Wednesday 25 June 2014

Youth Corps pilot group gets set for community projects

First 90 undergo training camp to learn leadership, project management skills
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2014

MORE than two-thirds of Singapore's first national corps of volunteers are women, and four in five are students.

Aged 15 to 35, these are the first group of people who have stepped forward to take on projects that benefit their community, the National Youth Council (NYC) told The Straits Times.

The idea of having a youth volunteer corps - now called Youth Corps Singapore - was mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during last year's National Day Rally.

The NYC, which will run the programme, aims to eventually have 6,000 volunteers a year who will have the chance to serve their community.

Last week, the pilot group of 90 had a five-day training camp on Pulau Ubin to learn leadership and project management skills that would equip them to lead larger-scale community projects.

Most are students from tertiary institutions while the working adults hail from various industries, from finance to the social sector to food and beverage.

The end of training marks the start of a year-long commitment to volunteering stints. If they are good at it, they can stay on to mentor others when the year is up.

"We ensured that the young people came from diverse backgrounds to enable the Youth Corps to draw on different strengths and skill sets in maximising the impact of its contributions to society," said an NYC spokesman.

The council, which will become an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to champion youth development, picked the 90 from more than 250 applicants.

They will work in teams of 15, alongside people from different schools and workplaces.

Mr Ang Jia Da, 28, said he was worried at first about feeling out of place among the younger volunteers.

"Most of them will be 17, 18 or 22 years old and I was concerned about whether I would fit in," said Mr Ang, who works at Young NTUC, the youth wing of the labour movement.

"But when I met them, I realised they may be young but they think about how to make positive changes in society and that is what unites us."

He said he joined the corps not because he had any political ambitions, but because it offered a more structured programme of training, leadership and mentorship which charities out there may not offer.

The volunteers have an idea of what they want to work on. They chose their projects from a list of needs identified by community agencies.

Ms Ramona Wong, 20, will be involved in a food project that aims to help low-income families put nutritious yet affordable food on the table by getting the elderly members to do urban farming.

"Families often spend the bulk of their money on food, so it's a good idea that would keep food prices down for them and keep the seniors active," said the undergraduate, whose team will be working with local non-governmental organisation Ground-Up Initiative on the project.

Other projects in the pipeline tackle health or environmental issues, or help those with special needs. The youth council has nine partner agencies, such as The Singapore Scout Association and Lakeside Family Centre, to guide theyoung people on projects.

According to the National Youth Survey 2013, more young people are becoming active citizens, with nearly seven in 10 last year involved in community groups. The corps enables students to continue involvement in community projects after they have left school or joined the workforce.

It may also help instil a lifelong habit of volunteerism. Former NYC chairman Chan Chun Sing, now Minister for Social and Family Development, has talked before about the "bathtub effect" among volunteers and said more could be done to support volunteers in remaining active during certain years when they are caught up with other activities.

Participation in volunteerism follows a "bathtub" graph shape - young people tend to be active in causes in school, but the activism dips when they are occupied with their careers and families, and they come back to volunteering only when their children have grown up or when they retire.

Mr Ang said he wrote to his management earlier this year to ask for flexibility in his work schedule should he need to take time off work to volunteer. He got the go-ahead and intends to use his annual leave to do it if necessary.

"Unlike the ad-hoc volunteer work I used to do in school, this time I hope to see this through on a longer-term basis," he said. "There is a greater sense of satisfaction when you journey with the beneficiaries instead of just coming in and out of their lives."

S$2m for first batch of Youth Corps projects
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 23 Jun 2014

S$2 million has been earmarked for projects by the first batch of Youth Corps Singapore volunteers. Newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary for the Community, Culture and Youth Ministry Low Yen Ling revealed this to Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview on Monday (June 23).

The money comes from the $100-million National Youth Fund set up to support youth initiatives and innovations to co-create social change for the benefit of the community.

To tap into the funds, the first batch of some 100 volunteers will have to work with nine community partners that have been identified, and propose projects that will benefit the targeted beneficiaries of those organizations.

