For almost a year, Yee Wei has been coming to this rental housing estate every Thursday evening to bring food for the youths, play sports and befriend them, and even celebrate their birthdays. Photos courtesy of Hong Yee Wei.

He stooped and he scooped.

Bit by bit, he picked up the vestiges of the evening’s dinner and games around the parking lot and basketball court at the Henderson public rental housing estate.

It was close to 9pm; time to call it a night.
Earlier that evening at 6pm, Hong Yee Wei, 44 years old and working in finance, had turned up in this domain of teenagers armed with a football, badminton racquets and assorted sports equipment. In the trunk of his car were more than 20 boxes of assorted pasta and refreshments. 

It takes a village: Volunteers and church mates of Yee Wei’s join him in organising sports and music sessions for the youths of Henderson.

More than 20 children and youths, from five to 18, boys as well as girls, were scattered around the parking lot and basketball court when he arrived, and more streamed in throughout the evening.

Some were playing football in the concrete basketball court with their bare feet, some were on the bench watching, others were rocking along to music from a guitar strummed by one of the youths.

They came from families living in the blocks of the Henderson estate. Many were from single-parent homes or blended families.

A couple of the girls were kicking ball in the court, but most were perched on the curb just to “lepak” (chill), as one young lady explained when asked what drew her here. 

They came from families living in the blocks of the Henderson estate. Many were from single-parent homes or blended families.

Yee Wei has been coming to this same spot every Thursday evening for nearly a year.

Sometimes, he kicks the football around with the youths, other times he just kicks around ideas.

Sometimes he dispenses advice and sometimes he dispenses food.

Sometimes Yee Wei has partners with him, sometimes he flies solo.

With him that evening were Lim Han Wei, 28, a graduate in social work and full-time worker at Cornerstone Community Church that Yee Wei attends, as well as Wong Pei Ling, a community worker from Beyond Social Services (BSS), a voluntary welfare organisation that aims to help children and youths break away from the poverty cycle.

It was Beyond Social Services that had assigned Yee Wei to that particular estate. 

Laying the foundation

God had told Yee Wei to build a house for His children.

A few months after he had turned his life over to Jesus in November 2018, Yee Wei had heard the call during his quiet time of reading and prayer.

He knew it was from God and not his imagination because, as a professional helping companies settle trade and manage finances, he had no idea what it took to build anything, nor did he understand the call. 
So, he talked to different people, including Jason Wong, author of The Trash of Society: Setting Captives Free, on the forsaken people of society.

Yee Wei’s two toddlers, led by their mother, bless their father by praying for him each Thursday evening as he heads to Henderson, and sometimes accompany him as well.

Jason encouraged him to keep his options open and seek God. He also kicked off a connection for Yee Wei that eventually led to his involvement with BSS. 
When Yee Wei was assigned to Henderson, he knew it was God directing him.

This was the very estate where he had grown up with two other siblings who were much older than he, and parents who were occupied with work and sustenance.

He was often left alone with other kids in the neighbourhood, where drugs, bullying and gang member recruitment were rife.

As the gangs promised community and protection, many children, especially boys, were lured in.

Yee Wei had found solace in the Boys Club and played basketball, which kept him out of trouble.

He was often left alone with other kids in the neighbourhood, where drugs, bullying and gang member recruitment were rife.

Now directed back to his old ‘hood, he decided to engage the youth with sports. He recruited eight other men to join him at the Henderson estate on Thursday evenings.

They started off by playing soccer with the youths. As they continued to show up week after week at the same time, the five to six neighbourhood youths who joined them grew to 10-15 within a month, doubling again three months later.

Today, as many as 50 youths and children come the Thursday evening sessions, not just from the Henderson estate but also from others.

The group of youths includes Malays, Chinese, Indians as well as Filipinos. Those from other estates found out about the Thursday night sports sessions through their friends’ social media accounts. Gradually, they too began showing up.

The age range of the children has also widened – where it used to hover within the teens, it now includes children as young as five.

More young girls have also started showing up. Yee Wei attributes the spike in numbers to consistency, which is “so important with children, particularly for these youths who have seen many in their lives come and go”.

