“I currently work as an accounts executive at Habitat for Humanity, but before that, I was working in Jakarta as an internal auditor at one of the biggest automotive companies in Indonesia. I worked there for four years before moving to Singapore with my husband.
Because I came from a corporate organisation, I didn’t really know much about the world of NGO or how Habitat operated as a housing charity. I just knew that I wanted to do something different from my previous job; something that was more directly useful to others.
Coming from an industry where the main objective was to make money, it took me some time to realise that the main difference between a corporate and an NGO is purpose, and Habitat’s primary purpose is not to make money but to help others.
In my previous job, I didn’t feel like I was helping anyone. Yes, I advised my auditees on what’s best for their businesses and operations, but all I really did was to give ratings. If I gave a bad rating, it impacted their salary and bonuses.
After I talked to my husband about how I felt, he told me about Habitat for Humanity Singapore. Teck Meng, who is the organisation’s National Director, is a pastor at the church my husband goes to. I Googled to learn more and applied for an internship.
I applied for an internship because there were no job openings, but when I went down to the office, I was told they had a position for me. The Singapore office was co-managing Batam with Habitat for Humanity Indonesia and they wanted a finance executive.
Around the same time that I accepted the job offer, I got my work permit as well. Everything was going so smoothly. It almost felt like a miracle to me. I took it as a sign that God really wanted me to work at Habitat for Humanity and I was just so happy.
Today, I monitor the finances of Batam and the Cambodia Grace Project, which is a five-year project funded by Far East Organization to build hundreds of houses and also do repairing and upgrading. My job is to ensure all purchases are based on our approval.
One of the most precious experiences for me was being part of a house-build in Battambang. We partnered up with Habitat for Humanity Cambodia for that build. I was actually there for a budget meeting but was persuaded to join the build in its last two days.
I helped with the painting and the construction of the stairs and walls. Even though the new house had only one room – you stay there, sleep there, eat there, study there, play there – it’s still better than the previous house.
I still remember all of us presenting the house to the homeowner on the last day. Seeing how a house can change someone’s life really touched my heart. It was such a special experience because I had never done anything like that before.
Yes, I do love working at Habitat Singapore. Even though I work in finance and not a frontliner like some of my other colleagues, I still feel like I’m doing something useful. Someone entrusted me to transfer funds to those who need it, so it’s very important work.
If I have any advice for someone who wants to work at an NGO, it’s to ask yourself if it is really your calling to do something good for others. If you simply want to work at an NGO because you want a job, you’ll be easily discouraged and disappointed.
You won’t have as much money or live a glamorous life like someone who works in a corporate organisation. Your salary won’t be as big and you can’t brag about working for a company that is more renowned.
But if you’re looking to work at an NGO like Habitat for Humanity because you genuinely want to help others in need, you will feel very happy and satisfied. So you have to know – what is your purpose in life?”
Interview: Arman Shah