Kampungs or villages have long ceased to be the primary accommodation in Singapore.
A "kampung" is a Malay term for a traditional village – a cluster community with a few hundred inhabitants. Today it resembles a Housing Development Board (HDB) settlement where most Singaporeans live.
The highly acclaimed "Kampung Spirit", characterized by camaraderie and concern for the community, has also given way to the preference for privacy over connection with neighbors.
31-year-old Kenneth Heng and his wife wanted to avoid this phenomenon when they moved into their new home, which led to the establishment of the Open Home Network (OHN).
The Open Home Network
OHN is an initiative that encourages and supports Singaporeans to open up their homes and provide refuge for high-risk people.
You can think of it simply as “Airbnb for the needy,” where host families willing to accommodate people in need can rent it to them for free for up to a year.
The initiative was launched by Kenneth, who is also the founder of the social enterprise Solve n + 1, along with Abraham Yeo, co-founder of Homeless Hearts of Singapore, a charity that helps the homeless.
"Stumbling" into social entrepreneurship
A project to solve n + 1 / Photo credits: Solve n + 1 on Facebook
While working full-time for a charity, Kenneth became interested in the idea of an “ethical, holistic business” that could create opportunities for vulnerable people.
For many years he traveled to different parishes and villages to learn about the problems they were facing.
After building friendships with locals from different communities, he began working with them on mini-projects – from microcredit to a small chicken farm.
His social enterprise, Solve n + 1, was gradually born as a result of his dedication with friends to facilitate micro-initiatives for community development.
The social enterprise enables social innovation for the development of the community among the vulnerable. It does this through consultations, research and project management, resulting in collaborative projects that build resilience in vulnerable communities.
Open their hearts and their homes
OHN is part of the Bezer Initiative, one of the Solve n + 1 projects.
Kenneth Heng, co-founder of the Open Home Network and solve n + 1 / Photo credits: Solve n + 1 on Facebook
It all started when Kenneth and his wife discussed what kind of culture they wanted to create when they moved to a new neighborhood.
We knew we'd love our neighbors to know and support each other, whether in a time of need or not, so we took the time to get in touch with them – from greeting them to talking on the Corridor.
Kenneth Heng, co-founder of the Open Home Network
Over time, the couple temporarily welcomed people in need, from a teenager estranged from their family to a Pakistani family traveling to Singapore for their son's cancer treatment.
According to Kenneth, even her neighbors and friends supported her actions.
"It was then that we realized the value of community engagement for a person in crisis," said Kenneth in an interview with Vulcan Post.
The English and Sociology graduate also began writing about how the community could be involved to support people in crisis and ways to do it.
The opportunity to officially launch the initiative came when Homeless Hearts of Singapore called hosts and the project was launched in June of this year.
Gaining grounding even under Covid-19
Photo credit: Open Home Network via Facebook
Although 160 families have only been operating for two months, they have already registered as hosts.
This shows us that people have the potential to be kind. We just need to unlock these phrases to give each other permission to connect and support.
Kenneth Heng, co-founder of the Open Home Network
The network receives recommendations from social services and non-governmental organizations, and around 30 recommendations have been made in the past nine weeks.
Before arrangements are made for the person in crisis to move in, a meeting is arranged that resembles a facilitated dating process.
The meeting focuses on making sure that both parties learn more about each other in the beginning and develop a solid relationship before a move-in is complete.
Bringing strangers into your home may seem unintuitive and cumbersome, but Kenneth said host families "understand that a stable environment is essential for a person to cope with their crisis".
Stand up for social good
It wasn't long before Kenneth and Abraham realized that they had started a project to address an issue that social workers regularly encounter, particularly during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The OHN is a welcome initiative for the alienated in the face of rising domestic violence as action on breakers in Singapore began to curb the spread of the virus.
Kenneth noted that OHN's work does not replace, but complements, professional support from social workers or volunteer organizations.
After Covid-19, the duo hope to develop more research literature, advocacy and partnerships so that more families will "understand the value of hospitality and support one another".
Even so, Kenneth understands that Singaporeans "generally prefer their privacy to hosting" and that it will take more "time and education" for the OHN to be fully functional in the long term.
Covid-19 has opened up a lot of opportunities for Singaporeans to think about important issues.
Kenneth has seen a growing number of Singaporeans talking about "climate change, dormitories for migrant workers and poverty".
He sees this as an enormous opportunity for his team to continue to work for more cooperation for the social well-being, be it through OHN or Solve n + 1.
"I am grateful that more Singaporeans are rising up during this crisis to provide resources and time. I hope this will be part of the new normal that will persist after COVID-19," said Kenneth.
Selected image source: Solve n + 1 via Facebook and Homeguide