Youth Month 2021: Young S’poreans step forward to give back amid pandemic

Volunteers spread awareness about the importance of conserving the environment and focusing on mental health

Mr Habib Kadir (back row, fifth from left) with children participating in the Wonders With Nature programme, which he co-created to teach children about biodiversity, pollution awareness and environment conservation when he was in the Youth Corps Leaders Programme in 2019. PHOTO: COURTESY OF YOUTH CORPS SINGAPORE

When Habib Kadir, 27, was in secondary school, his family's financial struggles led him to perceive volunteering as "uncool" and a waste of time.

A weeklong trip to an orphanage in Thailand in 2012 as part of a service learning programme in the first of a three-year commerce course at Millennia Institute altered his perspective.

"I joined the trip to make friends, but when we were teaching the children, playing games with them and setting up an organic farm for them, seeing how happy they were made me realise that I could make an impact," he says.

Today, Mr Habib is an operations executive at voluntary welfare organisation United Indian Muslim Association, which provides low-income families with education bursaries, childcare services and help through other initiatives.

He is also an active member of Youth Corps Singapore (YCS), part of the National Youth Council (NYC). YCS was set up in 2014 as a national institution of youth volunteerism to support youth keen to serve the community.

It offers ad hoc, regular and project-based volunteering opportunities, and its ongoing Yolden Programme, where they befriend seniors in nursing homes. It also provides various volunteering and learning opportunities across sectors such as children and youth, elderly, special needs, environment and heritage.

​​In 2018, Mr Habib participated in the annual Youth Corps Leaders Programme, which trains young people aged 17 to 25 in social service and empowers them to design and deliver a six-month community project. The next run begins in December and takes place over nine months to a year.

"We had workshops over two months on leadership, needs analysis, how to create proposals and budgets for projects, and other topics. We also had role-playing sessions to get used to interacting with the clients of YCS projects, such as seniors with dementia," he says.

After he completed the training, he and his YCS teammates partnered with Lakeside Family Services, a family service centre, to run a series of weekly lessons on biodiversity, pollution awareness and environment conservation for more than 20 children aged five to 10.

The lessons, which took place at Lakeside's premises in Jurong West and included outings to places like HortPark, lasted from March to June 2019.

"We taught the children simple concepts like how to recycle items, and the plants and animals that you can find in Singapore. Many of the children were from young families who had just moved into the neighbourhood, so they got to make friends while learning about nature and sustainability in a fun way," he says.

One child, in particular, stood out. "He did not warm up to us initially and would run around, ignoring our instructions. But after putting him in different groups to see where he was most comfortable, and trying other things, he really opened up to us.

"By the last session, he was listening attentively, following the lessons and even gave all of us hugs at the end. There were many tears that day."

While the Covid-19 pandemic has put a pause on plans to continue the project, called Wonders With Nature, Mr Habib continues to volunteer with YCS.

During last year's circuit breaker, he cooked and packed meals with food charities such as Willing Hearts and Food From the Heart. YCS works in partnership with these charities to recruit volunteers and support their initiatives.

He also currently facilitates online cultural immersion programmes where participants learn more about one another's cultures. He welcomes participants, oversees activities such as ice-breakers and gives talks about Indian culture.

"The YCS was the first time that I met so many people my age who had a desire to serve their communities. I've also had the chance to lead others in helping people, and I hope I can continue and be a mentor to those who need one."

Making a difference in mental health

With the Covid-19 pandemic putting a strain on people's work and personal lives, students Estherlyn Ng and Irfan Izzuddin Bin Yusman, have found value in shining a light on mental wellness. They are members of the YCS' mental health cluster.

Ms Estherlyn Ng (left) teaching a senior how to play Sudoku at a Reach Senior Centre operated by social service agency Reach Community Services Society, as part of her Youth Corps Leaders Programme experience in 2019. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ESTHERLYN NG

Over the last two years, Ms Ng planned activities and events such as games and discussions to improve YCS volunteers' understanding of mental health issues, spur discussion and address stigma revolving around mental health conditions.

Since joining the cluster's publicity team in March, she has continued to raise awareness via posts on its Instagram page (@ycs.mhc).

"We explore topics such as tips to cope with the different transitions in our lives and insights into various mental health conditions, and share people's experiences with mental health-related issues," says the 21-year-old social work student from the National University of Singapore.

Ms Ng, who started volunteering with the YCS in 2018 after she learned about it online, shares that she is inspired by the work and passion of fellow volunteers to continue serving the community.

Among her peers is Mr Irfan, 21, who co-organised the YCS's inaugural Mental Health Ideathon over four weekends in the past two months. The event gathered about 50 youths to develop solutions for Singapore's mental health sector, tackling issues such as people's reluctance to seek treatment and a lack of self-acceptance.

Mr Irfan Izzuddin Bin Yusman (left) and other volunteers with less-privileged children on a heritage tour of Kampong Glam during the Youth Corps Service Week in 2019. PHOTO: COURTESY OF YOUTH CORPS SINGAPORE

"We brought in experts in mental health as well as social service providers to share their perspectives and talk about their work," says the public policy and global affairs student from Nanyang Technological University.

Raising awareness

The event saw unique ideas from youth participants. They included a card game to educate people about mental health conditions to encourage more people to seek support when needed.

The participants, who were split into teams, were also provided opportunities to apply for funding through the Young ChangeMakers (YCM) Grant after the Ideathon.

The YCM initiative provides grants of up to $5,000 and mentorship to young people to carry out community projects.

Both Ms Ng and Mr Irfan are alumni of the Youth Corps Leaders Programme, which provides youth aged 17 to 25 with community service experience and leadership training over nine months to a year.

Mr Irfan says he discovered the YCS on social media, and became a regular volunteer after a fulfilling experience bringing less-privileged children on a heritage tour of Kampong Glam during the YCS's annual Youth Corps Service Week in 2019.

Over July and August last year, he and his team worked with social service agency Beyond Social Services to plan and run a six-week programme of virtual games and activities for youth in Ang Mo Kio and Yio Chu Kang to get to know one another and hone leadership skills while working together on puzzles and challenges.

He says such experiences with the YCS has proved to him that anyone can do their part to help others: "It has been inspiring to see people from all walks of life and all types of backgrounds contributing in any way that they can."

This is the last of a four-part series for Youth Month, produced in partnership with the National Youth Council.

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