sure to add your voice between the 16th - 18th October and then continue to STAND UP each and every day for what's right.
Pictures courtesy of One (Singapore).
GCAP Singapore: ONE (SINGAPORE)
Over the past forty years, Singapore has undergone a dramatic transformation from third world to first. While pockets of local poverty persist, Singapore's youth are largely unaware of what it means to be poor. The global economic crisis, meanwhile, has made it more difficult for many Singaporean workers to make ends meet and put the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in jeopardy. At the same time, scams and rogue agents have left many foreign workers homeless, jobless and deep in debt.
A group of passionate Singaporean citizens and residents founded ONE (SINGAPORE) in 2005 after the Live 8 concert called on world leaders to write off the debts of the poorest countries and honour commitments to end poverty.
ONE (SINGAPORE) is an all-volunteer grassroots organisation dedicated to raising public awareness and taking concrete actions to Make Poverty History. Youth members have since established sub-chapters in several schools. The 2009 Executive Committee includes the founder of Social Creatives (a youth-based community arts organisation), the president of UNIFEM Singapore, a past president of the Institute of Public Relations Singapore, an account manager with digital media company Yolk plus several entrepreneurs. Vernetta Lopez, one of Singapore's most popular DJs and actresses, is serving her second term as ONE (SINGAPORE) president.
In events and activities, ONE (SINGAPORE) aims to link both sides of its mission – raising awareness and taking concrete actions. Here are some of the highlights.
STAND UP TAKE ACTION
From 17 - 19 October, more than 14,500 people across 35 events, “Stood Up and Took Action” to call on world leaders to honour commitments to meet and exceed the Millennium Development Goals (up from 4033 participants in 2007 and 29 in 2006). The campaign broadened significantly. Not only did three times as many people Stand Up in, but businesses, community groups and more NGOs joined the call. The largest Stand Up event was organised by the 5Cs, a group of Singapore Airlines flight and ground crew. Datacraft Asia employees stood up in offices across the region as well as migrant workers in Little India and students from a dozen secondary and tertiary schools. Popular local bands like Jack N Rai and The Great Spy Experiment performed at a Make Poverty History Concert. Here's a short video of Stand Up participants and MDG Fund beneficiaries.
ONE (SINGAPORE) 2015 COUNTDOWN CLOCK
To show world leaders exactly how much time they have left – person by person, second by second – to meet the promise of the Millennium Development Goals. Participants simply take a photo of themselves holding a number 0 – 9 and submit it online to be part of the clock. The clock launched with black and white celebrity photos, as well as a quote from each celebrity explaining why s/he is taking action. On 17 October, the clock was opened up to members of the public. More than 2600 people submitted pictures, thanks in part to student volunteers who approached pedestrians to tell them about the campaign. The clock received so many hits (over 1 million according to server logs) that the server crashed. (The clock was quickly migrated to a new machine.) See www.standup.sg/clock
ONE (SINGAPORE) MDG FUND
Corporate partners, pledging money for Singapore Stand Up participants, helped fund projects linked to the Millennium Development Goals across Asia. This support enabled us to buy:
- 28,000 glasses of milk for children in Indian slums,
- 2500 meals for homeless jobless migrant workers in Singapore
- 20 one-year scholarships for children in Indonesia/China via Care Channels
- plant 1000 trees in Java to promote environmental sustainability
- 600+ mosquito nets to prevent malaria in minority ethnic areas of Burma
- an 8-12 year scholarship for a "Little Sister" in Nepal (actual duration depends on how she does on her exams)
- free medical care for 650 children in Afghanistan
THE CUFF ROAD PROJECT
Migrant workers – cheated by rogue employment agents, injured on the job, laid off due to the economic crisis -- are stuck in administrative limbo. They live in squalid conditions, sleeping on footpaths exposed to the elements with no privacy or even a place to bathe. ONE (SINGAPORE), in collaboration with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), started a food aid programme where workers can eat with dignity in a restaurant. By the end of 2008, we were feeding 250-300 men a day. The meal programme is just a band-aid, though. Our partners have assisted men with their immigration and work permit cases. And we have lobbied MPs and appeared in the media to encourage policy changes that will assist these men and prevent others from falling in the same situation.
PHOTOS AND VIDEOS OF OTHER HIGHLIGHTS . . .
- A celebrity “CLICK” video in Singapore’s four national languages to highlight poverty issues, which has appeared on MTV Asia, ESPN and local Singapore channels
- Educational programmes including Make Poverty History “Banquets”
- Food aid for drought victims in Niger West Africa
- Art auction to benefit a livelihood project in Aceh
- ONE (FOOTBALL), a 24-hour community football event to raise awareness about poverty and how to end it within a generation.
- On 7.7.7, local celebrities highlighted the lack of progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals by interviewing pedestrians on Orchard Road. Footage has been turned into a video entitled “Beyond the Halfway Mark”
For more information about ONE (SINGAPORE), email info[at]onesingapore.org or switow[at]onesingapore.org