Groundup Features: The Signpost Project




In this edition of Groundup Features, we speak to Rachel and Alice, who are part of the team behind The Signpost Project. The Signpost Project is a groundup initiative founded by a group of students from Yale-NUS that aims to nurture relationships and articulate individual stories of tissue peddlers in Singapore. They aspire for Singapore to be a heartland of narratives through reshaping community networks and redefining societal perspectives.

Hey Rachel and Alice, Thanks for being with us today! Could you share more about yourselves?

Rachel: Hi everyone, my name is Rachel and I’m a Year 3 student at Yale-NUS College studying Environmental Studies. Currently, I am doing my exchange in the Netherlands at University College Utrecht and I’ll be here for the first half of the year. The weather is cold, but I’m really excited to be here!

I heard about The Signpost Project (TSP) over a year ago through promotional posters in Yale-NUS and started volunteering with them. Since joining TSP, I have felt that it has connected me to the community in Clementi, and I wanted to be more involved. Eventually, I decided to join as a core team member to help support and coordinate their events. This was what I perceived to be a gap in existing organisations, and I am happy to fill this gap to support the tissue peddlers.

Alice: Hi everyone, I’m Alice and I’m a Year 4 student at Yale-NUS College studying Global Affairs and minoring in Anthropology.

I joined The Signpost Project in 2020 right after I took a leave of absence from my university studies. At the time, I was struggling a lot with my mental health and faced worries about my academics and career prospects. When I joined TSP, I wanted to be more involved in my community and learn about other people’s lives, especially those who were from backgrounds that were not as privileged as mine. Through learning about the experiences of tissue peddlers and how they have surmounted their life challenges, it has helped me to overcome the problems I was facing in my own life. I am very thankful to the peddlers for the company and support they have given and everything they have taught me! 

Tell us more about the initiatives under The Signpost Project.

Rachel: In a nutshell, The Signpost Project is about befriending tissue peddlers on a regular basis through weekly volunteer runs. We currently operate in 3 regions: Clementi and Jurong East, Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh, and Hougang and Kovan. Through this befriending effort, we want to let them know that there are people in the community who care for them and with whom they can chit-chat with. A lot of times peddlers will often go on to share their life stories, and we see that as a way of them enjoying the conversation.

During our runs, we will also check in on them and connect them with social service organisations such as the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) if they need financial or health assistance. We have also given more ad-hoc support like spring cleaning their houses for Chinese New Year and accompanying them to medical appointments.




Alice: More recently, we started collaborations with Junior College students, to introduce them to the peddlers, bringing them on runs with us and encouraging them to lead their own runs as well. We are also looking to organise more ad-hoc volunteering events, like the one we did with the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT), a residential college under the National University of Singapore, where volunteers get to experience what it is like going on our runs for one day.

In the future, we hope that The Signpost Project will be more of a grassroots effort, where people from all walks of life will participate in volunteer runs and take the initiative to organise runs in the areas they live in. 

Could you share more about what you do as part of the team behind The Signpost Project?

Rachel: Both Alice and myself help to organise the volunteer runs in Clementi by coordinating volunteers' availability to meet the run schedules.

Alice: In addition to the runs, I also oversee volunteer management in the team. That includes giving new volunteers an orientation, teaching them the dos and don’ts of interacting with the peddlers and what to expect during a volunteer run. Right now, I’m also working on ways to increase volunteer retention and encourage more volunteers to come for future runs.

We have quite a small team so our roles aren’t very rigid. Whenever there is a job to do, for example communicating with potential collaborators or writing emails, we step up for each other if we have the capacity. Our team has a very horizontal team structure and there is a spirit of constant collaboration.




What were some challenges you encountered and how did the team solve them?

Alice: During the height of COVID-19, we had to pause our volunteer runs. Our team took the opportunity to organise an island-wide run called “Operation Home Run” with the goal of seeing how the tissue peddler demographic has changed during the pandemic. This gave us a better sense of which areas to re-channel our energy and devote more attention to, and which areas we were seeing a decline in the number of peddlers. We also explored areas outside of the usual three regions we go to. Our rationale for this was we could connect the peddlers we meet with organisations that were already operating in those areas, so help would be available to them if they had urgent concerns.

