The residents living in the rental blocks along Mei Ling Street have always been a close-knit lot, so when the Circuit Breaker first began in April 2020, many of Zulhaqem’s neighbours came together to share their worries. Some were concerned about their finances while others fretted over childcare duties.

Hearing their concerns, 28-year-old Zulhaqem and his sister Zulayqha decided to step in to help. They set up Project Hills, an initiative that aims to provide assistance to residents in rental blocks.

Project Hills founder Zulhaqem and his sister Zulayqha
Project Hills founder Zulhaqem manages the initiatives with his sister Zulayqha

Going door to door helped them to better understand where the residents most needed assistance. Starting with helping selected families with grocery bills, Project Hills gradually expanded their initiatives. Today, through fundraising efforts and recruitment of more volunteers, they also provide meals to those in need and help with decluttering of flats.

Doing Good Together

Currently, Project Hills provides assistance to 7 rental housing blocks in Queenstown and Tiong Bahru.

Volunteers at Project Hills come from different backgrounds – one of whom is Jean, who joined the team late last year. Jean was looking to participate in volunteering work when she came across Project Hills on social media. “I like how the team is made up of young people from all walks of life, with a common goal of bettering the lives of others,” the 28-year-old lawyer smiles. “Some of my friends also joined Project Hills after learning about my volunteering work,” she adds.

She most recently participated in the Ramadhan Initiative, which provides hot meals for Muslims who are breaking fast. The meals are prepared by fellow volunteers before they are distributed door-to-door. Volunteers even take into consideration the needs of the beneficiaries, such as providing softer food for the elderly so it’ll be easier for them to chew and digest.

Food packets are packed and distributed
Project HIills volunteer packing and distributing food
Food packets are packed and distributed
Jean, a volunteer since last year, distributes meals along with the rest of the volunteers
Jean, a volunteer since last year, distributes meals along with the rest of the volunteers

Project Hills also helps to improve the living conditions for the residents in rental flats. They have helped to declutter homes and clean them up, spruced up flats with paint, and even bought neighbours essential furniture or appliances for their home. “While there might have been some initial scepticism about our project, residents have over time, come to trust us as we have consistently been there for them.” Zulhaqem smiles.

Project Can was one of the largest flat clean-up initiatives they have undertaken. The project sought to declutter a resident’s flat from recyclables he had collected as a rag-and-bone man. Due to the deterioration of his health, Project Can was formed to provide the resident with a clean living environment for as he recovers

Advocating for the Community

Beyond helping the less privileged, Project Hills also seeks to become a voice for the community. “Some of our neighbours are not literate while others are unsure of which agency to turn to for assistance, so we help to convey their needs to the relevant agencies,” Zulhaqem explains. “As part of the community, Project Hills is in a good position to fill the agencies in on the current ground situation.”

For example, while supermarket vouchers are the primary mode of assistance, the team realised that individuals with disabilities may prefer donations in kind such as groceries, as having to physically purchase them can be challenging.

Volunteers check in on the residents from time to time
Volunteers check in on the residents from time to time

Fostering a Culture of Giving Back

For Zulhaqem, one of the most gratifying moments was when he chanced upon Project Hill beneficiaries carrying out volunteering work of their own. “I was walking around the estate when I saw a resident going around the neighbourhood with a trolley full of groceries. I approached him and he said, ‘You all are always helping us, so I wanted to help out a little too’. This really touched me because not only did we manage to extend a helping hand, we also unknowingly fostered the culture of giving back within the community.”

  • Adeline Ang

    Content producer who writes too much and edits too little. Usually has a cold brew coffee in one hand as she stalks you on social media with the other.