Monthly Supporter Spotlight: Darren Lee
Two years ago, Darren stepped down as the president of the Habitat Singapore Yale-NUS Campus Chapter. While his official term came to an end, his journey with us never did.
Darren continued to volunteer and mentor younger Habitat leaders alongside other pursuits in life. He spent a semester abroad, served two terms in the Yale-NUS student government and is now pursuing a dual-career in music and management consulting since his graduation.
Through it all, the experiences and memories from his time with the Campus Chapter and Project HomeWorks always ran deep. He remembered feeling particularly surprised and humbled upon learning the extent of the poor living conditions of vulnerable Singaporeans. But what truly stayed with him the most was the intensity of being personally connected to a homeowner and their situation through meeting them face-to-face.
“Talking to these ‘ah gongs’ and ‘ah mahs’ - it really did something to me,” shared Darren, as he recalled a particularly intense conversation with a Project HomeWorks homeowner he remembered as Mdm Tan.
“She has a son but he has kids, works 3 jobs and can still barely afford to feed the family. She gets an allowance from her son as well as government assistance, but she can still barely afford meals. It wasn’t enough but she was always too afraid to ask for more. She couldn’t hold back her tears when she told me how she felt depressed all day. That really struck a chord with me,” Darren shared.
When the Covid-19 pandemic ignited conversations about migrant workers’ living conditions and inequality in Singapore, it brought to the forefront of his mind all these memories and interactions he’s had with vulnerable seniors.
“I do feel that if I had not done Project HomeWorks, I might not have come so close to witnessing this issue in Singapore. As much as some books go to describe the problem, (it) is not the same as knowing and hearing from one of these people, and literally helping them,” he added.
With the depth of experiences that he’s had, giving back to the community was always something on Darren’s mind even as he began his post-graduation pursuits. . The pandemic became a catalyst for Darren to work with Habitat Singapore on another project.
Through his work, his goal is to share the impact that he has received from Habitat Singapore with other youths in his community. He hopes to connect the dots between understanding an issue, feeling emotionally and personally connected to a cause, and knowing what to do to help.
“Society today is so competitive. There are so many distractions and there are so many pressures. It’s not always easy being a young person. Maybe some people know the issue but they don’t know it on a personal level. And even if they do, they don’t know what to do about it,” said Darren.
“I’m here to be just another one of my peers who has just chosen to be a little bit more committed to this issue, to finding out more and to sharing what I learn. I think everyone would care, if they just knew a bit more,” he added.
At a time where cultural and age gaps are widening, Darren is aware that the first step of engaging with a younger audience is being able to speak their language. And going with what he knows best, Darren decided to produce a song for Habitat Singapore as his first official project with Habitat Singapore
He’s spent the last few months working with local artists to produce a song that is inspired by Project HomeWorks and yet relatable to the youths by catering to current music trends.
“I wanted to make Habitat more relevant. I didn’t want people to see us as traditional or just as an organisation for wealthier individuals to donate to. Everyone can make a difference, regardless of age. And we have more Campus Chapters so I feel like Habitat is already moving along that direction,” he added.
While the tune was kept trendy, Darren shared that the inspiration behind the lyrics of the song came from one of Habitat’s core principles of dignity. “All people have a sense of dignity that we need to protect and that’s the reason why we work so hard to make sure everyone has a decent place to live. We are here to say that we want to support you as we build the house or home that you deserve,” Darren shared.
The song’s title, “Used To This”, also has a special meaning. “Thinking back to my experiences doing Project HomeWorks, many of the individuals that I was working with were actually reluctant to change their lifestyle because they were so used to it. It really struck a chord with me - hurt me almost. They shouldn’t have to get used to a certain state. They shouldn’t have to get used to their struggles,” he explained.
Darren’s song “Used To This” will be released in conjunction with World Habitat Day on Monday, October 5. Stay tuned for the full music video release!