Would you drink an unfiltered glass of water from Singapore’s reservoirs? Probably not, so here’s why we should care about the rubbish that pollutes our waters.

This article first appeared on Givingweek.sg, as part of the 2017 campaign.

There is probably no other place where being “kaypoh” is such a coveted skill than at the Waterways Watch Society (WWS). After all, it was that very quintessential Singaporean trait – the natural curiosity to nose around, constantly ask questions and learn more – that sparked the idea for the voluntary work organisation, so says WWS founder and chairman Eugene Heng.


Inspired by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s efforts to clean up the Singapore River and the Boat Quay area in the 1990’s, the WWS’ initial mission focused mainly on cleaning up the river and was formed out of volunteers who conducted patrols on the weekends. Almost 20 years on and the society’s mission has broadened beyond cleaning up to also include education and awareness and – surprisingly – a mission to put themselves out of work.

“If every Singaporean cares about the canals and drains in their area and does their part, there will be nothing for us to do…No more litter to be picked because it would be picked up the people in their own neighbourhoods. Our work would then be done. And that is our ultimate aim, to close the organisation down.”


Founder & Chairman, Waterways Watch Society


As much as it spells doom for the WWS, it remains an ideal as there is much work to be done. It’s a point put forward rather starkly at daily volunteer sessions. “I always offer our volunteers a glass of reservoir water to drink. It highlights the point of our work,” says WWS staff member John, holding up a glass of cloudy water, thick with sediment and floating particles. Hmm… point made.


Harsh lessons aside, there is a fun side to the work too, say the staff.

After all, where else can you volunteer where you can be outdoors with new-found friends, laughing over the random items that get fished out of the water? Street lamps, a shopping trolley, even a tortoise sitting calmly in a toy car (training for the F1, the staff believe) – they have seen it all.

They call this never-ending stream of water litter the River Monster, a name that is apt, easy to remember and resonates particularly well among WWS’ younger volunteers who are part of the River Monster programme for schools.

All WWS’ programmes focus on building education and creating awareness, while also monitoring and cleaning up Singapore’s natural environment. Participants of all ages learn about the impact of pollutants, as well as the various small measures each individual can take to make a difference and live more considerately.


With such an important mission, WWS hopes more volunteers will step forward. “What we need is more regular support and volunteers during the week – and for that to happen, we need more employers to be not just supportive of their employees getting involved in volunteering, but to also actively encourage it, by creating a work culture that embraces community involvement, where volunteering is part of the values of the company and not just an annual event to encourage team-building,” says Eugene.


“Many companies offer volunteer leave hours as a staff benefit, but how many employees take it up? What if employers actively supported their employees taking the time off? Better still, what if they incorporate such volunteer work as part of their performance evaluation?

“Such support would be win-win for everyone. Happy employees mean a happy employer and increased productivity – and of course, we wouldn’t complain about having more volunteers either!

Special thanks to Mona Thyagarajan, our volunteer writer, and Kim Meulemans, who shot the photos in this story!