It is easy to think up ideas for social and community activities, but it is more important to reflect on the purpose behind them, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin told student leaders yesterday.
"There are endless activities that we can do. But understanding the purpose (and the) potentially larger reason will... give you a certain sense of clarity about why it is so important," he told about 180 undergraduates at a community leadership symposium at the National University of Singapore.
It was important to think about an individual's role in the bigger scheme of things, he said.
Community projects allow people to reach out to care for others, and are the start to enacting change in the society, he added.
Sharing his experience as chairman of the executive committee of the 2009 National Day Parade (NDP), Mr Tan said it was important for people to "sit back, reframe and ask ourselves: What are we trying to do, and what is the purpose of this?"
Citing an example, he said each year, Primary 5 pupils are taken to watch the NDP Preview.
"Every year, we are preoccupied that students get there safely and get home quickly, parents don't complain, job done. But it is not a transportation exercise. It is an opportunity for the Primary 5 kids... to watch, enjoy, and at the same time reflect and learn something," he said.
Similarly, community work is linked to the larger values of caring for and loving others, which help people appreciate what they have and feel that they are part of a lovely community, he said.
At the annual symposium held for the third time, six students from the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme also presented their projects.
Fourth-year sociology students Tan Weilie, 25, and Lok Yan Lin, 23, for instance, talked about how they improved the delivery of food to elderly residents in Lengkok Bahru.
The duo had studied how food rations were delivered and found that different households had different consumption patterns. But all still received the same prepacked food packs, which resulted in wastage.
During the festive seasons, residents also received a lot more food packs through donations. There was an oversupply of food during the festive months, and an undersupply in others.
The two students then redesigned the food ration distribution by giving 296 households food ration coupons that could be used to exchange for food items and daily necessities.
The items such as rice, coffee and soap were laid out on push carts at the Silver Ace Senior Activity Centre at Block 57, Lengkok Bahru. The residents could go there to pick what they needed.
"The residents' feedback was that they preferred choosing their rations, and they liked coming down as they could talk to neighbours," said Mr Tan.
They are now training two groups of students to run the project.
"We hope to spread the seeds, to show the students how they can be involved in community development, and how it can benefit those living in the community," said Ms Lok.
This article was published on April 26 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.