Investing in Youths [20 Oct 2015]

Every time I start a new blog, I feel compelled to justify its purpose – what am I supposed to write about? And who reads these posts, anyway? Over time I just give in to the fact that it’s really just for documentation of random bouts of inspiration or the things that I am passionate about at the moment.

I was going to jot down notes about meeting the new Acting Minister for Education a few weeks back, and my thoughts about higher education and employability but the tl;dr is this: being in my final year in university has given me even stronger conviction that our local institutions do not prepare any of us for the workforce and that really needs to change. Needless to say, I was really excited when Mr. Ong Ye Kung mentioned that there are plans for tie-ups between WDA and tertiary institutions in the future. I also got to meet Ms. Low Yen Ling, from MSF, who was talking about WSQ certificates in the social services sector. There’s hope for me now, as (one of my) latest interests is really to work in that sector – I’m beginning to regret not majoring in Social Work *sigh*

Although I want to venture into many things (education, meaningful media, social entrepreneurship, social service, and the list goes on…), one of my deepest passions is really still in youth development. When I was in Japan, I worked for a non-profit that provides educational support for orphans who have lost either one or both of their parents to illness, accidents or natural disasters. They organised several summer camps, called tsudoi 集い [Japanese for “get-together”], which provides mainly emotional support for these young people.

I attended the Iwate-san tsudoi in Tohoku, where the 2011 earthquake struck. Hearing their stories was extremely hard, yet inspirational at the same time, as they spoke of their ambitions. I’ll admit I didn’t do much, but somehow our presence was enough to move them – that someone from the other side of the world believes in the cause of education and empowerment, that someone believed in them. We communicated mainly through Google Translate, but technology was barely sophisticated enough to capture what we felt. Seeing the transformation in their spirits was just testament to how empowerment is really not just speaking fluffy, motivational words at young people, but it requires a sincere heart and a true connection above anything else.

Recently, I finished my third empowerment camp at my alma-mater’s youth academy, and I’m completely refreshed and reminded of the importance of investment in our young people. (I have to admit that my involvement in these camps also benefit my own spirit, begging the question: “Is an act still altruistic if it also benefits the actor?” But that’s a philosophical debate for another day) They have so much potential in them, and it’s crucial to start shaping them to be servant leaders with empathy right away. Gone are the days where we continue to disempower them precisely because of their age, that they are not ready to shoulder responsibilities until that ~magical moment~ where the sections of our society tip over and it’s their turn to take over. We have to start preparing them now, and it’s up to us to nurture the pillars of our future.