Tamar Village was founded in 2010 by two women in their fifties. As they prayed, week after week, while walking the lorongs of Geylang, God opened their eyes to the injustice faced by those in the red light district. This led them to start a restoration centre in the heart of Geylang to reach out to and journey with individuals and families from out of the sex trade towards wholeness.
Now into its ninth year, Tamar Village has been supported by various individuals and organisations from different backgrounds, churches and nations. It is a “body of Christ project” where believers with similar passions band together to journey with the men, ladies, youths and children of Tamar Village. Today, the ministry is led by Mercy Ho, with Rachel Chow as her assistant.
“I have learnt that it is worthwhile to give a lot of time, energy and care to just one person. Maybe we won’t see a lot of ‘big changes’, but we do see gradual improvements in the way they live their lives,” says Mercy. “We need volunteers who are ready to stop and help one person for a long time—not just for months, but for years.”
Restore, Rebuild, Renew
The heart of the ministry is the restoration of individuals and their family units. People from the red light district need a new community to surround them for years no matter how many times they fall, make bad decisions or get into trouble with the law. They receive healing from abandonment by being in community with people who will model good values through their actions and words, such as being quick to say sorry when they are wrong and to forgive when wronged.
Self-worth and value are rebuilt in the lives of the men and ladies when they experience love, even in small and mundane things. In Tamar Village, birthdays are big affairs where individuals are celebrated by everyone else. Staff and volunteers also take time to listen to them as they share their past experiences and struggles.
The ministry also seeks to provide a stable environment where they can renew their life goals. Having spent years surrounded by chaos and uncertainty, it is difficult to dream and plan for the future. “It is the simple things in life that matters most. Having one’s own bed and table for the first time is deeply healing,” Mercy adds.
The journey of restoration is a holistic one. Through the centre’s various work skill programmes (WSP)—which include sewing, woodcraft, coffee making, cooking, gardening, among others—they learn to develop a healthy work ethic and positive habits.
Counselling helps them deal with addictions and personal issues. Many of them have fallen through the gaps in the social service system and need to be plugged back in. They are also matched up with skills upgrading courses available in the market, such as hairdressing, hospitality or business administration.
Brewing coffee, building lives
The Barista WSP started in 2017 with a simple espresso machine. Those involved in the programme came alive when they tried their hand at crafting gourmet coffees under the mentorship of Glen Lim (Prodigal Cafe) and Ong Jun Long (Steadfast Coffee).
After months of prayer, Beatrice Wee and Bevelyn Tan, together with Mercy Ho, decided to take the WSP further. As staff of Tamar Village, all three do not take a salary and raise their own financial support. They launched Ark Coffee as an independent company. Those who attended the TRAC 43rd session in November 2018 might remember the wonderful coffee they enjoyed from the Ark Coffee baristas on site.
The business aims to build lives by living out the values of integrity, humility, respect, excellence and teamwork within the company. On top of imparting coffee-making skills, Ark Coffee helps them integrate into the workforce while building up their CPF accounts. This provides a place of transition for some, or long-term employment for others—giving hope of a different future from where they came.
Lemuel Teo is dedicated to restoring and building lives so that they can become godly pillars of strength in their communities. He is a staff member of Tamar Village.
Photos courtesy of Tamar Village