The Youth Corps Aspirant Journey | Washington

ycswashington1I write this piece with mixed feelings: there is uncertainty about what is to come, silent weeps for the upcoming farewell and yet a deep, deep sense of belonging that overwhelms me with love. This was the Youth Corps Washington Family just a couple of days ago right about 1030PM at the FIKA Cafe along Beach Road. The gathering was a generous appreciation dinner by invitation from our community partner, Lakeside Family Services (where the most passionate of volunteers and social workers have inspired the two project teams greatly). Over unfamiliar Swedish dishes and a strange ‘Rosehip’ soup, the two project teams had been reunited for the first time in the longest of months, with complete attendance. It was no less than a reunion of family.

At the gathering that stretched across about 3 hours, we were all grappling to play catch-up with one another on the countless turning points our lives have taken. Basking in the comfort of these people likened to my family members who never fail to express genuine concern about one another’s lives, and immersing in the laughter that I have so missed in the past year, I couldn’t help but flashback on the many, many ups and downs we have all gone through as Youth Corps Aspirants, and in our personal lives over this one fateful year.

ycswashington2I remember the uncertainty that came with the time when it all just started. When I compare our June 2014 selves to the individuals we have grown to become, there are subtle signs of development in the way we approach problems, view challenges and search for solutions; there is a new confidence that has empowered us with this one year of rigorous training and volunteerism. From the individual sharing round the tables at the FIKA gathering (as we stood up to give a little speech of our own), it was apparent that we pride ourselves in that not a single member from Washington had quit on this very intensive journey– the late night meetings, high-commitment trainings, the countless proposals, crazy planning behind every small detail and the hours of reflections. There were arguments, crying, laughter, exasperation, disappointment, anxiety, excitement… and on hindsight, I am truly so glad we persevered to have experienced this whole spectrum of possibilities this one-year journey could offer us.

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Semester of Service (SoS) 1 for us was an environmental advocacy project called “Office Go Green” at the Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA) building, working with Vietnam counterparts who have become our favourite Vietnamese. With support from our community partner Hemispheres Foundation, our team had scrambled to find our footing in the unfamiliar environmental scene compensating for our lack of exposure with double the diligence in our research.

SoS 1 was a lot about reconciling between theoretical knowledge and cultural adaptations. As with many overseas service projects, the challenge lay in the lack of deep understanding of the context of VEA staff and management. It took recce trips, consultations with our community partners (who are experts in the field) and day-long meetings with the management to piece our environmental plans for the office building together. While our months of preparation before the implementation trip had translated into an extremely detailed plan for the management of the building, we arrived with the management of the office only to have our plans deconstructed and then, reconstructed once more together with the management staff to better suit their needs. Our team learned to forge friendships and treasure ties in an culturally unfamiliar environment as our Vietnamese counterparts were extremely helpful in working with us, and also to be ever-ready to readjust our expectations and plans in face of the uncertainty that accompanies overseas service projects.
ycswashington3And now on the recently concluded Semester of Service (SoS) 2, where Washington 1 proudly presents the ‘Little Learning Club Program’: a pre-schooler program meant for children aged 4-6, to encourage early exposure to the English Language and cultivate an interest in the language from a young age. Working with Lakeside Family Services, working on this cause that tugs at the heartstrings of most of the team, has been absolutely incredible. This project began with the assessment of gaps in Lakeside Family Services’ existing programs for children in the neighbourhood, and with the guidance from our amazing Community Partners, we pieced together the vision to bring together a community of pre-schoolers who could ‘Learn, Play and Grow together’. The dream was idealistic, but aiming high and pushing ourselves to our limits, the result was beautiful.

Testament to our efforts, our ITE NYAA Volunteers wrote heartwarming reflections that reflected a precious journey of personal development for themselves and our beneficiaries’ parents shared with us the children’s woes of having to leave after only 1.5 hours when the lesson was over. I cannot describe how incredibly proud I am of our team for having created an experience so precious to the volunteers and children who are all here to stay, and for earning the trust and confidence from the parents whose only request was for “lessons to be longer”. From this, I have learned amongst other things, that authenticity can be exchanged for some of the most valuable and incredible things in return.

11050140_10204067189379903_1134766277385012069_n ycswashington11From our incredible hundreds of hours (collectively, nearing a thousand in this past year) that have been dedicated to project meetings, trainings and working on the go, I have been inspired by this amazing bunch to consistently challenge my limits. I have found strength and courage to step out of my comfort zone, to (I suppose) what they call the ‘learning zone’ thanks to this Washington Family consisting of not only Aspirants, but community partners and mentors we have been so blessed to have with us. I hope I remember the anxiety of presenting to various audiences (the NYC board of staff on the judging panel, Youth Corps Aspirants, VEA management directors), and the exhilaration of sharing little moments of ‘success’ with everyone on the team.

This year with Youth Corps has taught me more than resilience and the value of love, it has also shifted my outlook in the possibilities that can come with a great deal of compassion and dedication. When I think of us collectively I am, too, confident that “a small group of people with great love can change the world”; and to the naysayers who brush off ‘world change’ as an impossible feat, they surely surely will change their minds when they look at who we are and what we’ve done.

yepThank you all for this amazing journey: this is temporary goodbye, not farewell.

