Out of their comfort zones

This story first appeared in The Straits Times' IN on Sept 8, 2014

Like being plucked from a pan and placed into a fire - only to emerge from this crucible a changed person, for the better.

This is how the first batch of Youth Corps Singapore aspirants feel about their foray into the recently launched national initiative to harness the power of young volunteers for good.

The Youth Corps was set up this year to enable young people to continue their involvement in community projects after they have left school or joined the workforce.

In June, the aspirants began their Youth Corps journey with an induction programme on Pulau Ubin organised by Outward Bound Singapore.

They kayaked, trekked and climbed in their journey to learn about leadership and teamwork. The experiences were instrumental in helping them to learn how to work together as a team, as well as providing direction for each project group.

“The challenges and discomforts allowed space for personal growth,” said Ms Ong Wei Lin, 22, a recent accountancy graduate from Nanyang Technological University.

”I’m also incredibly honoured to be able to witness how my teammates have grown together as well.”

Ms Ong, who is currently doing an internship at The Thought Collective while awaiting entry to medical school, is one member of the pioneer batch of 90 Youth Corps aspirants, or first-year participants in the Youth Corps. They will become full-fledged members, then alumni with each term of service.

The Youth Corps, in turn, is part of a larger group of young people who are leading the charge when it comes to transforming their community. Other groups include participants of both the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth-Straits Times Idea Jam, and the new National Youth Internship Programme, who will engage with marginalised groups through directed research and volunteer action.

Ahead of these initiatives, Ms Ong and two of her fellow pioneer aspirants - Ms Murni Nadra Abdul Rahim, 19 and Tan Xue Wei, 17 -  tell IN about the projects they are embarking on as part of the Youth Corps.

Ms Ong’s Team Aurora will be working with mentally ill patients at Sunlove Home; Ms Murni’s team, Washington 2, will be working with elderly folk in Jurong West on a gardening project; and Xue Wei’s team, Biscuit Box, will work on creating a better system to manage youth volunteers in non-profit organisations.

Ms Murni Nadra Abdul Rahim, 19, Year 2 sociology major at Nanyang Technological University

What does your project focus on?

Our Community Garden, where we partner NParks and Lakeside Family Services (LFS) to develop a more sustainable and engaging programme for the latter’s Active Seniors Club (ASC).

We are searching for a suitable plot of land for a community garden for the elderly folk in the ASC. It is part of NParks’ Community In Bloom programme, where people in a community are encouraged to work together to create beautiful gardens to spruce up their living environments.

What did your team do?

With the help of staff from LFS, we conducted door-to-door surveys and interviews, and went around the nearby Jurong West market to meet and chat with senior citizens there.

From there, we gathered that the top choice of activity they were interested in was gardening.

We then carried out follow-up focus group discussions that were tailored to factor in the seniors’ interests, before we arrived at the idea of setting up a garden by the elderly, for the elderly and the whole community.

How has this experience changed you?

I’ve learnt to cater what we do to the needs and interests of our beneficiaries, instead of focusing on assumed needs and interests.

Any advice for your peers?

The Youth Corps is a really good platform for youth to link up with other like-minded people in giving back to the community.

Tan Xue Wei, 17, first-year student from Innova Junior College

What is your group focused on?

Our group is working on creating a better system to manage youth volunteers in non-profit organisations (NPOs), specifically, in elderly day care centres.

Once we analyse the data to find out the real problems NPOs face in developing an efficient youth volunteer management system, we will brainstorm for ideas to solve those problems.

Why is your team working on this project?

We believe youth volunteers have the drive and passion to contribute. However, they are not always able to find the volunteering opportunity that suits them, both in terms of their interest and level of commitment.

We hope to create a good youth volunteer management system in NPOs, so NPOs can better reach out to the specific types of youth volunteers they need, and retain their services in the long run at the same time.

How has this experience changed you?

I’ve learnt to maintain an open mind. It is not always your idea that’s the best one. And especially when everyone has a common goal, it is worth it to take the time to listen to everyone’s opinion.

Also, as long as you communicate any problems you face to your teammates well, they will all have your back and will try to help you. You’ll be okay.

Ms Ong Wei Lin, 22, accountancy graduate from Nanyang Technological University

What does your project focus on?

We don’t have a witty name for our project. But it focuses on reconnecting mentally ill patients who have resided in Sunlove Home, a rehabilitation nursing home, for an average of a decade, with their families.

We are still analysing our research findings to derive a solution that addresses both the tangible and intangible aspects of the issue.

Why is your team working on this project?

The seven of us feel very strongly for this group of people that has been “discarded” and “disregarded” by society because they suffer from mental illnesses. Our team hopes to see a Singapore that is formed by a community of compassionate, accepting and forgiving people. We are the “dreamers” who still believe in the goodness of people.

What is your role in this project?

I’m the treasurer because I’m familiar with bookkeeping, having graduated with a degree in accountancy. But when it comes to other aspects of the workload, our team splits it pretty evenly among ourselves, so everyone gets to contribute.

How much progress has been made so far?

We have had several engagements with the residents of the rehabilitation nursing home, where we played ice-breaker games and had conversations with them to research and understand their needs.

We have also interviewed the psychiatrist in the rehabilitation home to understand the struggles that the residents face.

I believe we need to gather more insights regarding the beneficiaries and their families, so we can come up with some kick-ass solutions that address the root issues and that are sustainable for the beneficiaries.

How has this experience changed you?

I’ve learnt to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That is, to be okay with the experience of being out of my comfort zone. It has given me the strength to tell myself: “All right, let’s just give this a go even if we don’t have the answer now. We’ll figure things out along the way.”

Another essential lesson I’ve learnt is trust. I am so accustomed to solving problems that already have the “definite right answer” – in school examinations, for example. But this project has me moving on even though I don’t know the answers yet.

This (attitude) has really set the tone for our project. No one person has the definite answer or resolution to the issues this community faces. We simply have to be aware of the complexity of the issue at hand and try different methods to reach the outcome that we hope to see.


Youth Corps Singapore

This programme, for people aged 15 to 35, involves a year-long commitment to local and overseas volunteering stints.

National Youth Internship Programme

Announced last month, the initiative provides young people with the opportunity to take up internships with groups such as voluntary welfare organisations and those in the youth sector.