Hello Heartlands!

Friends, family and many other good folks out there who have been following my documentary work would know that I’ve been photographing Mel & family the last 3.5 years. When the family moved over from Ang Mo Kio to Yishun last year, the kids often shared with me that they felt so unfamiliar and alien to this new neighbourhood they were supposed to call home. That was how this project, ‘Hello Heartlands!’, came about. Nesa, Mel’s youngest daughter, and I decided that we could embark on something fun together, that would involve other kids in the neighbourhood, during the June holidays.

Few weeks before we commenced the project, Nesa and I would go door to door and invite some kids to be part of the program. While many said yes, we had our fair share of rejections too! 

There were many informal meet ups which included chit-chats, playing football at the void deck (oops) and just lepak-ing (i.e. hanging out), but the three formal session we had involved i) photographing their neighbourhood with a disposable camera as they deemed fit; ii) checking out the images they made and drawing their own portrait from their imagination; iii) a group outing to the National Gallery & then iftar at Spize. 

The whole project culminated in a block party + group exhibition at the void deck on the 24th June. No big fancy museum-esque show, just an honest community program we’ve put up together with the kids. The most important aspect of the exhibition was to get the kids as involved as possible so that there would be a sense of ownership and pride. This included getting them to assemble the booklets and also give our visitors a personal tour of their exhibition. Some of them were pretty shy at first but after a few rounds of practice, they warmed up to the idea and very confidently brought our visitors around.

The typical barometers for a successful event would be number of visitors who came by or even how big a scale the event was. For my team and I, we’re already super happy to see these things unfold :

i) Some kids who were antagonistic to each other at the start of the program, now happily hang out together. P even joined Nesa and family for Raya visitation as P’s mother was not in Singapore and she was alone for Raya. 

ii) A is only Primary 2, but he has not been going to school. He can’t read either. He cites distance as a reason (Yishun to Woodlands isn’t that far for a boy who can cycle ALONE to ECP), but we figured the real reason could be because school’s not fun when you fall so far back academically as compared to your peers. Amanda has kindly volunteered to help A with English every week. 

iii) N and F wrote letters on their postcards (their photographs turned to postcards) to a family member that is incarcerated <3

iv) Our friend, Nadia, managed to raise a pool of money which we gave out to the kids for Raya (as angpaos, kueh kueh & NTUC vouchers) and also for future outings! 

v) Exploring different ways to take the project forward as we linked up with potential collaborators. Many of the kids love music, dance and performance, so that’s an angle we might explore. Plus, we are going to Shine Festival this weekend together, and some of them would get to meet their ‘idols’. 

vi) We also learnt that their MP, Louis Ng, is in discussion with HDB to build a youth centre for them below their void deck. We’re hoping to work closely with Louis and his team to do more work for and with the kids.

Thankful to Straits Times and TODAY for their coverage of the project! Also giving thanks to Brian Teo & Tan Ding Wei for the photographs. And to word wizard Louisa Chiew, law enforcer Kim Whye Kee and chief fun creator Amanda Quek - without whom this project wouldn’t take off. 

This project was powered by NYC, supported by Our Singapore Fund and NAC’s Matchbox.

Using Format