Eleven years ago, when 33-year-old Shiji Mujeeb first arrived in Singapore, she felt a huge rush of mixed emotions - something that most foreigners can relate to.
Mrs Mujeeb was overcome with bewilderment at the city, very excited to be here and anxious at the same time. She was newly-wed and had come to Singapore with her husband, programme manager Mujeeb Rahiman, just 10 days after their wedding.
As is the case with many newcomers to Singapore, Mrs Mujeeb had heard a lot about our little red dot, but knew no one here.
She had left her homeland, family, friends and all things familiar. She now had to start afresh, in a new land with new people and culture.
"My husband was busy with work, and I was a housewife those days. I felt very lonely most of the time, and missed my home, family and friends terribly. I was longing to make friends and learn more about the Singapore culture so I could settle in, but I did not know how," said Mrs Mujeeb, an assistant manager.
It was her first time experiencing life in apartments. Born and brought up in Kerala, South India, she had experienced plenty of outdoor activities and life in a bigger house with a backyard.
Two years after coming to Singapore, she gave birth to her daughter, now nine years old and studying at Global Indian International School.
She says that between her pregnancy and constant moving of houses since they were living in rented apartments those days, it took her longer than expected to adapt to the Singapore lifestyle.
Eventually, as their daughter became a toddler, they bought a house and had their chance to finally settle down.
That was when they got to know about community clubs (CCs) offering educational and recreational activities for children and adults alike, for a nominal fee.
They decided to try it out, and enrolled their daughter in a play group at a CC near their house.
It was there that Mrs Mujeeb got to meet and make friends with other mothers like herself and learned more about what CCs had to offer to the community. One such friend she made was Ms Sini Mathew, 35, a safety and health professional whose hometown is Gujarat.
Ms Sini, a permanent resident of Singapore since 2008, and living in Singapore for the past eight years, feels that children's programmes are a very good way to communicate with people, come together and get to know and interact with others who share similar interests.
Since then, Mrs Mujeeb and her husband have regularly participated in recreational activities like sports and enrolled their daughter in various children's activities and contests organised by CCs.
They also started attending the different cultural programmes that interest groups organised in the CCs, like New Year and Deepavali celebrations.
These programmes inspired them so much that they decided to join one of the interest groups in Woodlands CC. Now, they are very active members of the community club and constantly organise Indian cultural events.
In a country with different races, religions and languages, CCs play a huge part in maintaining a cohesive community.
"The CCs extend their services and facilities to everyone regardless of race, language or religion. That is the main factor that made us feel like we are a part of the Singapore society," said Mr Mujeeb.
"The freedom to hold events that showcase the traditions and culture of our homeland also made it possible for our next generation, growing up in Singapore, to learn about and instil in themselves our traditional and cultural ways," added Mrs Mujeeb.
One of the events that Woodlands CC is famous for is the Rainbow New Year, held in April every year.
This event, which has been held consecutively for the past six years, has always been a hit among residents.
"This event showcases the cultures of different ethnic groups from India and other parts of South-east Asia," says Mr Ajayan Ramachandran, the vice-chairman of Woodlands CC Management Committee and the Chairman of Woodlands CC Indian Activity Executive Committee (IAEC).
A father of two and a Singapore citizen, Mr Ajayan feels that the various courses organised by CCs, like language enrichment, dance, music, arts and yoga, just to name a few, allows new residents in Singapore to adapt to the Singapore lifestyle and culture.
Is he happy with the role CCs play in helping new residents adapt to life in Singapore? He replied: "It is highly encouraging to see the great efforts by community clubs and various grassroots organisations in reaching out to new residents and integrating them into Singapore society. CCs also help in providing a lot of opportunities and assistance for newcomers to form interest groups and promote activities related to arts, science, sports, meditation, cooking and more."
Similarly, Madam R. Saraswathy, mother of three young children and secretary of the IAEC @ Admiralty, which is known as VETRI and is located at ACE The Place CC, said that she is very satisfied with the way she, as a member of the CC, is able to help various families overcome different difficult situations.
Madam Saraswathy, a Singapore citizen, decided to join the CC as a volunteer because she liked the way volunteers conducted house visits and interacted with residents.
"Since the time I joined as a volunteer, I was able to assist a lot of needy families get help through the CC. We collaborate with other organisations such as the Community Development Councils (CDCs) and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to help solve the problems that many face," she said.
Some CCs even provide free tuition to children from financially disadvantaged families.
Apart from the activities that help the needy in the community, Madam Saraswathy works with VETRI to organise fun activities like sports, block parties and cultural events, tours to different religious monuments such as local Hindu and Chinese temples, churches and mosques, educational trips to farms, plantations and local tourist attractions and cooking sessions in the CC.
"VETRI is not just an Indian group. We welcome anyone to join us, and we will try our best to help anyone from any background," said Madam Saraswathy.
True to their claim, VETRI has a non-Indian member, Mr Jaris Estoesta. Originally from the Philipines, he got his Singapore citizenship in 2008 and considers himself a naturalised Singaporean now.
"We want the community to be together. I made more friends, both Singaporeans and foreigners, through volunteering at the CC. I met foreigners in my time here, and our purpose is not to change their citizenship status, but just to make their stay here fruitful and comfortable," said Mr Estoesta, 44, a supervisor and business developer.
His views are shared by 32-year-old Avanti Kundarap, a recruiter who is from Pune. She has been staying in Singapore for the past four years and feels that CCs are a good platform to help others in the community.
Another avid CC volunteer, Ms Nimmi Roshith, 33, an IT resources analyst from Mumbai, shared her thoughts about how the different races get to know more about each other's cultures and traditions because of the various cultural programmes supported by different CCs.
"Singaporeans are open-minded and tolerant of different cultures. We do not miss home even in Singapore's diverse cultural society, and it is exciting to learn more about other cultures and traditions," said Ms Nimmi.
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