Humans of Habitat: Millennial Strays Away From the Pack & Follows Her Heart to Serve - Yanen Koh
Updated: Jun 23, 2020
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 work as a programmes executive at Habitat for Humanity. My job is to help run Project HomeWorks, an initiative that helps clean up and rehabilitate the homes of vulnerable communities in Singapore. We do this with the aid of sponsors and volunteers.
I graduated from university last year so this is my first job. Two years before I graduated, everyone around me was already finding internships or was about to do attachments. A lot of them were scholarship holders so they already had their lives mapped out before them.
I guess I felt pressured. I had a whole life crisis because I suddenly realised that I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I was transitioning into my third year and planning to just chill during summer. But then I thought I should be using this time more meaningfully.
I studied history and that made it more daunting because the options that are made available to a humanities student in Singapore are not very diverse. When you hear someone doing history, you immediately think of museums or the Ministry of Education.
I had a chat with a senior and she introduced me to the idea of working for an NGO, and I thought what on earth was that? I did some research and thought this is pretty interesting – people creating organisations to target specific causes or social justice issues.
But NGOs are essentially not-profits. I was just very stressed out by the idea that I might go down a route that won’t make me a lot of money.
I eventually applied for an internship at World Vision. It’s an international NGO where I helped run a programme called ‘Project HungerFree’. That programme raised awareness on what poverty looks like in developing countries through experiential activities.
There were 12 other interns and most of us were in university pursuing the arts or social sciences. Being in an environment where there were others in the same boat made me feel less alone. It also gave me the push to not be afraid to serve full-time in the future.
When I graduated, I was so sure that I was going to work at an NGO, specifically at an international NGO. The more I studied history, the more excited I was about people from different cultures and backgrounds coming together to serve other communities.
But my peace of mind was short lived. I didn’t think about whether there were actually any opportunities to begin with. I googled international NGOs in Singapore and there weren’t that many, and of the few not many hired fresh grads or people with no prior experience.
I travelled to Australia alone for my grad trip shortly after. I went into it discouraged and very afraid of my future because my peers kept telling me that if I really wanted to help people, I should simply find a job that makes a lot of money and donate.
But in Australia, I kept meeting strangers who told me that if I believed in serving, I should go for it. For example, at the hostel where I was staying, I met this Malaysian lady who worked at an NGO that improves women’s situations in Third World countries.
In Singapore, you go to school, get a job, buy a house, get married and have kids. But after going overseas and meeting people, the need to live according to a linear timeline started to not overwhelm me as much before.
I googled NGOs again and found a job opening at Habitat for Humanity Singapore. Coincidentally, that was the last day to submit my job application. I quickly sent in my application and they got back to me the next day. I guess you can say the rest is history.
I’ve been with Habitat Singapore for the past eight months now. When I first started working, I was so happy because it felt like the environment was not too different from what I was experiencing when I stayed on campus.
In university, I was surrounded by people from different disciplines and backgrounds but we were all tackling the issue of how to engage the communities around us, be it migrants, low-income families or at-risk youths.
I enjoy working at Habitat because it feels like there’s a continuation of experiences from uni into working life. It also feels weird calling my colleagues my coworkers because they’re my friends more than anything. They’re very nice and nurturing.
These days, whenever I meet up with my uni friends, I tell them how I love work because it feels like I am learning and I can contribute. They say I’m the first person they’ve heard saying such things. I think that was a good indicator that I’m where I’m supposed to be.
To me, all these experiences, opportunities and meeting different people across the years were pieces of evidence of God’s providence and assurance to me that this was the path I was meant to go.
And to anyone who’s currently in the same predicament that I was in, don’t be afraid of choosing your own path in life. I understand the fears and anxiety that come with deciding your own career route and worrying about how people will see you.
I was very conflicted at first because I didn’t want to be living proof that an arts student doesn’t make a lot of money, but my own experiences affirmed that I’d rather be living a life with purpose than trying to chase money and prestige which can steal the joy of work.
Who can see how much money you make, anyways? It’s not a badge that you wear when you walk down the streets, right? I know my worth is not determined by how much money I make and I know my capability is not measured by my salary.
I think the money thing doesn’t really bother me as much now because it has taught me to live less excessively as well, which is a good thing because I don’t really need a lot of things to begin with, so it feels like a good detox.
If you’re really enabled and have the heart for service, know that you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to nurture that heart and serve full-time. There is a community out there with the same heart and would like to encourage you to realise your purpose in life.” - Yan En, 24
Interview by Arman Shah