Umbrella-sharing project at Sembawang restores Singaporeans' faith in humanity

W.T.M. Why This Matters
In an era where things like bicycles, cars, homes and almost anything can be rented or shared for a fee, a new umbrella-sharing scheme in Sembawang has shown how the simple 'kampung spirit' is still alive.

Umbrella-sharing may be a profit-seeking business in China, but in Singapore, it's an initiative that comes from the heart, no strings attached.

Many Singaporeans have reacted positively to a post by Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung on an umbrella-sharing scheme at Sembawang, mooted by four graduating Republic Polytechnic students.

Mr Ong, who's also MP for Sembawang GRC, noted that the project was launched at the particular crossing as a viable covered walkway could not be built due to the presence of heavy vehicles.

"The road is wide, there will be heavy vehicles, so any covered link way will need to be minimum 4.5m high, which means rain will still come in.

"It will cost millions to build a link way that may not even be effective in providing shelter. This is the problem infrastructure planners faced across Singapore," wrote Mr Ong in a Facebook post last Saturday (Aug 19).

Photo: Facebook/Ong Ye Kung

Enter Sharella, the student project jointly developed with the Land Transport Authority, with the help of Sembawang grassroots organisations.

The idea? On rainy days, pedestrians can borrow an umbrella from a rack at one side of the road, and return them to a rack on the other side.

However, the programme hit a blip, said Mr Ong, when all the umbrellas in the racks were gone barely a few hours after its launch.

"I think some residents thought a product promotion was going on," said Mr Ong, as opposed to the idea that Singaporeans are just a freebie-hungry bunch.

But with some help from community volunteers stationed at both ends to guide pedestrians on how the scheme worked, the project soon took off.


Mr Ong was proud to note that residents carried umbrellas to and fro, and returned them at the racks when they were done. Many residents even contributed their own umbrellas to the racks.

Netizens on Facebook lauded the initiative, as well as Sembawang residents, for their community spirit.

Some described it as the return of the 'kampung spirit'.

While others, in typical Singaporean fashion, offered more suggestions to improve the situation.

And if there's any doubt the sharing economy is here to stay, one wary (or savvy, depending on how you look at it) teenager had asked a volunteer during the project's initial launch - "where's the QR code?" But in this particular 'kampung', none needed.