- Arman Shah, Habitat Contributor
Humans of Habitat: Leaving the Stress of Journalism Life for Meaningful NGO Work - Laura Philomin
Humans of Habitat Singapore is an interview series in collaboration with The Everyday People of Singapore. The series delves deep into the lives of the people that champions Habitat's mission of creating a world where everyone has a decent place to live. This story was originally published on The Everyday People of Singapore website and reproduced with permission.
"“I worked as a journalist for about two and a half years. My mum wanted me to be a TV news anchor but there was no way in hell that would happen – I did not want to face the cameras. But ever since she planted the thought in my head, I grew very interested in writing.
After graduation, I was kind of hesitant to get a full-time job. Most reporters went to journalism school but I studied sociology at university. I didn’t have any reporting experience, so I decided to do an internship at Thomson Reuters, just to get a feel of the work.
It was an interesting eight months. I didn’t have much business knowledge, but I worked on a lot of local stories that intrigued the global audience. For example, I was assigned to dig into the finances of megachurches in Singapore at the height of the City Harvest controversy.
I eventually moved on to write for a local newspaper, and it was then I realised how different working life was from internship life. As a full-time reporter, you don’t have the freedom to sit down all day and think of story ideas. You’re literally out every single day to cover something.
My old boss warned me, ‘It’s going to be tough. You’re going to be working long hours and you’re not going to have a life.’ At the time, I was young, fresh out of school and ready to get my hands dirty. I was excited to dive right in, you know?
But work started to become a nightmare in my second year. Anxiety had started to build up and I’d go to work not knowing what time I’ll end or where the news would bring me. My phone became my lifeline – it controlled my day, my week and at times my whole life.
I think I hit breaking point in 2015 when I frantically covered the LKY funeral, general elections and by-elections. I remember having dinner with my husband and his brother on a Friday after working the whole day, and at 1am, I received my assignment for 7am the next day.
I immediately broke down. I started laughing and crying and the two of them wondered what the heck was happening. It had reached a point where I was hit by anxiety every time my phone rang. The burnout was so intense. I was 25 and I never thought I’d feel it so young.
I became very unsympathetic, too. I remember having Sunday lunch with my family and receiving news over the phone that a guy I was writing about had just passed away. I had to quickly work on the story and my immediate reaction was, ‘Why couldn’t he die tomorrow?!’
That was when I realised that enough was enough. I didn’t like the person that I was becoming. It was important for me to make changes in my life and career, so I left journalism.
Today, I work for an NGO called Habitat for Humanity Singapore. It’s a housing charity that operates worldwide. Our mission is to build a world where everyone has a decent place to call home.
I basically handle comms for Habitat Singapore. I’m in the team that is in-charge of fundraising, events, donation campaigns, PR, publicity, social media and all that jazz. I will be with the organisation for three years come September.
Yes, I’ve always been interested in NGO work. I spent my entire childhood in a Catholic learning environment, so I grew up hearing about mission trips to help people in Africa. They intrigued me but I never went because I wasn’t into the evangelising aspect of these trips.
But today, through Habitat Singapore, I get to go overseas to help build homes for the underprivileged. I’ve also participated in Project HomeWorks many times. It’s a local initiative where volunteers help to rehabilitate the homes of the elderly and low-income families.
I think the biggest difference between what I did and what I do today – apart from the obvious change in pace – is that I finally feel like I’m writing for a reason now. I’m not writing because I have to or someone asked me to; there’s a purpose behind it.
When I interview homeowners or volunteers, I’m having actual conversations with them and asking them to share their life story. I’m asking them to dig deep, be introspective about certain things and then crafting a story around what they share with me.
It’s a privilege to be able to talk to these people, especially the homeowners. It’s easy to judge and question why it is so hard for them to keep their houses clean, but sometimes life happens. You grow old or get injured and suddenly lose your ability to take care of yourself.
Some of them are also just so happy to have someone to talk to and open up about who they used to be. They feel so isolated because they might not have family members to carry on their memories for them, but I’m interested to hear, and I’m interested to learn.
Reflecting upon my journey these past few years, I’m glad that I no longer dread waking up to go to work. I’m in my twenties and I feel blessed that I managed to figure out what I’m supposed to do in life through the work that I do with Habitat Singapore.
I think deep down, if you’re in the wrong job, you’d know. Maybe the biggest barrier to getting yourself out of that situation is the fear that you can’t do anything else. But if you’re willing to embrace change and go in the direction that you want to go, you will have no regrets.” - Laura, 29
Interview by Arman Shah