Uncle E

The men started bringing dinner a couple of times a month when they realised that not all the children had enough to eat at home.

As a common conversation starter, Yee Wei had once asked if they had had dinner. He was met with silence and confusion.

It hit him at that point that many of them just have one meal a day in the late afternoon. Whether that was lunch or dinner meant nothing to them – it was food. 
“We really felt that bringing food was a practical way of showing God’s love because, for them, this was a need,” Yee Wei says.

Many of them just had one meal a day. Whether that was lunch or dinner meant nothing to them – it was food. 

 In the beginning, the children and youths would grab the food and huddle by themselves. It was too foreign for them to be engaged in conversation with near strangers. In the months that followed, however, they started inviting Yee Wei to join them.

Yee Wei also brings a cake each month to celebrate birthdays and, on his birthday month, one of the kids insisted he took the first piece. The high walls the children had built to protect themselves were starting to crumble.

They have started calling Yee Wei “Uncle E” and sharing life with him. 
“Having someone sit with them for a meal is coming to their level to be friends, not talking to them top down,” Yee Wei says. “They talk, they engage. That fosters connection, and I believe it was one of the things that changed the atmosphere.”
Han Wei observes: “The youths are now more comfortable with us and open up more of their lives.”

He had responded to Yee Wei’s initial call to reach out to the youths. Like Yee Wei, Han Wei had grown up in that very neighbourhood. This was uncanny, as he had not known it was going to be Henderson they would be serving when he had raised his hand.

“It’s what God calls me to do”

As Yee Wei and the other men engage with the youths, they try to direct the young ones to think longer term about their lives and the opportunities available.

“We ask them questions to help them see the vision and identify the steps to get there,” Han Wei says. 
At first, the youths did not understand why Yee Wei and his friends keep turning up.

Sometimes, they’d ask why the men would bother to spend money on them, and Yee Wei would tell them it is because Jesus loves them, and he wanted to love and bless them the way Jesus loves and blesses. 
“I don’t know how much of it gets through to them but it’s what God calls me to do,” he says simply.

Sometimes the youth ask why they bother to spend money on them, and Yee Wei tells them it is because Jesus loves them. 

Pei Ling, the community worker managing the programme, says the sharp increase in the number of children and youths at Henderson is unusual.

Some of the parents have told her the youths are so eager to hang out with the men that they would make their way to the basketball court even before the appointed time, which has never happened in past BSS programmes.

“It is different with Yee Wei,” Pei Ling muses. “Past volunteers were there with a specific purpose – to train or to play – but not to journey with the youths or befriend them.”

She has noticed a change in behaviour among the youths – they have started to help pick up cans and trash and dispose of them – something not seen before.

“They’re learning by example,” she remarks.
The youths are also learning to share space, Pei Ling says. The older ones used to bully the young ones off the court; now they share the space amicably, with Yee Wei present to direct and mediate.

Practical love

As the men faithfully labour to build relationships, the parking lot around the basketball court at the Henderson cluster has become a community and a safe place.

The frosty single-word responses from the youths have thawed into real conversations sharing joys and heartaches. 
“We started to see youths approach us rather than us them,” Yee Wei says.

One of them told Uncle E his dad had had a fall and had broken his back. Yee Wei and his partners visited the family, bringing gift vouchers and provisions. They prayed in the name of Jesus for the father and family, who welcomed the prayer despite their differences in faith. 
“We felt it was significant – it told them that we’re not here just to play, but to journey with them with practical love,” Yee Wei says.

They prayed in the name of Jesus for the father and family, who welcomed the prayer despite their differences in faith.  

Another youth confided with joy to Yee Wei that his father would soon be released from prison. That same youth later brought his deep disappointment to Yee Wei as his dad ran foul of the law again and was sent back to prison. 
Another boy was grieved by the prospect of his father facing the death penalty or life imprisonment. Yee Wei took the opportunity to encourage him to pray to Jesus for his father. He also exhorted the boy to take care of his mother and younger siblings.  

