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Fuelling the spirit of youth volunteerism

PHOTO: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

With conviction, passion and perseverance, anyone can be empowered to make a difference, and help build a better world. Youth Corps Singapore is a national establishment that supports youths with a heart for serving the community.

Launched by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the National Youth Council (NYC) in 2014, Youth Corps has been inspiring and nurturing youths to catalyse change through volunteerism.

Ardent Youth Corps Leaders Chiang Wei Zhi and Amrita Sridhar Narayanan are among the rising new breed of young, active citizens committed to shaping the community positively.

Doing Small Things With Great Love

Chiang Wei Zhi’s Girl Guides experiences in her secondary school days laid the foundation for her volunteer work. In fact, it was her ex-Guider, Ms Ng Soo Ling, who inspired her to give back to the community.

As a Uniform Group leader, Wei Zhi was frequently involved in helping Ms Ng organise volunteering events.  Her dedication to volunteerism is clear: the 22-year-old is presently majoring in Social Work at the National University of Singapore.

Wei Zhi began to be interested in Youth Corps after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced the new youth volunteer organisation during the 2013 National Day Rally. As luck would have it, the CCA club advisor of Wei Zhi’s former polytechnic nominated her for a place in the pioneering Youth Corps cohort. The focused, optimistic young lady naturally made the best of the opportunity.

Share with us your volunteer experiences with Youth Corps.

My team and I embarked on our first Youth Corps project in collaboration with Trybe and Sunlove Abode For Intellectually Infirmed (Sunlove Home). Sunlove Home provides residential care to persons with mental conditions. Through some interviews and activities, we came to realise that these residents had little or no interaction with their families, though it was one of their top personal wishes to do so. Hence, to help them fulfil their wish, we decided to capture the happy moments of the residents doing activities such as arts and crafts and playing games, and send the pictures to their families to invite them for a mass family gathering. Eventually, some family members did turn up and made the residents’ day!

What’s your most memorable moment as a volunteer?

It would have to be the Sunlove project. We were each partnered with a resident. Even after several weekly sessions, the residents still faced difficulties in remembering us. The most memorable moment dawned when my partner began to recognise me and remember the conversations we had. She hugged me, and told me that she values me and sees me as her best friend. I am so grateful for that precious moment. I’ve held it close to my heart ever since, and I don’t think I will ever forget it!

What kind of positive changes would you like to see in our community?

I hope to see a greater focus on building and strengthening collaborative communities, as collaboration is a powerful tool for effecting change! We could create platforms to allow for such collaborations to take place, simply by initiating engagement, connection and idea sharing among volunteers. This will help build a wealth of collective knowledge and breed new innovative ideas.

Start simple, start small! Sometimes, the idea of volunteering and committing yourself to it may sound intimidating but just give it a try - just start with one simple event.

Do More Of What Makes You Happy

I hope that we can shine a light on certain issues that are less known in Singapore, such as people with mental conditions. I feel that marginalised communities need a lot more help than others.

Amrita Sridhar Narayanan’s interest in volunteering was sparked by her school’s community service trip to Laos in 2012. Her passion for volunteerism has since evolved into a deep-seated commitment to make a difference to the lives of the less privileged.

It was a teacher at Amrita’s former alma mater, School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA), who encouraged her to sign up for the Youth Corps Leaders Programme. The timely move provided Amrita the platform to explore possibilities and expand her horizons in volunteering. One year on, Amrita is now mentoring a new cohort of volunteers in the Leaders Programme.

The driven 20-year-old Mathematical Sciences student at Nanyang Technological University eventually hopes to either work with child patients in a local hospital or transform the lives of less privileged children through education.

Share with us your volunteer experiences with Youth Corps.

My project was a continuation from Wei Zhi’s project with Sunlove Home. My team and I organised an amazing race where residents could put into practice the skills they have acquired from our regular lessons. These skills included simple household chores and travelling independently. There were many instances when I wondered whether the lives of the residents were improved by our activities, as they did not respond in the way I expected they would. However, with time, I learnt to put myself in their shoes and understand them better. To share our insights with others, we created a social experiment video to address the social stigma towards these residents and persons with mental conditions in general. Shifting mindsets take time. So we managed to spread the spirit to student volunteers from Temasek Polytechnic, who will continue this journey.

What’s your most memorable moment as a volunteer?

My most memorable moment was my Sunlove project. I have learnt a lot from it. My partner was always in her own world. Thus to some extent, it was hard to teach her the various skills we wanted her to pick up. However, I realised that she isn’t just a client I could train to acquire skills. She is a fellow human being who has been through a lot in life. Thus, instead of playing mentor, I decided to be her friend. This created an equal and safe environment in which both of us could learn from each other.

In your view, what qualities should a Youth Corps Leader have?

At Youth Corps, we work together with like-minded and passionate individuals who come from all walks of life. Hence, team spirit is definitely important in order for us to support one another through the entire journey. A leader needs to be fully committed and ready to engage with the community. Creative thinking is also essential, as volunteer leaders may have to solve an unfamiliar issue within a short period of time.


Inspired by Wei Zhi and Amrita? Take the first step at www.youthcorps.sg