Singapore’s Unsung Heroes Hit the ScreenWritten by Christy T
Singapore’s National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre wants to change lives one film at a time through their campaign “15 Shorts.” Find out how they are advocating for change with the power of cinema.
Singapore’s National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) is on a mission to fundamentally change attitudes towards giving and volunteering. And it’s doing so via cinema. With their initiative “15 Shorts,” created in conjunction with local film company Blu3 Asia, they’re telling the stories of 15 unknown Singaporean heroes – normal people who went out of their way to do extraordinary things to help others. Made by a group of local, award-winning film directors such as Boo Junfeng, Chong Yu Lun, and K. Rajagopal, the films focus on critical and emergent social issues in Singapore, serving as a reminder that the giving spirit is still very much alive – and desperately needed.
“At NVPC, our role is to galvanise givers. We believe that everyone should embark on a giving journey,” says Jeffrey Tan, the centre’s Director of Knowledge and Advocacy. “We want individuals, as well as companies, to give back more meaningfully and intentionally. Right now in Singapore, about 40% are transactional givers, which basically means that they will give only once a year. We often see spikes in December around tax season, but, come January, everything drops. Our goal is to turn individuals and companies into relational givers, so that they donate and volunteer on a regular basis.”
To do that, they are using cinema to inspire, telling real life stories of those who have given themselves. “Two years ago, NVPC was tasked with supporting SG Cares, a national campaign to encourage people to volunteer and organise activities from the ground up,” explains Jeffrey. “We decided then to come up with 15 shorts, as we reckoned that reading an article about giving heroes is not as moving as watching their lives being played out on screen.” Amongst those who have opened their lives up to be filmed is Iris Verghese, a health worker portrayed in Plague, who went out of her way to counsel AIDS sufferers and their families in Singapore in the 1980s, a time when the disease was surrounded by fear and stigma. “We also have Guilty, a film about an inspector who goes beyond his call of duty to help troubled youths,” says Jeremy. “These are all examples of giving heroes who stepped out of their zone to extend help to those suffering.”
“15 Shorts” also aims to shed light on causes which might be more niche. “Traditionally, people are most concerned about social causes related to the elderly, children or people with disabilities, but we want people to understand that causes which might not be immediately gratifying are also worthy of their support,” he explains. A case in point would be the film Sister, a story about Sister Gerard who counselled death row inmate Catherine Tan. “We want to provoke people to think about how they can be empathetic to those who are marginalised in the society, and form meaningful connections with them in the process.”
Now available to watch online, each of the films in “15 Shorts” tells a different story and sheds light on a different issue – raising money for their relevant charities as they go. Ultimately, they demonstrate the power of the giving spirit – however big or small. As Jeremy puts it, “We wanted to remind Singaporeans that giving has always been a part of our DNA, and that giving doesn’t always have to be gigantic acts of heroism.”
Watch 15 Shorts here.