Youth Corps pilot group gets set for community projects

First 90 undergo training camp to learn leadership, project management skills

Youth Corps aspirants getting a taste of belaying during the training camp last week. The National Youth Council aims to eventually have 6,000 volunteers a year who will have the chance to serve the community.
Youth Corps aspirants getting a taste of belaying during the training camp last week. The National Youth Council aims to eventually have 6,000 volunteers a year who will have the chance to serve the community. PHOTO: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

More than two-thirds of Singapore's first national corps of volunteers are women, and four in five are students.

Aged 15 to 35, these are the first group of people who have stepped forward to take on projects that benefit their community, the National Youth Council (NYC) told The Straits Times.

The idea of having a youth volunteer corps - now called Youth Corps Singapore - was mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during last year's National Day Rally.

The NYC, which will run the programme, aims to eventually have 6,000 volunteers a year who will have the chance to serve their community.

Last week, the pilot group of 90 had a five-day training camp on Pulau Ubin to learn leadership and project management skills that would equip them to lead larger-scale community projects.

Most are students from tertiary institutions while the working adults hail from various industries, from finance to the social sector to food and beverage.

The end of training marks the start of a year-long commitment to volunteering stints. If they are good at it, they can stay on to mentor others when the year is up.

"We ensured that the young people came from diverse backgrounds to enable the Youth Corps to draw on different strengths and skill sets in maximising the impact of its contributions to society," said an NYC spokesman.

The council, which will become an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to champion youth development, picked the 90 from more than 250 applicants.

They will work in teams of 15, alongside people from different schools and workplaces.

Mr Ang Jia Da, 28, said he was worried at first about feeling out of place among the younger volunteers.

"Most of them will be 17, 18 or 22 years old and I was concerned about whether I would fit in," said Mr Ang, who works at Young NTUC, the youth wing of the labour movement.

"But when I met them, I realised they may be young but they think about how to make positive changes in society and that is what unites us."

He said he joined the corps not because he had any political ambitions, but because it offered a more structured programme of training, leadership and mentorship which charities out there may not offer.

The volunteers have an idea of what they want to work on. They chose their projects from a list of needs identified by community agencies.

Ms Ramona Wong, 20, will be involved in a food project that aims to help low-income families put nutritious yet affordable food on the table by getting the elderly members to do urban farming.

"Families often spend the bulk of their money on food, so it's a good idea that would keep food prices down for them and keep the seniors active," said the undergraduate, whose team will be working with local non-governmental organisation Ground-Up Initiative on the project.

Other projects in the pipeline tackle health or environmental issues, or help those with special needs. The youth council has nine partner agencies, such as The Singapore Scout Association and Lakeside Family Centre, to guide theyoung people on projects.

According to the National Youth Survey 2013, more young people are becoming active citizens, with nearly seven in 10 last year involved in community groups. The corps enables students to continue involvement in community projects after they have left school or joined the workforce.

It may also help instil a lifelong habit of volunteerism. Former NYC chairman Chan Chun Sing, now Minister for Social and Family Development, has talked before about the "bathtub effect" among volunteers and said more could be done to support volunteers in remaining active during certain years when they are caught up with other activities.

Participation in volunteerism follows a "bathtub" graph shape - young people tend to be active in causes in school, but the activism dips when they are occupied with their careers and families, and they come back to volunteering only when their children have grown up or when they retire.

Mr Ang said he wrote to his management earlier this year to ask for flexibility in his work schedule should he need to take time off work to volunteer. He got the go-ahead and intends to use his annual leave to do it if necessary.

"Unlike the ad-hoc volunteer work I used to do in school, this time I hope to see this through on a longer-term basis," he said. "There is a greater sense of satisfaction when you journey with the beneficiaries instead of just coming in and out of their lives."

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