“I guess I’m a successful product of the Community Involvement Project (CIP) system put in place by Singapore’s Ministry of Education (laughs). Somehow, those 24-hour community service requirements in school sowed a seed somewhere that sprouted in me.
CIP gave me various opportunities to volunteer. In secondary school, I was part of physio sessions at a rehab centre for elderly. In junior college, I volunteered at Ling Kwang Home where I performed some magic for the old folks.
When I went to uni, most of my co-curricular activities (CCA) were related to community somehow. I volunteered with the Salvation Army and delivered food to the elderly living in Chin Swee Road. I was only 22 then.
Through these experiences, I was certain that I wanted to make the world a better place when I grew up, especially for the elderly. My grandmother raised me since I was young and after she passed on, I wanted to see old people live their remaining lives in dignity.
Today, I work at Habitat for Humanity, a housing charity that helps clean up the homes of the vulnerable in society – including the elderly – through an initiative called Project HomeWorks. My job is to coordinate any youth involvement with the organisation.
One of my responsibilities is to look after our long-term youth volunteers from campus chapters. These chapters basically function like mini Habitat for Humanity offices but are run by students, so these kids are responsible for their own house-cleaning operations.
I mentor appointed student leaders so that they can better guide their respective chapters and ultimately grow as individuals. It’s important to do this because while my passion lies in aiding old people, it’s important to rally the young ones to help achieve this goal.
It’s really just part of our mission! Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity’s objective is to not just build homes but also bring people from all walks of life together to build communities and hope.
It is such a beautiful picture when people of different races, religions, age groups and professions are united by the common desire to see dignity restored for another. It just so happens that in Habitat Singapore, youths comprise half of our volunteers.
Of course there are challenges to mentoring youths. Firstly, they’re kids! So like most parents, there’s only so much handholding I can do – limited by the fact that I only have two hands and my own baby girl to take care of after office hours.
Secondly, there must be a fine balance between holding their hands and actually giving them space to make mistakes, learn and grow. I reflect on experiences with them hoping that they’d come out as adults better equipped to deal with the challenges of the world.
What have I learned through guiding these youths? For someone who is pretty impatient, I’m surprisingly able to stretch myself and use every opportunity as platforms for learning and growth. Don’t tell my daughter this; but, she gets less leeway than them. (laughs)
I also learnt that they’re not too different from adults. The challenges they face are often the same challenges that we as working professionals face, just that they have the benefit of making mistakes with much lower stakes.
One of my most memorable batches of youth volunteers was from Hwa Chong Institution. I had the privilege of working closely with very brilliant boys to start a campus chapter. It was almost like running a startup – I got a very solid team in place together.
Alas, as the chapter was launched, two of the key leaders had to drop out. They were running for student council, and it was a requirement that they only have one CCA. The team was extremely disappointed and demoralised by their decision to leave.
I still recall sitting all of them down at a Kopitiam in Chinatown after one of their Project HomeWorks sessions, talking things out and making sure the team was able to come to terms with what happened. Honest feelings, tears and handshakes were all exchanged.
Mentoring a team of people isn’t always just about looking at the forest or big picture. It often means diving deep into looking after each of these trees and spending time with them. Only then can you have a mere glimpse into the best ways to let them bear fruit.
It’s an added bonus being able to see the transformation in some of them as a result of the time spent volunteering with us too. I still keep in touch with some of them and catch up when I happen to have meetings at their current colleges.
Many of them look back at their time as campus chapter leaders as experiences that have shaped their objectives in life. Most of them have also entered courses of study that can directly serve communities.
Looking back upon my journey at Habitat Singapore thus far, I can say that I find joy in getting to work with so many inspirational youths. It is truly humbling to merely be the grease needed to get their engines going.
And seeing all the work that various youths have done and are currently doing out there, I can safely say that youths are not the leaders of tomorrow. They are already the leaders of today.” – Victor
Interview: Arman Shah