SINGAPORE - Sentenced to prison for 10 years at the age of 21 for drug-related offences, John (not his real name) felt lost, until he was given a chance to work for a National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA).
Under the programme, he had to stage music and dance performances for senior citizens from the CARElderly Senior Activity Centre. Inspired by the difference that he could make for others , he now hopes to pursue social work for youths at risk after his release.
John, now 26, was one of 115 inmates from Tanah Merah Prison and Institution A4 to receive NYAA awards on Friday (April 13). The awards were bronze, silver, or gold based on how much time they spent within each of the four components of community service, sports, adventure journeys and skill workshops.
The programme aims to encourage young people to develop personal qualities of self-reliance, perseverance and responsibility to both themselves and the community, said Mr Amrin Amin, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health, in his opening address at the award ceremony. More than 1,800 inmates, aged between 16 and 25 years old, have participated since it was introduced by the Singapore Prison Service in 2000.
John, who got silver, was 12 years old when his parents divorced. He dropped out of secondary school in his first week. Without parents who were paying attention, John turned to drug trafficking and gang-related activities, and was eventually arrested.
"When I was young, I was just looking for the best way to have fun and earn money quickly, but I had no direction," he said. "After going into prison, religious counselling, the NYAA programme and my family's support have helped me find something to look forward to in my life."
He is currently pursuing his A-level certificate at Tanah Merah Prison.
This year's NYAA theme, Catch your dreams, change your destiny, encouraged young inmates to identify and achieve their ambitions.
Mr Amrin emphasised the importance of the NYAA programme for inmates.
"Through the experiences provided by NYAA, youth offenders can become more self-aware of what they are good at, what they like to do, and how they can do it better," said Mr Amrin.
"I encourage all NYAA participants to 'catch' your dreams, translate them into actions, and to change your destiny."
Mr Amrin also announced that the NYAA programme cut-off age will now increase to 30 years, from the original age of 25, to open up the programme to more youths.
The skill component will also be removed as participants were already picking up new skills in other components of the programme.
Ex-drug offender David (not his real name), 25, who is currently a salesman in the financial sector, and who was awarded the NYAA bronze during his incarceration, values his experience of the programme.
"Through my NYAA journey, I have inculcated values of resilience and determination into my current job. It taught me to be fearless and have the courage to take the first step forward to achieve my goals."