We’re true believers that everyone can give. This month, our team reached out to an untapped segment of society: criminals.
Last year, we covered everyone from youth to Uber drivers to Seniors who are active volunteers. In fact, we didn’t even limit ourselves to humans, we featured animals like Mercy and Bailey, and even Queen Buckay the horse!
Through these stories, our donation and volunteer numbers increased by 32% and 20% respectively. We thought our work was done, and we were all ready to pack up and head to Bintan for a break. Until our research team discovered one untapped segment of society that we haven’t yet reached: criminals.
We swopped our sun hats for our detective hats, dug deep and went undercover. Turns out, there are indeed law-breakers who are using their skills for good. Here’s how they do it.
*Names of those featured in this article have been changed to protect their privacy. And to avoid being caught. Any resemblance to actual persons is purely coincidental.
1) Andrew, Neighbourhood Bicycle Thief
Theft of bicycle is a common sight in our neighbourhoods. Andrew, 17, claims he started stealing bicycles because of “itchy fingers” and couldn’t stand the eyesore of random bicycles parked in non-designated zones. Recently, he discovered Volunteer Bike Patrol, and has started “stealing” damaged shared bikes instead and returning them to the bike sharing companies for repair.
Right now, I just volunteer with them on a weekly basis, but I hope to do this more often and one day curb my habit of stealing bicycles.
Neighbourhood Bicycle Thief
2) Kelvin, Illegal PMD (Personal Mobility Device) rider
Kelvin, 29, bought his PMD (Personal Mobility Device) back in 2016, because “all my start-up friends in San Francisco were using it to get to work”. Since then, he’s been riding his e-scooter to work every day. “I usually ride on the roads. I know it’s illegal now, but I don’t really care. It’s so much easier to use the road – cars are a lot more predictable and tend to go in a straight line, whereas pedestrians don’t! It cuts down my journey by a good 2 minutes”.
Apart from using it to get to work every day, he also uses his e-scooter for leisurely activities, like riding along the Kallang Basin. He has a regular group he rides with, but admits they go quite slowly as they also help to pick up rubbish along the coast. Most of them ride bicycles or even go on foot, so they make sure they keep strictly to footpaths.
3) Cherie, Public Nuisance
Cherie, 20, is a self-proclaimed Karaoke Queen. Even after belting out her favourite tunes at Teo Heng till 3 AM in the morning, she still has it in her to continue singing while wandering the streets trying to find a taxi. As a result, the poor girl has been accused of being a public nuisance a couple of times. She’s not going to let this stop her from wearing the Karaoke Queen crown and has found other ways for her voice to reach different members of society. This includes busking and more recently, singing karaoke with the patients at Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital.
4) Ram, Regular Jaywalker
We all know how busy university students are. Between his internship, final year project and trying to keep his GPA perfect, Ram, 24, has no time to wait at traffic lights. Plus, he believes that all that running and dodging oncoming traffic is good cardio, letting him kill two birds with one stone. His friends, after noticing this habit, encouraged him to sign up for a run – specifically, a dash like this one by the Singapore Kindness Movement. As he is above the age limit for the 800m dash, he has still decided to participate and signed up for the 10km run instead. Watch him run to the finish line on 13 May, via the footpath for once!
5) Salim, Pickpocket
Salim is the poster boy for lifelong learning. At 72, he decided to pick a new skill – pickpocketing. It wasn’t easy to learn, but he noticed a vast improvement in his skills after he signed up to volunteer with the Singapore Glove Project to pick up litter. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there’s much similarity between the two. But as Salim enthusiastically shared “sometimes we have to pick up rotten food on the ground – you want to have as little contact with it as possible, so you gingerly do so. In the same way, you have to gingerly take things from people’s pocket so they don’t catch you.”
This year, Salim is training to be both the #1 pickpocket and #1 litter picker in Singapore.
6) Michelle, Owner of an Illegal Gambling Den
Michelle, 38, is the proud owner of the most organised, illegal gambling den in Singapore. While she does not gamble herself, she spends her Thursday afternoons at Bright Vision Hospital, playing mahjong with their patients, or “mahjong kakis” as she calls them. “I used to be an avid gambler, and once almost lost my gambling den in a game. That was a turning point for me, and I haven’t touched a chip since.” She loves mahjong though, and strongly believes that it keeps one’s mind active. So far, her time spent at Bright Vision Hospital has proven her theory to be true.
I’ve learnt some new tips and tricks from my kakis here, and honestly, they’re a much more difficult match than the people who visit my den.
Owner of an Illegal Gambling Den
7) Da Ming, Loanshark
Da Ming, 47, has been an Ah Long (loanshark or illegal money lender) for as long as he can remember. His main gripe with his job isn’t that he has to run around carrying huge cans of paint, but rather, that so much waste is created from these cans. “The hardware store only sells big cans of paint. We always lose the cover, then the paint dries up and we have to buy another new can!”
So now, whenever he sees an empty wall, he uses his leftovers to paint a mural. Smiling, he recalls how an elderly resident once saw him with all the leftover paint and invited him to spruce up the wall of her one bedroom flat. Since then, more elderly residents in the area, and even Social Creatives, have invited him to paint their walls.
There are only so many ways that you can paint “O$P$ on someone’s wall leh, a bit sian. I’m really glad I found a way to let my creativity out… and let other people enjoy it some more! Shiok lah!
8) Sally, Phone Scammer
Sally, 62, is great at making conversation. She believes it comes from spending her day as a phone scammer, calling random numbers and trying to lure them with fake deals. Sometimes, she calls lonely elderly who live by themselves too. She admits that she did try and scam them at the start, “but they just continued talking to me! I even confessed to them that I’m a scammer and just out to make money from them. They were unfazed and kept on talking, telling me about the drama their neighbour was causing!”
So now, she makes it a point to call her elderly friends at least once a week, after she’s hit her scam quota, just to chat.
It’s just like making a friend! And I’m grateful that they don’t judge me for being a scammer. I guess I’m a little lonely too.
This April (Fools), help us spread the message that everyone can give by sharing this article with someone you know, criminal or not. And if you’ve found yourself on this page via a friend, then it’s time to think about how you can put your skills to good use at www.giving.sg/volunteer.
Editor’s note: We wrote this article in good fun, in the spirit of April Fool’s! We promise that no one was harmed, no pockets were picked, no property vandalised or bikes stolen in the production of this piece. And it is our sincere hope that no one was offended. At the end of the day, we truly believe that everyone can give – whether it’s time, a skill or just a couple of dollars