Partners identified include Hemispheres Foundation, which focuses on environmental and social development work as well as Trybe which works with psychiatric patients and their families, as well as the intellectually disabled. The aim is to give young Singaporeans a boost when it comes to initiating social causes."We hope that the National Youth Fund will be a platform and will be a catalyst that will help them jump start the process of translating those ideas to fruition," said Ms Low.

Youth Corps Singapore was first mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during last year's National Day Rally to increase opportunities for young people to do projects in the community. The target is to have 6,000 volunteers between the ages of 15 and 35 each year.

Ms Low is also Parliamentary Secretary at the Social and Family Development Ministry and Mayor of the South West District. She said she hopes to create synergies between her role at the ministries and as Mayor, for example, in using arts and culture to create volunteer opportunities for youths.

"If I use arts and culture as an example, the recently launched We Care Art Fund is a case in point, how can we use art and culture to work with the Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), weave that into their programme, to promote well-being, to promote rehabilitation for the patients and the beneficiaries of the VWOs," she said.

"Another potential for synergy is how can we use sports to promote and to foster a stronger sense of independence amongst Singaporeans with disabilities. For example, how can we slowly ensure that sports is accessible to Singaporeans with disabilities, allow them to participate in sports. This is where next year, Singapore is hosting the ASEAN Paralympics and we hope to heighten awareness on this," Ms Low added.

And as Singapore approaches 50 years of independence, Ms Low said this sprit of giving back is one way young Singaporeans can build a better sense of appreciation for the world around them. "Volunteerism will help our Singaporean youths to gain confidence and life skills and appreciate the world we are living in and also have a strong sense of ownership and appreciation and also become a contributing member of the society."

The first batch of 90 Youth Corps volunteers has just completed their induction programme. It was a five-day course at Pulau Ubin. The second phase will see the volunteers go through a year or two of community service in Singapore and abroad.

* Young and helping in the community
First batch of Youth Corps Singapore share their volunteering experiences
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 11 Mar 2015

TRAINEE teacher Muhammad Noor Hairil did not know what his team were in for when they came up with a Youth Corps Singapore project that involved reconciling patients with mental illness with estranged family members.

The group sent text messages, called and sent photos to relatives on the patients' behalf for six months, hoping to re-establish connections.

"Some were unresponsive, while others shared with us their financial problems and after a while, we started to feel that maybe it was just not possible," said the 24-year-old.

But things started looking up last Christmas, when two patients got to spend some time with their loved ones after a year's absence.

"I was filled with an enormous sense of achievement and it was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life," said Mr Hairil.

The initiative was part of 32 projects started last year by an inaugural batch of 200 people aged 15 to 35 in Singapore's first national youth volunteer corps.

The next intake for the National Youth Council-run programme will undergo training from June. Applications close on March 31.

The idea for Youth Corps Singapore was mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 2013 National Day Rally.

Eventually, the NYC hopes to have 6,000 volunteers a year serving their community.

Most of the first batch were from tertiary institutions, along with working adults hailing from industries including finance, the social sector, and food and beverage.

During the one-year programme, they must embark on volunteering stints here and overseas. They will also receive training and mentoring as well as government funding for projects and networking opportunities.

Some of last year's projects included helping low-income families put food on the table through urban farming. Others tackled health or environmental issues, or helped vulnerable youths.

The corps encourages young people to take up community work at school and onwards in later life, as young adults tend to volunteer less after they start working. Members can sign up part-time or full-time.

Statistics from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre showed that only 28 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 volunteered in 2012, compared with 43 per cent of those aged 15 to 24.

Mr Ang Jia Da, 28, had to juggle work and family commitments as his team helped to launch a thrift store staffed by mental health patients in Yishun.

"It was not easy to attend project meetings after work and miss some family gatherings on weekends, but I am heartened to see its impact in small ways," said Mr Ang, who works at Young NTUC, the youth wing of the labour movement. "We look forward to helping the next batch take this project further and see it through in the longer term."

To join the corps or find out more, go to:

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