It has been 603 days since 13th December 2014 – the day I joined Youth Corps Singapore and met Julia, Jun Rong, Kenneth, Qian Ci, Orlena and Alysha (and definitely the mentors Sky and Tracy and the other friends)!
Looking back, I remember how many people said it was a crazy decision to join YCS while I was still serving my national service. Perhaps it was not too crazy after all – I was injured and was given clerical duties. Given the circumstances, this is probably the best decision I could have made. When I enlisted, I resolved to become an officer or at least a sergeant. But circumstances do not always go my way. An unexpected injury dashed all hopes of becoming one.
What else could I have done to make the best out of my compulsory 2 year national service? Giving my all to the military and grabbing all and any opportunities definitely grew me as an individual and as a team-player, and since I have touched on my NS experience in an earlier post, I will not be touching it here.
National Service never literally meant ‘military service’ – it has always been about service to the nation in all and any domains. Youth Corps fills in this role perfectly, giving me a chance to contribute back to the society while allowing me to develop myself further. At the same time, I was looking for friends who are equally (if not more) passionate about serving the community. I am more than glad that I have made this choice.
Post-induction, it was a whirlwind of a journey. For our first 6 months, I was researcher for my team, formulating survey questions and collating statistics. From near-zero base, I sent out countless emails to organisations to ask for support and finally Yishun JC’s Interact Club responded positively. From then on, Julia and I worked on engaging the interacters, giving presentation briefings, bringing the interacters to the food centre to become cleaners for a day, conducting debriefs became a norm for us. I had the opportunity to give a talk to CCA leaders of Yishun JC as well, honing my public speaking skills (this was close to zero even at the end of my J2 year, my fellow friends who heard me emcee would know… and cringe). Knocking on every single door of the x number of HDB blocks to spread the message of gracious meal habits in the food centre allowed me to practice the art of persuasion, especially with such a diverse demographic of people. Folding 1,000 paper boxes and then emcee-ing for a community event proved how steep this learning curve was. This was a crazy 6 months.
Afterwards, I took on the role of team leader for our overseas project to Kha Naung Htoo Village, in Myanmar (some 3 hours south of Yangon). Having zero experience with overseas community service project, this was another crazy steep learning curve for me to conquer. At the village, I realised how important good governance is to any society. A society can have an abundance of people, resources and what not, but without good governance, the lives of its people will never improve. Clean water was not a given in the village, most villagers had to collect water from a common tap near the village church. Floods were common in the wet season. Children helping out in the fields or working even during their primary school years to supplement family incomes. All these seemed to parallel what Singapore was in its infant years of independence.
One other stark realisation for me was the fact that inequality exists even in an impoverished village. Some households have solar panels, can afford to send their kids not just to school, but for additional tuition, their own water pumping and filtration system…
Realising the problems the village face, at the same time, we realised there is only so much we can do to help. And this is what made our efforts even more important – we had to make sure whatever we do remains sustainable by the efforts of the villagers themselves. Given a limited budget, which ‘policies’ must we pursue to ensure that this village is now given the ability to maximise its potential? We decided on two main programmes. For the hard infrastructure, we knew we had to build roads that will allow the children and the elderly uninterrupted access through and out of the village even during wet seasons to ensure that education and healthcare remains uninterrupted. For the soft skills, we introduced an English language programme designed to empower the youths there to teach the younger children in the village. At the same time, we conducted a community leadership workshop to empower the youths to see the village from different perspectives and show them what and how can they work to make the village better. Many ingenious ideas surfaced – Denar (a villager) suggested to have rubbish bins located every 50m along the village road so as to reduce plastic waste in the river (and plastic waste can be sold for some petty cash). It was a most fruitful and heartwarming project. Many challenges came along the way, and I am glad that my teammates offered unwavering support especially when I faltered at times (thanks Kenneth!) I learnt so much from all of you and all of you are the best teammates I could ever ask for.
On this note, I started an internship with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (not via Youth Corps, but my Youth Corps experience pushed me to want to experience what social policy-making is about). At the Sector Planning and Development Division, I was tasked to explore new ways to improve productivity of various social service sectors in light of increasing demand for social services (e.g. ageing population, increased special needs diagnoses amongst children and rising divorce rates) while keeping the sector manpower-lean (due to tight labor force). I explored 3 areas in-depth. Namely, the early intervention programme for infants and children (EIPIC); strengthening marriages and reducing divorces; and low-income families. It was an enriching experience – gaining an inside look into what goes on behind-the-scenes of policy-making. How each and every minute detail of a policy requires in-depth review and discussion. How do we decide on an income-ceiling for a particular policy? Must there always be a ceiling? Or does a graduated income ceiling work better?
Thereafter, I started on an internship with one of Youth Corps’ community partner – Engineering Good. I chose this internship for 2 reasons. First, it allowed me to build on what I have already learnt about children with special needs in EIPIC centres from my MSF internship. Second, I wanted to try working in a non-profit organisation. Everyday was a challenge – there were new skills to be learnt. Soldering, drilling, electric circuit boards, proposing to grantmakers, social media management, volunteer management… It all culminated in a series of 9 workshops for at-risk youths from the Singapore Boys Hostel. It was my first time engaging this demographic. I definitely wasn’t sure if I would be able to do well. If I don’t, what next? Do I quit this internship? But quitting was never an option. So what now? I decided that being genuine is the best way to go. And it was a most amazing 9 weeks – the boys were an absolute joy to be with (although annoying at times, STOP STEALING MY CHOCOLATES!!!). Bringing some of them to Rainbow Centre @ Margaret Drive (thank you AnnChi for facilitating this visit!) was most memorable. The boys looked disinterested at first, but when they interacted with the children and when I conducted the reflection session afterwards, I could definitely see that they have learnt something. And this experience might very well motivate them to strive for more in the future. And I could see how boy X (not mentioning names to protect his identity) became a lot more enthusiastic and took initiative during workshops post-special school visit. I knew I had made a positive impact on their lives, at least some of them.
6th August 2016. My Youth Corps journey has come to an end (for now at least), as I await to start school and take on new responsibilities and challenge myself further. Receiving my certificate and testimonial together with all my teammates made me feel like it has been a long time, and a time well spent. I have matured and grown a lot throughout this journey. Learning to be more gracious in my interactions with other people, with the environment, learning to network and conduct workshops and reflection sessions, learning to engage strangers and persuade and convince them to support my cause, learning how to speak more confidently in public and learning how to be unashamed of doing things that need to be done.
And now… COMMENCEMENT LO!