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After Utopia

Above is one of the five songs put together by Singapore artistes coming together in the “Sing, Love” Project as part of the SG50 Celebrations. They have put together songs that reflect their experiences and feelings about the country as a gift to the nation, and my Singapore pride is gleaming as I play the mix on replay. Watching these artistes (and others) perform last night at the Sing, Love Concert at The Coliseum in RWS, there was nothing short of admiration and pride as the crowd bobbed to the songs, all proudly Singaporean. And I suppose if this is truly a home we are proud to belong in, this is one way to be celebrating.

This one’s for the inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure of watching or knowing, who are working for their Utopia. People like these Singaporean artistes.

After Utopia is an exhibition ongoing at the Singapore Art Museum, dedicated to artists’ reflections of how we have yearned and searched for what is known as a ‘Utopia’ for as long as we have been around, with the ‘gnawing sense that our world is not enough’. Despite the idea of a Utopia being an idealist and fictional one, we continue to show clear signs of hoping to come as close to it as possible, in what appears to be a never-ending pursuit. Split into segments, the exhibition explored different dimensions to the ‘Utopia’: my favourites were the exploration of ‘cities’ and of ‘micro-Utopias’.

On cities, in the words of Italo Calvino, they are like dreams, “(they) are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, everything conceals something else”. It was refreshing to think of the construct of our society as something built on our hopes, and elements of it, just reflections of our beliefs. Then, on that same note, the idea of micro-Utopias made reference to lessons from the past I found familiar to our International History lectures, here I quote,”the last century was marked by conflict on an unprecedented scale, and the arms race brought the world to the perilous brink of nuclear war. The betrayal of ideologies by political leaders, and dwindling hopes of real reform have led many to turn away from sweeping notions of changing the world or society in a grand scale, in favour of focusing on and creating smaller, more personal micro-Utopias, effecting change one small step at a time.” If society is a reflection of our aspirations and values, then it would make sense for everyone to be creating personal Utopias in the little ways possible– and I am convinced everyday by the people I meet or the places I go, that it’s already happening. This trend is real, and if we watched closely enough it is happening everywhere.

In the June holidays, I have heard and seen the enthusiastic publicity of Youth For Causes teams: Project Dreamcatcher supports the Make-a-Wish Foundation and raises funds to endorse their great work of granting wishes of children in face of life-threatening illnesses. Their upcoming concert on 12 July, Sunday 7PM at Singapore Polytechnic, features RGS Dance International and Falling Feathers. Also, The Dreamswork Project is yet another brilliant team working to raise funds for the Children’s Cancer Foundation, putting together a concert on 6 August at RELC, featuring Ah Boys to Men Cast, Mediacorp Performers and SEA Games Opening Ceremony performers. For teams of students in secondary school to be putting together such great work, I am confident of the Utopia ahead.

Thanks, you guys give me hope.

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Fighting Uncertainty

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And finally, a month long of pressure-cooker style internalising and discipline (mostly fuelled by peer pressure) has been exchanged for this feeling of being liberated. The taste of freedom: the flavour of satisfaction coating the otherwise bitter knowledge of how short-lived it might be.

This afternoon I’m back on a long bus ride back to town, clad in knitwear and armed with my student pass, I’m ready for an adventure. Travelling around these beautiful places in where I call home has always come with a comforting realisation that I am so fortunate, but it also has me thinking about where I may fit in this illustrious legacy– where might my place in society be? In my recent read, The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton, the author discussed the incoming urgent need for jobs– by ‘jobs’, he didn’t just mean money for a service, and service for a need; rather, he was referring to meaningful functions in society that would satisfy the working generation in a way where they would see purpose in what they did. In a survey conducted by Gallup, American high school dropouts reportedly “did not see how their education would translate into a good job”. On this note, he painted a dim picture of the foreseeable future of an unmotivated and unfulfilled workforce if this need for good jobs were not met. The book was a pessimistic but necessary read. (For the sake of optimism, I must mention he did name Singapore as one of the nations in which the prospects of a good job was more promising.)

Recently, I was a volunteer at the Superhero Me Festival 2015- the first of its kind, this was a costume-crafting festival aimed at children from pre-school onwards to celebrate childhood and their dreams. This festival was the brainchild of a bunch of passionate, fun-loving volunteers who hoped for Singapore to be less than a tuition nation– to have parents and children alike to realise they could be more than their grades in school. Children would put together their ‘superhero costumes’ and talk about their role models, emphasis was placed on the values that they admired in superheroes like resilience, kindness, gratitutde and respect. Adorable remarks included, “My hero is my mummy!” “…Why?” “Umm, because she cooks for me.” And of course, the logical conclusion is, “I want to be a cook next time, so that I can cook for my mother.” Now where did our simple but noble dreams go after these years in school?

So, what might my good job look like? And after I pursue my A levels, live out my 6-month break and when I leave this institution- then what? All this hard work, but for what? I am so fearful of this uncertainty, it is nothing but silly. I am a little less than ‘desperately’, in search of the purpose behind putting the rest of my life on hold for this.

The next stop is me, bye.