We were also lucky enough to receive a grant from the Oscar Fund via the Temasek Foundation, which we utilised to give out care packages consisting of COVID necessities such as masks and hand sanitisers to the peddlers. We also made sure to include items that the peddlers have repeatedly feedbacked to us that they wanted such as ponchos and hand cream. It was good short-term relief and helped to boost morale.




What were some encouraging moments that have kept you going?

Alice: What I really value from my personal interactions with the peddlers are the instances where they gave me advice. There was one peddler who would give me relationship advice from experiences in her marriage. She has also struggled with her mental health and encouraged me not to give up because we are still young and have a lot of room to make mistakes. It helps to know that other people have faced similar struggles and that we are not alone.

We are not just the ones offering support to the peddlers, but they are also imparting what they have learnt from their life experiences to us. It is heartwarming to see how the peddlers always have stories and experiences that they want to share with us.

Rachel: Personally, I found a lot of meaning in journeying with our younger volunteers from the Junior Colleges (JC) and witnessing their integration into the community that supports and befriends tissue peddlers. The JC volunteers would accompany us almost every week to various locations and every time I go on runs with them, I gain energy from their keenness to learn and their readiness to serve. When I allow them to step up and facilitate conversations and debriefs, I get to see how they’ve grown to become more of a servant leader. I feel privileged to be able to walk with them with this on-the-ground community service and that really encourages me.




From what you have shared, The Signpost Project is really a team effort. Any tips to share for those who might be interested to run their own groundup initiative as a team?

Rachel: What really helped me is that our team sticks together and checks in on one another regularly. We meet every weekend on a 1-hour call and I think having that regularity is very important. That approach helps our events to flow well and we stay connected on updates about the peddlers. I think that momentum is best sustained through consistent meetings even if there is nothing pertinent to discuss. Just being with each other and knowing more about each other’s lives is also crucial in sustaining the team effort.

It also gives us an opportunity to hold more complex conversations on local policies affecting tissue peddlers when we come together and understand everyone’s stance on these matters .It helps us to guide our conversations with important partners such as MSF and bring up certain points to them in discussions that we may have observed from the ground. 

For the readers of the article who would like to support The Signpost Project, how can they do so?

Rachel: I have an unconventional ask. Our vision is to create an ecosystem where everyone feels like they can be a “Signpost volunteer” and befriend the tissue peddlers in their community. What I would encourage readers to do is to just reach out and talk to a tissue peddler! What would mean more to the peddlers aside from you supporting them financially would be for them to feel seen and feel like a valued individual in their community. Peddlers are often stationed at a location for the entire day and when people pass by without ever acknowledging them, it can feel very alienating and negatively impact the way they view themselves.

Just approach and talk to a peddler. You might notice that their stories are really interesting, and the conversations don't have to be heavy. They can be lighthearted and enjoyable. Slowly over time, we hope to build a community where this becomes more of a norm than it is an initiative.


If you would like to support The Signpost Project by joining our volunteer runs, you can sign up HERE!



Finally, how do you hope The Signpost Project helps Singapore to become a City of Good?

Alice: Our goal for The Signpost Project is to make volunteering opportunities with tissue peddlers more accessible and to also show that the peddlers are a very diverse group of people with their own aspirations and life experiences. We see ourselves as a bridge between members of the public and the tissue peddlers.

However, I think the ideal goal of every non-profit is to no longer be necessary in the future because there is no longer a need for that conduit. In the future, we hope to build a norm in the community where people can reach out to the peddlers that they see everyday and to care for others in our very high-paced and busy city life. 

Fun fact: What was your top artist and song of your Spotify Wrapped?

Alice: I’m a Rihanna girl and my top song is “Umbrella” by Rihanna and Jay Z.

Rachel: One of my Top 5 artists is Hongjoin who is a local artist from Singapore. He has recently released a new song “Long Way Home” which everyone should check out!



* This feature has been edited for clarity


About the author:

Hwee Jen is currently an undergraduate, and intern at Groundup Central. She envisions a kinder world with more open hearts and minds and hopes to share the joy of giving.