Koh Poh Koon envisions Tampines Central as a place where ‘people care for one another’ 


A hydroponic farm that will provide therapy for children with special needs is slated to open in Tampines Central by the end of the year, according to Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, and Manpower. He strongly believes in building an inclusive community in Tampines Central. 

In an interview with Petir, Dr Koh said that during his Meet-the-People sessions and walkabouts, he has met parents of children with special needs and understands their challenges. He highlighted the difficulties that these individuals face, such as a shortage  of community programmes catering to their needs, insufficient support for parents, and behaviours that others may not readily accept.  

Dr Koh, who is also Member of Parliament for Tampines, said that to address this, his team is partnering with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) to convert the rooftop space at the Tampines Central Community Club complex into a hydroponic farm. The NGO will develop programmes to engage children with special needs through farm therapy. Construction starts mid-year and will finish by year’s end. 

“The hydroponics farm also gives parents who care for their children round the clock downtime to rest and run errands,” he said. “We can set up a parent support group, so these parents know they’re not struggling alone.” 

“Including these kids in the community means volunteers from the community — young and old — can help out and interact with these special needs individuals. Through this, we hope to build public understanding of the needs of these unique individuals, so they become part of the community,” he added. 

Programmes must afford the flexibility to meet different needs: Koh Poh Koon  

Building an inclusive environment also means looking after the less fortunate in the community. His team launched the CARES Shopping Programme, a welfare initiative for the lower-income residents at Tampines Central in July 2020. It was also implemented when he served as an MP at Yio Chu Kang in 2015. 

The programme provides eligible households with a budget of $100 every quarter to buy items they need at FairPrice, including fresh produce and household appliances.   

He recalled how a five-year-old boy had come up to him to ask if he could use the voucher to buy a toy car. The boy lived with his 70-year-old grandmother in a rental flat. The boy’s father was imprisoned, and his mother had left home, so his grandmother cared for him. 

“He was holding a small toy car available at FairPrice. He asked if he could use the $100 budget to buy the car,” he said. “His grandmother said whenever they went to the supermarket, her grandson would look at the toy car. But he never once asked to buy it because he knew his grandmother could not afford it.” 

The episode left a deep impression on Dr Koh. “The episode touched me. While we expected residents to use the $100 to buy groceries, you never know that just three to five dollars’ worth of a small toy car can make a young boy’s small dream come true and make such a difference to him.”  

The CARES Shopping Programme runs at both the branch and grassroots level, according to Dr Koh. It replaced the traditional ration pack distribution because the ration packs often resulted in waste – residents did not use all items – and required many volunteers to pack and distribute the packs.    

Dr Koh joined volunteers to help low income families with their grocery needs at a session of Tampines Central CARES Shopping Programme in 2023. Source: Koh Poh Koon’s Facebook. 

Dr Koh recalled another instance in which a mother in her forties with three young daughters told him that with the help of the programme, for the very first time, she could buy enough sanitary pads for herself and her daughters. 

“Normally, ration packs do not include sanitary pads,” he said. “This episode tells us that it’s very difficult to envisage the needs of every single individual. Our programmes must afford the flexibility to meet people’s needs in different ways.” 

Dr Koh said that the team reaches out to residents in the two rental blocks though most residents are middle-income, living in four room- and five-room flats.   

 “Our volunteers have an opportunity to engage with our residents and build relationships with them. If residents face problems in the future, there is a familiar face they can turn to for help. It’s also about strengthening community bonds.”  

Koh Poh Koon believes in developing youth leaders 

Dr Koh with students. (Source: Koh Poh Koon’s Facebook)  

Dr Koh believes in the importance in developing youth leaders. He started a Youth Leadership Development Programme offering scholarships to ITE, polytechnic and university youth who display leadership potential. His team solicits donations from benefactors to award 3-5 scholarships yearly. Since 2020, five scholarships have been awarded. 

Dr Koh’s team identifies youth with leadership potential and a passion for developing projects that benefit the community. His team pairs youth with grassroots volunteers as mentors to guide the youth in realising these projects. 

“Through this process, the community benefits. The youth develop leadership skills and learn to engage people across age groups. They also receive mentorship from senior grassroots leaders. Hopefully, this inspires them to volunteer when they become adults,” Dr Koh said. 

He pointed out that one youth launched a digital literacy programme teaching seniors how to use mobile apps and make online purchases while another youth championed using reusable utensils instead of disposables. 

“Tampines will be the best home because we take care of one another well.”: Koh Poh Koon  

Dr Koh said that his team continues to drive sustainability efforts at Tampines Central to help transform Tampines into an eco-town.  

Dr Koh hopes that Tampines Central will become more green and sustainable. Additionally, he wants it to be a caring community where constituents, especially those with more resources, help care for those with less. 

“We want Tampines to be our best home, not just in infrastructure. I hope everyone can do his or her part to build the heartware – each of us creates a warm and caring environment where neighbours care for one another and those with more (resources) help those with less. In this way, Tampines will be the best home not because we built it well, but because we take care of one other well.” 

Koh Poh Koon
Dr Koh and a young resident. (Source: Koh Poh Koon’s Facebook)