“I am a huge believer in cheering other people on and a big believer in the power of kindness – to one self, to others and to the planet.

My journey through life has been anything but linear – and my hope is that (you)th will have a knowing that life was never meant to be plotted out and executed perfectly.

I’m a Singaporean who grew up in Jakarta, and when I was about 12, I went to a private, all-girls school in Australia where I was one of the few Asian faces.

There, I was made to feel different, like I was an ‘other’ or ‘less than’. The girls in the school called me all kinds of derogatory names associated with being Asian.

Being bullied was a painful experience. I developed social anxiety that I currently navigate but out of that negativity birthed the beauty of compassion, resilience and empathy.

When I was younger, I couldn’t look people in the eyes and hold a conversation. I didn’t know my value in the world, and I carried that with me for so long until I met (veteran radio personalities) Mark Richmond, Daniel Ong and Mister Young in 2005, just a year after high school.

They championed me and gave me the opportunity to join 987 FM. They believed in me and saw something when I couldn’t see it for myself.

I hosted a show called ‘Say It With Music’. I would have all these youths who would call in, and some of them would tell me about how they thought about taking their life or that they had noone to talk to about what they were going through.

They felt hopeful listening to me and this led me to realise the value of my voice that was needed in the community.

That’s how I discovered the importance of having someone believe in and commit to journeying together with you. And that’s what inspired me to start Blessings in a Bag in 2007.

Blessings in a Bag is a ground-up, youth-led movement that focuses on nurturing deep and meaningful relationships with youth in Singapore. We journey with them to discover their passion, their hopes and dreams.

Part of our approach is engaging youth volunteers who are truly committed to holding space for others by cultivating a strong sense of belonging and navigating together through the peaks and valleys that life throws at you.

I recently took a group of kids to a global tech company, and one of our 15-year-old girls said she could see herself working for this firm one day, but her sibling said, ‘Don’t be stupid; nobody like us ends up in a place like this.’

It’s our role to be their cheerleader and inspire them to dream beyond their circumstances.

Right now, I’m part of the Facebook Community Leadership Program and I’m really excited to have Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s commitment to amplify the voices and the meaningful work of community leaders around the world.

I have started a leadership series called P.S You’re Awesome which gathers community together for much-needed conversations around courageous leadership.

I show up everyday, with the belief that there needs to be more love in this world and a redefinition of what it means to be a leader…to be human. And I would encourage those who read this to find someone that you can hold space for and cheerlead them through their personal journey.

I know it sounds fluffy and cliche, but it’s true. Everyone should care simply because that’s who we are as human beings, and that is what humanity is all about.” – Emily Teng, 31

Emily Teng is a recipient of the President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Award in the “Kampung Spirit” category.

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