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  • Arman Shah, Habitat Contributor

Dunman High student volunteer leaders inspiring the next generation

If the youths of today hold the key to our future, we foresee bright days ahead thanks to the dream team of 17-year-old Ng Yi Jiat, Koh Pi Rong and Wang Heqing.

The bubbly trio are Habitat Singapore’s Campus Chapter Leaders in Dunman High School. Campus Chapters are student-driven groups that function as a mini-Habitat office within their school. Tasked with widening Habitat Singapore’s reach and impact, Campus Chapter leaders like Yi Jiat, Pi Rong and Heqing were trained by staff to learn the ropes of planning and running Project HomeWorks volunteering sessions for students in their school, from preparing house-cleaning equipment to running operations on the ground during the session. .

After weeks of training, the 3 Dunman High leaders finally took over the ropes and ran their first solo Project HomeWorks session for volunteers they recruited within their school.

This is a tougher task than most people would think, especially since they’re in their first year of junior college. “Balancing school and volunteer work is a challenge. There are days when we can’t find time to attend meetings or be present at the same time” shares Yi Jiat, who was in charge of managing cleaning logistics on the day. .

But when there’s a will, there’s a way, and these dedicated youths found a way to make it work. On a bright and early Saturday morning of 17th August, they rallied a group of juniors to help rehabilitate the home of 67-year-old Uncle Leow who has Parkinson’s disease. Volunteers for this particular session focused on eliminating the bed bug infestation in his one-room flat at North Bridge Road.

When asked why she loves volunteering, Heqing, the overall person-in-charge for the session, replied, “I used to volunteer at a food charity. Once I got a taste of volunteering, I wanted to continue giving back to society. When my school provided a platform that gave me the opportunity to volunteer, I went for it.”

Her true passion, however, lies in helping Singapore’s vulnerable elderly. “It’s hard for me to put into words why I like helping old people. Maybe it’s because I’m very close to my grandparents. And I know not all old people are helpless, but when I grow old, I want someone to take care of me too,” she shares.

As Yi Jiat was collecting the house-cleaning equipment he reflected upon his passion for helping those in need.

“I first did volunteer work with Acti-Vege as part of my school’s VIA (Values in Action). I then joined the Campus Chapter Leader programme because I like the feeling of seeing a (home undergoing a) complete transformation. It’s very satisfying; but, the challenge comes when unforeseen events take place,” he shares.

Working with the elderly comes with its own set of challenges and one thing our student leaders learn very quickly is how to think quick on their feet and salvage any situation for their volunteers to still have the best experience In this case, the student volunteers were supposed to be cleaning up two HDB units that day. However, seeing how one of the elderly whom agreed to a house-cleaning session remained uncontactable, half of the volunteer group was left hanging without a house to clean.

As time slowly passed and attempts to reach out to the elderly bore no fruit, the restlessness on the volunteers’ faces became more and more apparent.

While this was a cause for concern, Pi Rong, the appointed leader to guide volunteers through the work in the house, remained calm and introspective. “Managing the expectations of both the homeowners and volunteers is something I find tricky sometimes. I’m still learning to adapt to these ever-changing situations,” he says.

In the end, the 3 Campus Chapter leaders decided to focus on just one house and split the volunteers into two groups. The morning shift worked on discarding items that were infested with bed bugs and caulking gaps in the walls to prevent these pests from spreading into tiny spaces.

The afternoon shift focused on repainting the walls, installing new furniture that Habitat Singapore donated to Mr Leow and tidying up the whole house. After six hours, the one-room rental flat underwent a significant transformation and changed from a house to a home.

“When the uncle told me his house is very clean now, I instantly felt a sense of fulfillment. It’s not just about having a clean house; the impact is on a much deeper level. Seeing the smile on his face tells me that we've done it right,” Yi Jiat enthuses.

“I know it’s so easy to just focus on academics, but we have to see beyond the macro and realise that the world is more than just us. Now that the student volunteers have gotten a taste of volunteering, I hope it sets a fire in them to help others. I also hope that more people, especially those in my age group, will step up to the plate,” Heqing reflects.


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