CHINATOWN SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
80 Eu Tong Sen St, Singapore 059810
Hidden behind the pillars of The Majestic along Chinatown’s Eu Tong Sen Street lays a humble establishment, the Chinatown Social Enterprise. This social enterprise sells tourists souvenirs and knick knacks, but their business focuses on promoting handmade items such as Samsui tote bags, keychain and soft toys, traditional clown decoration and animal plushies.
Unlike usual handmade items which are sold with a heftier price, the handmade items available at Chinatown Social Enterprise are very affordable with prices ranging from approximately $3 to $30. These items are handmade by a group of Chinatown residents, mostly comprising of the needy elderly.
10 years ago, The Chinatown Social Enterprise was established to aid lonely senior citizens as well as elderly who require financial assistance. When the members of parliament (MP) of Kreta Ayer - Kim Seng constituency conducted house visits to the residents, they discovered many elderly residents required financial assistance. Instead of providing them financial aid every month, the MPs decided to start this social enterprise to empower the group of elderly by offering them a minimum wage job to make handmade items. These items are eventually sold online and instore, encouraging these elderlies to be self-sufficient. The Chinatown Social Enterprise does not keep an inventory and all profits generated goes to fund the elderly’s salary.
The Chinatown Social Enterprise is the only social enterprise in Singapore which beneficiaries are the residents of the neighbourhood. Only residents of Chinatown (Kreta Ayer - Kim Seng estate) are recruited to make these handmade items as they gather at Kreta Ayer Community Centre every Monday to Thursday from 10am to 2pm. More than three quarters of the elderly are above 70 years old and there are even a handful of them who are 80 years old and above! This group of elderly are guided by a teacher engaged by the constituency and their craft supplies are either donated or purchased by the constituency.
A DEEPER PEEK
Doris has been the teaching this group of elderly for the past 9 years! She used to work with people with special needs and mental health issues when her friend recommended her this job. Wanting a change of environment, Doris decided to give this job a try and has since found a sense of fulfilment teaching this group of elderly. She is in charge of designing the handicrafts and artworks and assigns tasks to the elderly according to their talents and abilities. Some of these elderly join the class without any prior handicraft making knowledge so Doris teaches them relevant skills such as sewing and how to operate a sewing machine.
Over the past 9 years of teaching, Doris has built a strong rapport with the elderly. She knows them relatively well and is happy to welcome new students every year. Most of the elderly enjoy the few hours at the workshop as it provides an opportunity for them to socialise, work and earn some income. Joy comes easily for this group of elderly- they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they complete a piece of handicraft and when their works are well received by the public. For these reasons, most of the elderly rarely quit this class unless their health becomes a concern.
Linda (83) is a grandmother of 2 undergrad grandchildren and has been part of this class since it first started in 2010. She usually gets quite bored at home hence she attends this class to kill some boredom. In her free time, she frequents the karaoke and attends church on weekends.
Linda enjoys making handicraft and describes it as a form of play as she exercises her eyes and fingers! Most of the Samsui Woman figurine are sewed by her and she claims it helps her remain youthful. When asked if she has any good friends in this class, she gave a relaxed reply stating that she does have some good friends where they eat lunch together. However, there are also people who cannot get along in class and are jealous over each other’s handicraft!
Linda encouraged us to practice lifelong learning and cited herself as an example.
She lives by the motto of ‘知足就好，知足常乐’ (be contented with what you have as contentment leads to joy). To Linda, being wealthy isn’t all that important, having enough money is key.
Grace (69) used to be an accountant for many years until she retired at the age of 58 years old. After retirement, Grace was very bored at home and it led to a sense of despondency. She was invited to join this class but was apprehensive as she did not know what to expect from it and knew nothing about sewing. However, ever since she joined the class a few years back, she has since learnt how to use the electronic sewing machine and takes around 30 minutes to complete sewing a bag! Through this handicraft class, Grace has enriched herself and she feels that this keeps her brain active in turn slowing down the ageing process.