Advisory was given exclusive access to cover the Singapore Youth Award (SYA) Presentation Ceremony 2018. As noted by this year’s SYA Panel Chairperson Dr Sudha Nair, the SYA has, since 1975, served as the nation’s pinnacle youth award, recognising the excellence of young Singaporeans who have the tenacity to pursue their passions; dedication to serve others around them; and embody the best of the values of resilience, courage, service, leadership and inspiration – individuals with a vision.
At this year’s Ceremony, there was a swell of inspirational stories from young people from all walks of life, and six outstanding youth leaders were honoured for their invaluable contributions to the community and for their passion for social good: Ms Amanda Chong; Mr Daniel Teh; Dr Hamid Rahmatullah Bin Abd Razak, Ms Inch Chua; Mr Jason Chee; and Ms Jean Loo. The awardees, inspiring in their stories and speeches, offered many insights on community leadership: how to Make Waves and Lead Change in communities.
A consistent theme in the awardees’ stories was their surprise at receiving recognition for something they had always done as just a way of giving back to the community – out of the conviction that individuals in society could do much good for one another to help each other along this journey of life.
Mr Daniel Teh never imagined this day would come. He was once known only as ‘a gangster’ and ‘hopeless case’. A former youth-at-risk, Daniel is now a grassroots leader, youth leader, community leader, mentor and a social entrepreneur who leads a business that runs on a very different model. He helps individuals with special needs lead independent and fulfilling lives by curating employment opportunities for these individuals and customising tools to help these individuals adapt to and conduct themselves in a job.
Tapping on his own experience as a former youth-at-risk, Daniel also works as a community leader with and for individuals with difficult backgrounds. Receiving awards was never part of his motivation in becoming the social entrepreneur and community leader that he is today. What spurred his change was his getting into trouble with the law for the umpteenth time: once for putting a pad-lock on a police station entryway out of revenge for his having been arrested there, and another time, he was arrested the very day of his release after having splashed the station with paint. That last time landed him in an eight-man cell, where he found many of his fellow cellmates to have special needs and mental health conditions. He had thought he would meet others more like him, but he saw that he was different: all was right with his hands, legs and mind, it was only that he lacked the right heart and attitude. This softened his heart to realise that his problem was aggressiveness and ego, and he resolved to be a problem-solver and not a problem-giver. Today, he just wants to use his personal journey to help others – and is a community leader at the very police station where he was once held in arrest. He doesn’t at all think his work stops after receiving recognition and will continue his contributions to serve the disadvantaged, seeing the strengths and not weaknesses of others.
What was common to all awardees was their recognition that they had only begun their work as a way of giving back, because they felt that they had themselves received much.
Ms Amanda Chong, a lawyer by training and profession, co-founded ReadAble a literary programme for children from underprivileged backgrounds and underserved communities. An impassioned poet, she believes in the power of literacy education to beat poverty one word at a time. Her conviction comes from her recognition that this was what her father would have wanted and needed as a young student. He grew up in a one-room flat with five siblings, slept under a table, and studied under the light of the common corridor. He went on to university and so she was born into a different world. However, Amanda does not forget her father’s story – and the stories of children like her father, which are important narratives that are not only of prosperity and progress. Today, it is her joy to use what she has been given to help others: being a published poet herself, she mentors foreign domestic workers in writing poetry, and advocates for those in the margins of society, who are incredibly significant individuals but often not given a voice. She envisions a society in which there is space for all stories and a nation that listens to all stories – not just the loudest voices – welcoming all as equals to the table.
Ms Inch Chua is a singer-songwriter, and producer who gives back through music, believing that music is a universal language connecting one to other people and oneself. She was herself a beneficiary of the Noise Singapore programme where she found in her mentor more than just a person who wanted to grow her musically, but personally. She has since gone from being mentored to being a mentor for younger aspiring musicians whose shoes she was once in. Inch sees mentoring as an opportunity to do what someone did for her, and strives to be as present and vulnerable as possible for those under her mentorship.
Dr Hamid Rahmatullah Bin Abd Razak, an orthopaedic surgeon, volunteers with HealthServe, which seeks to provide cost-effective, affordable healthcare to cater to the needs of migrant workers in Singapore. He feels an urge to contribute back to his community for he has always felt supported in all his endeavours in his growing years. As a third-generation migrant, he has seen the power and value of resilience in his grandparents who were first-generation migrants, and his parents who worked hard to provide for his siblings and him. As a doctor, he admires his patients, who combat disease with spirit, admitting that without them, he would find no meaning to his work. Beyond medical work, Dr Hamid volunteers with an Indian-Muslim professional network, IM.PROF, to mentor youths. He believes in going above and beyond the call of duty for those under his mentorship, and that, as William Osler said, “We are here to add what we can to life, not take what we can from life.”
Mr Jason Chee has an unbreakable spirit, with the stamina to continue playing the game of life no matter what fate gives and determination to push on no matter what obstacles one may face. He spent one year and two months in the hospital after a grisly accident in which he lost three limbs. Even during that time, he told his father: “Don’t worry – I’m still positive. I’m a person who never gives up.” Then, in 2017, an eye tumour struck which meant the surgical removal of his right eye. Despite suffering many loses, Jason has never given up. To him, there are bad days, but it is never a bad life. He presses on with true spirit and grit, believing that everything happens for a reason and that one must live life to the fullest. He hopes that his life and story can serve as an inspiration for others: if he can do what he does despite all that has happened to him, then how much more anyone else?
What was common to many of the awardees was their conviction to let their actions speak louder than their words.
Ms Jean Loo, a former photojournalist, felt that the work of inclusion in society needed less talk and more action, so she acted on it. She co-founded a ground-up community art movement, Superhero Me, which provides a safe, inclusive platform for children who are different from each other – some of whom have special needs – to come together and socialise through the arts. This provides children with the opportunity to learn, play and grow together with others who are different from them, and to build friendships, confidence and empathy, which Jean believes will help them to thrive in the diverse world of today. She is a staunch advocate for the underprivileged and individuals with special needs, and volunteers with the Lien Foundation to work with such communities. She actually looks forward to the day that Superhero Me is irrelevant because inclusion has become the norm. Her advice to aspiring community leaders? Start a disciplined process. Meet your aspirations with courage, but plant your feet on the ground. Remember that at the heart of any work in the community are the relationships you are privileged to build.