Reflections of a Memory Corps volunteer

Posted by on Jul 16, 2013 in One of Us | No Comments

All text by Sunanda Asthana

I like to reach ahead of time for reporting assignments. Many a times it is the atmosphere that prompts the most interesting conversations. On Saturday, 27 April 2013, I reached Kovan a good twenty minutes early. I was on my first assignment as a volunteer roving reporter for the Singapore Memory Project (SMP).

I took a relaxing walk around Block 206, Kovan Hub. Families with children, elderly folks, family and helpers, students in school uniform raising money for charity, people alone savoring a relaxing breakfast with a newspaper in hand were all around. A lot of stalls were setting up, beginning their day. There was a sense of purpose wherever I looked. There was a cultural event going on and women sat on white plastic chairs just ahead of the stage, singing and tapping their feet. They nudged one another, clapped, and were just short of standing up and dancing to the music. I liked it here.

The banners told me that SMP, Paya Lebar Community Arts & Culture Club and Paya Lebar Citizens’ Consultative Committee had come together to bring ‘iremember goes to Paya Lebar ‘ as part of the Paya Lebar Arts Village festivities.

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A scene at the iremember goes to Paya Lebar roadshow

Among the festivities stood panels of memories of people, streets, heritage and life of Singapore over the years. As I stood there reading each interview with interest, a few people stopped by to read as well. A couple got very excited at seeing a picture of a building that they remember from their younger days. That structure existed in their memories though no longer in the street. Some youngsters took pictures saying they would like to share them with their parents and grandparents since they spent their childhood or some years in and around Paya Lebar.

As an observer I felt that each interview or memory printed on the panel touched a chord with every individual who stopped by. Some, because they remembered it; some, because at a level they associated with it; and some, because they were unaware of it and learnt something new. Imagine the binding force that each of these memories hold!

Unfortunately many of those I approached declined to contribute their memories to SMP because of lack of time or unwillingness to share details like their phone number, email or address. Each polite refusal meant a tiny piece of history going unrecorded. It saddened me a bit, but there was enough in the interviews that I did, that gave me happiness.

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Sunanda conducting an interview with Kovan residents

My mentor on the day was Ms Lily Bok. A gentle mentor, she taught by her own example. She explained the process and got down to work immediately. She sat through the first two interviews that I did. She allowed me to take the lead and was generous to say that I did well.

When one thinks of collecting memories, one usually thinks of senior citizens since they have seen more of life and would therefore have more to share. In this assignment, what struck me was that there were some younger people who willingly came forward because they genuinely wanted to share memories that make them the person they are. Rosalin Lim was one of those and waited patiently till we entered the recording booth. A young mother herself, Rosalin was brimming with childhood memories. Memories of how her mother would take her and her two siblings on the train to Malaysia for the weekends, of her giggling and clapping her hands in joy as she and her grandmother watched street operas, or just playing outdoors and talking to people in the neighborhood. Her eyes twinkled as she talked, as if reliving those moments again. She missed the kampong feeling that existed earlier and the old way of living and socializing. She remembered the nursery rhyme that her grandma taught her and even sang it for us on camera. As we came towards the end of the interview she said what I think is the essence of this wonderful project. She said that she wants to share her memories because she wants her daughter to know the background, the basis of her and her people’s existence.

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Video interviews done at the roadshow to capture memories

“Gift of a Generation” is the theme for SMP this year, and it aims to engage the whole community regardless of age. We may have the tendency to undervalue our experiences on a large platform but each experience, each memory holds value. The truth is that each minute that passes becomes a part of history, and we don’t realize its value until we are unable to recall it.

It is a pleasure to be associated with SMP. Each assignment, each experience, is a learning one.

Sunanda Asthana
Memory Corps volunteer

Would you like to join SMP as a Memory Corps volunteer? Find out more about how you can get involved here. You can email us directly at irememberSG@nlb.gov.sg to sign up. You can also contribute by submitting your personal memories to the SMP website, and following us on Facebook,  Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

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