Richness of Heart (Zulhaqem Zulkifli)


There are beautiful everyday things in rental estates people don’t usually see or talk about. During this COVID-19 “circuit breaker” period, much like the wildflowers we walk past on pedestrian footpaths which have since been given a chance to grow, these little beautiful acts blossom silently in the narrow corridors of the rental estate homes of the underprivileged. 

Entering rental estates, one usually notices that there are a lot of animals, especially on the first floor, where stray cats abound. Most people find this “dirty”, and there have been complaints to Town Councils regarding these animals. But to me these cats, birds, and other animals, reflect the generous hearts of the residents. They feed and care for the animals, and some even allow them to enter their houses to sleep during heavy storms. Other residents allow cats to walk in and out of their units with no complaints.

This richness of heart is seen in the little compassions between residents. Some units do not have a WiFi connection at home, or a particularly good mobile connection. Neighbours who have a good WiFi connection have been allowing their neighbours and young children in the estate to tap on their personal networks. I only realised this when I saw children sitting in my neighbour’s corridors. Later I was informed about what was going on. Having less doesn't always mean you hoard; for greater hearts, having less is reason enough to share more.

The exchange of food is charming. Perhaps you may think this is a regular thing in other housing estates, and it is nothing special. That is true, but I still think it is special because of the food that is exchanged. There are times when some don't cook or have no food to give, but still, they give what they have. One of the most memorable things my family has received is a plate of chocolates. The chocolates were the cheap sort you find at most convenient stores, but they were taken out of their packaging and carefully arranged. On another occasion, it was assorted biscuits, again arranged with careful deliberation – an ikebana of biscuits. I thought it was very adorable. Our neighbours apologised and said that they didn't have much. Why were they apologising? Even in giving, there are differences – to give despite one's lack is definitely more admirable. To give a dollar out of the only dollar that one has, is far greater than the dollar given out of the hundreds that another may have.

These are just some beautiful things I see and have the privilege of participating in at times. I think it is important to pause and to silently look at the things that we see. Much like the rediscovered appreciation for wildflowers blooming in our Singaporean landscape during this period, similar blossoms of humanity are only revealed if we take time to understand and appreciate them. In this case, we see that the smallness of space and lack of wealth are compensated for by a largeness of heart and generosity, one that perfumes everyday narrow corridors.


Zulhaqem is currently pursuing his Masters in Buddhist Studies at the University of Oxford. He is the President of the Community of Servant Leaders (Counsel), a youth ground-up initiative that aims to bridge the gap between National schooling students and Madrasah religious schooling students. He is also co-founder of Project Hills, a charitable initiative that focuses on the provision of essential household items and funds to defray everyday living expenses for the underprivileged and elderly residents in the rental estates.


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