The silent crises in our hands —issue #36

The silent crises in our hands —issue #36


To me, it is a country whose brilliance sometimes casts a shadow on its untold stories.

We may be attractive and glamorous from the outside à la Crazy Rich Asians, but what’s less talked about is how our society and its systems can often, intentionally or not, overlook the minority experience.

Recently, our Prime Minister announced the decision to repeal Section 377A, a colonial-era law that criminalises sex between men. This was met with positive response from the general public, but is it actual progress? After years of legal challenges and activist action, the move felt long overdue—like we were, only now, sheepishly stepping up to the starting line.

Yet, such action does indicate an acknowledgement of the voices of minorities and those who stand up for them. This feels in step with how we are now in the age of change, as the passionate younger generation uses the tools available to them to relentlessly push for a more inclusive society.

More can, and will, be done. Just as how we’ve overcome the odds to be where we are today, we can change and break social norms to create a country that better supports our minority communities and those currently in the margins.

And when we do, we’ll become a Singapore that is truly brilliant.

Have untold stories you’d like to share? Drop us an email at

Featured Story
Our story on Singapore’s public housing has been on our ideas list for as long as I can remember. Having volunteered at Meet-the-People sessions in Singapore for ten years, I know from experience that housing is, by far, the most common and pressing problem faced by low-income families in Singapore. It’s a topic that is close to my heart, and something I believe deserves closer attention beyond the costs of a flat and how one could profit from it.
We drew our inspirations from a wide variety of examples for this story, with the most important ones being SCMP’s piece on shoebox housing in Hong Kong, and PunchUp’s article about creating a city for all. Both were visually stunning stories with narratives that were told carefully and with empathy. We wanted to emulate the emotional impact of these pieces, to depict the troubles that Singapore’s disadvantaged communities face with empathy, understanding, and dignity.
From the get go, we wanted to include a few key storytelling elements: an illustration of a 1-room rental flat, a choose-your-own narrative format, and many, many charts. We also knew that our narrative would include the theme of the Singapore dream, and with these key features, we proceeded to create the scaffolds of this story. Munirah, our designer, very cleverly translated our ideas into a HDB lift ride—one that starts in the clouds, but descends into a darker reality.
I also experienced a few “firsts” with this story. It was the first time I had to process so much data for a single project—I worked with about 700,000 lines of data just to calculate the yearly minimum, median, and maximum prices for 2- to 5-room HDB flats across 20 years. This was all done using pivot tables on Google Sheets, which I’m very glad did not crash or fail me throughout the process.
Another first for me was interviewing families and individuals for this story. In a previous story on wet markets in Singapore, I had informally chatted with several stallholders just to get a better grasp on the topic. This time, we spoke to four families. It made me feel like a “real” journalist for once. It was nerve-racking, because it was so important to me that I wrote about their responses correctly and thoughtfully. It also gave me an immense sense of satisfaction knowing that we did our best to ensure that real experiences were consulted in the creation of this piece.
We also depended on the data and work done by others to bring this project to fruition. This included Straits Times’s Salary Guide, with a nifty calculator that we used to derive the median wages of various industries—a much more efficient method than sifting through countless PDF pages of Ministry of Manpower data. Another was the mysterious Teoalida, which is an unofficial go-to page for HDB data in Singapore and a repository of all things HDB. Our third important source was AWARE’s 2016 and 2021 reports on single parents’ access to housing, which gave us an in-depth understanding of what happens to those who fall through the cracks of HDB’s policies.

We also really wanted to use data from the What’s Enough project, and tried our best to fit it into the narrative. Unfortunately, we found that it was a digression from the story and had to take it off the drawing board.

About 10 people in total worked on this story. While I was the main author and project manager for this, the team more than carried their weight, going above and beyond to make sure every element was as close to perfection as we could get. Zafirah, Samira, and our intern Shreya assisted with interviews and research. Munirah designed and drew most of the assets, including the haunting illustrations for the section on homelessness, and worked closely with Aishah, our front-end lead developer. Griselda contributed with illustrations of the six families we drew up scenarios for. Bianchi spent days with me looking at rows and rows of manpower data, and Nabilah and Gwyneth patiently edited our work, pushing the narrative to be—hopefully—less boring and more impactful. It is true when they say data storytelling is a team sport!
...more from us
Sexual violence is mostly underreported in our country, but analysis of our news reports gives us a clue about the scale of this often overlooked issue.
Domestic workers are the backbone of many households in Singapore, but unequal power dynamics between them and their employers expose them to exploitation and limited legal representation.

“This also made me realise how mindful we need to be when working with data, because I realised when you’re trying to clean data, you’re trying to figure out what to focus on. Many times when you create a data-driven graphic, the audience will think it’s very objective and fact-based. But in all honesty, it’s still people picking the data and deciding what is going to be amplified. A lot of unconscious biases can fold into that. ”


Stuff we love
What does climate change-induced sea level rise mean for a low-lying island states? Read 
Ground-up movement Humans Not Cargo documents unsafe conditions of migrant worker transportation on Singapore’s roads.  Swipe 

Miss the charm of HDB void decks? Jonathan Tan captures old school nostalgia in this photo series. Explore 
Looking for artefacts, manuscripts, flyers and audio recordings of Singaporean theatre? Centre 42’s digital archive has them all. Browse 

Did you know?
Illustrator's rendition of a carnival day at Pulau Seking back in the 1980s.

Singapore's lost island;
Pulau Seking

Many of the islands in Singapore’s waters once housed residents—among them was Pulau Seking (also known as Pulau Sakeng or Siking), which was situated along Singapore’s southern coast. It was home to an islander community and relied on the surrounding swamps for essential firewood and building materials. The islanders fostered close ties with other neighbouring islanders and even Riau residents by hosting annual carnivals at the end of every year, during which they held a variety of water and sports games. The last of its residents relocated to mainland Singapore in 1994 before the island was converted into a landfill site connecting to Pulau Semakau.