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Free fix-it lessons for better living

Samantha Boh on 13 Feb 2015

The Straits Times


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THEY came with broken furniture, faulty home appliances and even a tricycle missing a seat.


A few hours later, they went home with their damaged belongings fixed - and new-found repair skills to boot.


Welcome to Singapore's first Repair Kopitiam, an informal workshop where people learn how to repair things for free.


About 50 people turned up at the event on Sunday at a Housing Board void deck in Jurong West. It was an initiative by social enterprise Sustainable Living Lab aimed at combating the throw-away culture and reducing rubbish.


Leading the initiative, Ms Farah Hidayati Sanwari, 26, said the workshop is about imparting simple repair skills - from mending holes in clothes to changing a light bulb or the fuse in a rice cooker.


"Since we can't just ask people to stop buying things, we thought we could at least teach them how to prolong the lifespan of their items," she said.


The keyword is "teach". Those who want their broken items repaired have to do the fixing themselves after being shown how to do it by volunteers, who call themselves repair coaches.


They may or may not be experts in the repair work they offer to teach.


To hone their repair skills, the volunteers at last Sunday's session had met weekly for two months before the workshop to practise mending their own broken belongings and learn from those who are more proficient.


Among the repair coaches is Filipino Mark Palejaro, 28. The advanced software engineer taught electronic repair in a school when he lived in the Philippines.


He has also helped develop a troubleshooting manual for home appliances to help residents identify and fix simple problems.


"We are trying to change the culture. I know it will be hard but we want to gave them the capability to repair their items instead of just discarding them," he said. The next workshop is planned for March 8.


The group hopes to run it every month and keep it informal, over a free flow of coffee.


The team gets $30,000 in funding from the National Environment Agency and South West Community Development Council on a reimbursement basis. The money is used for tool rental, website development and do-it-yourself videos. But it might have to look for alternatives when the current funding stops at the end of next month.


"It is a little uncertain now, but even if our current funding is not extended, we will find our ways to continue," said Ms Farah.


Last Sunday, volunteers sat behind several wooden tables lined with tools, including screwdrivers, pliers and sewing machines, ready to help residents render broken items useful again.


Madam Cindy Leong, 40, came with a small upholstered stool that was shedding wooden splinters. "The furniture shop said it doesn't do repairs," said the real estate agent. With the help of the coaches, Madam Leong replaced the disintegrated wood in the stool and added new upholstery.


Repair Kopitiam was inspired by the successful Repair Cafe concept started in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 2009.


The movement has since taken root in many countries, with over 80 such "cafes" set up globally.


Other recent initiatives to cut waste include Clothes Call, a campaign by four Nanyang Technological University undergraduates that teaches people how to find new uses for old clothing.


There is also Fix It Friday, monthly clothes repair classes by environmentalist and repair coach Agatha Lee, who runs the blog Green Issues By Agy.


The first Fix It Friday class will be on Feb 27, while the people behind Clothes Call will run an event at IMM mall on Sunday.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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