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Can Mah! – beyond an app in the pandemic, moving forward with an attitude

By Can Mah! team, Atishay Dikshit, Logan Sethu, Rohan Punamiya, Gitansh Arora and Vivek Venkatram, UWCSEA Alumni '20
9 May 2022
Can Mah! (The Can Mah! team (from left to right): Vivek Venkatram, Logan Sethu, Atishay Dikshit, Rohan Punamiya and Gitansh

Can Mah! (The Can Mah! team (from left to right): Vivek Venkatram, Logan Sethu, Atishay Dikshit, Rohan Punamiya and Gitansh Arora.
Credit: The Straits Times

Many members of our community would remember the student team behind Can Mah, Atishay Dikshit, Logan Sethu, Rohan Punamiya, Gitansh Arora and Vivek Venkatram, all Class of 2020 graduates, who took up the challenge of creating a bridge between the elderly and those who were willing to help them.

"It all started with an online article, which depicted an elderly man surrounded by empty shelves. On 16 March, with the announcement of the Singapore-Malaysia border closure, people immediately rushed to supermarkets. As a result, many were left empty-handed. With difficulties for many Singaporeans in vulnerable groups acquiring goods, with full delivery slots and extra delivery charges, we wanted to create a non-monetised, accessible voluntary network to help out."

The name Can Mah! signifies a ‘we can do it attitude’ – as a community, we will overcome challenges together.

"The small acts of kindness from neighbours volunteering their time and helping people who are going through hardship have shown that even in a year like 2020, there is still hope for a kinder and more compassionate world. We were grateful to have the opportunity to partner with and develop alongside GoodHood.sg with financial support from Temasek Trust.”

As we hit the two-year mark of the pandemic, we catch up with one of the co-founders, Vivek, to learn about how Can Mah! has evolved from an app to inspiring their next steps.

How did Can Mah! inspire your decision to take up Public Policy and Economics?

Throughout my time at UWCSEA, I’ve enjoyed exploring the ‘human condition’ – discussing current affairs during Economics Society, having moral debates in Promoting Animal Welfare GC, and delving into the IB social psychology module. In a sense, the concept of Can Mah! was also a societal experiment: Would potential strangers help each other, purely driven by the kindness of their hearts?

From the onset of Can Mah!, the five of us envisioned a community motivated by compassion in the absence of monetary incentives. In an era of such uncertainty and
financial instability, many were willing to come to the aid of a fellow neighbour. Similarly, I’d like to promote this inherent kindness in everyone to shape a society that prioritises the common good. While Can Mah! is a stepping stone in the right direction, it has revealed the pressing need for institutional change. I am in search of the answer to a gnawing question: Globally, why do so many vulnerable people slip between the cracks of the system? The socio-economic problems of our future warrant interdisciplinary cooperation. Hence, I decided to pursue the intersections between public policy and economics, which offer tangible solutions to tackle inequality.

I’d like to promote this inherent kindness in everyone to shape a society that prioritises the common good.

What impact and influence did your time at UWCSEA have on the set-up of Can Mah? 

Absolutely. UWCSEA fosters an environment where students take initiative to contribute to issues they care deeply about. My most memorable and humbling service experience during my 14 years at the college was at a Migrant Workers Appreciation Gala in 2014, playing the tabla for the people who laboured to
construct our high school buildings. The appreciation received from the construction workers gave me a firsthand insight into how the service program gives students the opportunity to make a difference by tapping into their own skill sets. At its core, our Global Concerns and service programmes provide an avenue to give back to the community. Inspired by our shared experiences and UWCSEA’s unique emphasis on service, my friends and I wanted to play our part to give back to the country we call home – Singapore.

UWCSEA fosters an environment where students take initiative to contribute to issues they care deeply about.

With the idea of creating a voluntary grocery network, our go-to lead was Mr Frankie Meehan – the Head of UWCSEA Dover Service initiatives. Leveraging his insight leading Dover’s community service programme, we were able to think critically about potential gaps in our initial concept. In addition to sharing his knowledge, Frankie pointed us in the direction of existing Volunteer Welfare Organisations that care for vulnerable groups in Singapore, as well as experts in the field of social work.

Additionally, as outlined in our National Youth Council article, we shared our volunteer survey with the UWCSEA community via eBrief and other school forums. The positive response and continuous feedback from the school community also played a pivotal role in forming the basis, key features, and design of our app.

Can you recall any specific teachers or other people, classes or other experiences at UWCSEA that helped shape where you are at now?

Ultimately, my time at the College has taught me to embrace the unknown

I began my UWCSEA journey from K1 and it has undoubtedly shaped my outlook. Clucking away in a chicken costume for the Arts Festival along with my friend Logan, would certainly go down in history as a somewhat embarrassing yet memorable moment of my journey, accompanied by many such uniquely special memories at the college.

Outdoor Education trips were definitely a highlight of my UWC experience: from being a reluctant camper in my Grade 1 overnight stay to interacting with wildlife during Grade 5 Taman Negara, followed by hiking in Grade 9 Ladakh where I vividly remember touching snow for the first time, and fighting a wildfire in Thailand during Grade 11 Project Week. I couldn’t have predicted or planned for these events. Through these chance encounters, I grew to embrace challenges and enjoy the experience.

Handball (UWCSEA Dover’s version) took priority over anything else right from Junior School all the way up the ladder to High School. While the game can be frustrating at times and the lines can be long, at the end of the day, it is about living in the moment. Ultimately, my time at the College has taught me to embrace the unknown. This ‘handball philosophy’ has helped me maintain a positive outlook for National Service and I will certainly, lean on it during my future endeavours.

A heartfelt thank you to my mentors – Adam Knowles, Carl Jenkins (Mr J), Claire Kwiatkowski, Esperanza Gutierrez, Gary McKnight, Linda DeFlavis, Mark Porter, Sarah
Carter, Susana Tinajero Diaz and the late Neil McCulloch – for making me a better version of myself!

Do you think Can Mah! can be resurrected in another shape and form sometime in the future?

For now, as a team, we’ve reached the end of this chapter in Can Mah!’s journey. The app network served its purpose during the start of the pandemic, especially during Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening. As Singapore transitions to becoming COVID-resilient with the dominant omicron variant, a resurrection of Can Mah! may not be all that beneficial. However, the underlying spirit of caring for the vulnerable in our community continues to live on in several aspects: through the existing Volunteer Welfare Organisations, our partner-organisation GoodHood.sg, and our very own UWC movement. (On a side note, I’d highly encourage everyone based in Singapore to become part of GoodHood’s ‘digital kampung’ community).

I believe that fundamentally, the Can Mah! vision has permeated through and transformed our own lives. While Can Mah! facilitated the creation of an app-based volunteer network, I wanted to better understand and be involved with existing outreach to directly impact vulnerable communities on the ground. I’m currently volunteering at the grassroots level, distributing grocery care packages at Jalan Besar CC on weekends.

You mentioned five friends are behind Can Mah! Are you guys still in touch with your teammates?

"Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes & longitudes." – Thoreau

We continue to be in touch with each other, though we are somewhat spread out across the globe. Three of us are completing our National Service duties before heading off to college (Atishay Dikshit, Gitansh Arora, and I) while the other two (Logan Sethu and Rohan Punamiya) are pursuing further studies in Australia and the United States respectively. Time zones and NS duties are slightly challenging to workaround, however, we frequently meet up online with other Dover friends to catch up or play a game of ‘Codenames’. In fact, Logan and I – along with a few of our Class of 2020 alumni – are currently adventurers in an ongoing weekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign!