I, the star canvasser
I am a star canvasser who, craving for an exciting life as an activist, volunteered for HOME to garner signatures for the #stoptraffickingsg campaign. Singapore is my new home for the past 4 momths ago. The good vibe and willingness of the people here to work for a good cause influenced my decision to volunteer.
The StopTraffickingSG Campaign got my attention because I had studied/investigated human trafficking in The Netherlands. I think canvassing will be an interesting way to get to know Singapore and its people and to understand what people think about the issue of human trafficking.
Out on the streets, I had all sorts of moments: puzzled, upset, inspired and excited. I’ve decided to share my canvassing experience in Singapore so that if ever you are ready to canvass, you will be prepared and ready.
For starters, get your canvassing attire right. If you don’t want to get a backache, then get a clipboard with the petition on. The last time I forgot my clipboard, I had to ‘lend’ my back for some who signed the petition on. And of course there is the pen….I don’t need to explain why.
Armed with a clipboard you are ready to hit the streets, but holding it will only scare people away! My advice is to go canvassing for signatures incognito: wear a backpack so you will look like a harmless tourist looking for a hostel, and people are more than willing to answer your questions (the question of whether they would like the sign the petition, not where the hostel is. Don’t get carried away with your disguise!)
How to approach a stranger?
When approaching people, ask a question like how you would when asking for directions:
Excuse me sir/miss, can I ask you something?
Wow, you did it! That was the hardest part but you did it. I have had three types of replies.
No, I am sorry (sign language), “I’m in a rush/I have a meeting” (verbal). The curious thing about these people is that they appear to be masters of sign language, especially of the wave-away sign: people cover their faces by holding up a hand next to their ears and waving me away. But sometimes I wonder if they are really in a rush or simply just want to rush past me!
“Yes of course, what is it about?” This is good to hear and a real opening for conversation (yay!). But be cautious: conversations can go four ways, the good one, the not so good one, the bad one and the worst.
Good: You will notice that people from the opposite sex are very willing to speak to you. A little friendly smile and you are halfway already. Please do not give your phone number, not even if they refused to sign the petition otherwise!
Not so good: Human trafficking is not a well known issue among people in Singapore. Common questions are: What is human trafficking? Is there any human trafficking in Singapore? Is this about prostitutes? What is this new bill exactly? Answering these questions on the spot has really helped me to polish my pitch. I am getting better with each question.
Unfortunately, quite a few people do not feel comfortable signing a petition even though it is a legal platform to express our views. Many claim they do not want to engage in something political as the government could check up on them!
Bad: this is where you have to pay attention. Some people love to argue and impose their opinions on you (while you do not have any time for this because you need signatures, not opinions). You can spot these people because when they pass by, they are actually looking at you instead of avoiding you like the rest. Please be aware that these people are not easy targets, so don’t be surprised by the things they say:
“We do not need to protect the victims, we should punish agencies!”
“I don’t think we should ensure these rights to every victim. Instead we should make a selection.”
“Home countries should take care of the victims, it is not Singapore’s job.”
Worst: People who say that there is no human trafficking in Singapore because if migrants are exploited, it is their own fault! These people argue that migrants should know what they are getting into. Keep your cool even when they start making comments like these:
“If you come to Singapore to work as a maid, you know you will have to work long hours.”
“If the job is not what they expected, they should have read the contract.”
“If you have to pay so much money for a job, you don’t trust the agent in the first place. They should think before they pack their bags!”
“Ah you’re from HOME, you’re doing a great job, where can I sign?”. We love type 3s!