“These conversations demonstrate the unusually tight connections we’ve made within a short period. It is definitely God,” Yee Wei says. 
The girls started to turn to Uncle E with their relationship issues. Yee Wei would dispense fatherly advice, such as focusing on developing skills so they can find their own feet and be independent until the right man comes along. 
Although some of the girls do come to hang out with the boys at the estate, most come because it is a judgement-free zone for them to build relationships without being ridiculed or scorned.
Yee Wei and his partners also have light conversations with the youth around hobbies like camping, snagging a fish or a sotong (squid), or football games. 

It takes a village

Yee Wei also organises activities that take the youths beyond their estate.

Recently, he ran a friendly soccer match between the youths from Henderson and those from his church. 

A friendly football match between the Henderson youths and the youths from Yee Wei’s church. He even had jerseys made for the youths.

He had jerseys made for the Henderson youths last Christmas, and is in the process of getting a similar set of jerseys made for the youths at his church.

“We would like to do more of these – to teach, to share God’s love, to train – anything that will open up the world for them.”

A few of the volunteers, including Han Wei, came down for the match, then took the youths out for dinner.

“It was a great time. Our church youths took the initiative to mingle and bond with them,” Yee Wei says. 
Earlier in the year, Yee Wei planned a music workshop at the youth space of the church he attends. Six boys and a girl turned up, and one of the boys, with special needs, actually found his own way the next day to the youth space.  
“We would like to do more of these – to teach, to share God’s love, to train – anything that will open up the world for them,” Yee Wei says. 

His original team of nine has dwindled to three or four. BSS brings in two to three volunteers that come in sporadically. Pei Ling sometimes joins them.

“I wanted to enable and empower him to do this if this was something God had put in his heart.” 

On many occasions, there would be just two or three of them, or even Yee Wei on his own, trying to engage more than 30 children and youths, male and female.

Yet it takes a village to raise the youths. At one music workshop, Han Wei picked up the youths at the MRT station and took them to the workshop. A pastor taught the keyboard, a church member the guitar, another the cajon, and yet another facilitated the workshop. The jerseys and dinner for the football tournament were heavily subsidised by a group of fathers at Yee Wei’s church. 
April, Yee Wei’s wife, holds the fort at home with two toddlers – three and five – as well as an elderly father, while her husband attends to the children at Henderson.

“I wasn’t excited about it at first because I couldn’t catch the vision,” April admits. “But I wanted to enable and empower him to do this if this was something God had put in his heart.” 
She gets their young sons to bless their father in prayer before he leaves for Henderson every Thursday.

A Father who sees 

Having grown up in similar circumstances, Yee Wei knows that the pain and poverty of these youths are often hidden because they do not want to be seen as needy and saddled with problems.

“It would make such a difference if we see them and listen to them.”

“When people hear their address, they often form preconceived ideas of them,” Yee Wei says. “This can be damaging to the soul, spirit and self-esteem. They just want to be normal, and to be treated like regular children. It would make such a difference if we see them and listen to them.”
It is clear that Yee Wei sees and loves the youths with the heart of a father, his Father.

Han Wei points out: “He carries it to the youths at Henderson.” 

“I want you to build a house for my children,” God had told Yee Wei four years ago. 
Although he did not know how to go about it, Yee Wei has built a house for the Henderson children by simply obeying.

Will you step up to impact young lives?

If you would like to be part of the outreach to the community in these public rental housing estates, here are three ways to contribute: 

  • Volunteer your time. Beyond Social Services (BSS) covers more than 70 blocks in 20 neighbourhood clusters. That’s about 2,800 lives to impact. Contact BSS to volunteer.
  • Volunteer your skills. Yee Wei and his partners welcome volunteers for any ad hoc events that have the potential to open up the world for the youths – to teach, share, conduct workshops and more. Contact Yee Wei at 9184-7214.
  • Volunteer your resources. The money for buying dinners, sports equipment, hiring buses for outreach come primarily from the volunteers’ pockets. If you would like to contribute specifically to the activities for the Henderson youths, contact Yee Wei at 9184-7214. 


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About the author

Peck Sim

Peck Sim is a product manager in an MNC providing information and consultancy services. She loves stories, corny jokes, short runs and long walks. The world is her oyster but Heaven is her home.