Youth community leadership programme opens doors to older participants

SINGAPORE - Bubbly, fast-talking Farah Jamalludin is the oldest among a batch of 24 young Singaporeans who graduated from a youth community leaders programme in Marine Parade on Sunday.

At 35, she brought several years of working and volunteering experience to the NextGen Leadership Programme in Marine Parade GRC and its neighbouring Mountbatten ward, which aims to get more youths involved in community work and nurture them for leadership roles.

But until last year, Ms Farah, who works in aviation security, would not have been allowed to join the scheme.

Launched in 2009 by then-senior minister Goh Chok Tong, the programme opened its doors for the first time last year to working adults and those aged above 25, in an attempt to attract a larger and more diverse group of future community leaders.

About five of the graduates in the latest batch, including Ms Farah, are older than 25. The previous cohort had 23 youths, all between the ages of 16 and 25. In all, 129 people have gone through the programme since it started.

Programme chairman Seah Kian Peng, who is also an MP for Marine Parade GRC, said the age range was expanded last year to allow more participant diversity.

"It allows (participants) to remember there are different perspectives," he told reporters at the event yesterday.

"This way we can build greater understanding of what is needed from all of us a society, how we can come together and make a better Singapore."

The participants underwent more than 1,000 hours of training courses, camps, and attachments on the ground.

They also spearheaded community projects to help vulnerable groups. Ms Farah organised a trip to the zoo for children with cancer, while her fellow graduate Leonard Ho, 29, helped clean the homes of seniors living alone.

Said Ms Farah: "I'm a big sister figure, so I take (the younger participants) under my wing sometimes - but they surprise me all the time too. I help them with the technical things, like approaching sponsors and writing out drafts, but they have so many ideas to share."

Polytechnic student Wan Nurhidayah, 17, said working alongside people with more experience has helped boost her confidence.

"They teach me overcome challenges, and act as role models, even giving life advice," she said. "We have a lot of ideas but they can tell us whether it's possible to make these ideas reality. That's important."

Mr Seah said youths - who are pressed for time - find it hard to step up and get involved in community work.

"We recognise this, but at the same time, I'm optimistic because I can see that young people have the heart and, sometimes, you just need to create the opportunities for them," he said.

"Their passion, their commitment, and seeing how they can actually impact lives will allow them to overcome any challenges."

asyiqins@sph.com.sg