From ideas to action, Singapore youth are making a difference in the community in their own ways

Mak Wei Zhi shares her story about how she navigated her journey of success in a Youth Conversations session on the Narratives of Success.
PHOTO: National Youth Council

"Self-absorbed", "apathetic", "deeply self-entitled", "couldn't care less" - do our youth deserve to be stereotyped this way?

If you listen to their life experiences, learn about their life-changing initiatives and read about their hopes for our nation, you will realise that they are nothing like the labels you may have used on them.

In the past year, the Youth Conversations series engaged over 8,000 youth aged 15 to 35 to share their views and ideas for change on various issues that Singapore faces.

Here are some of the insights gathered from these conversations:

Youth are redefining their version of success

The youth are aware that society views success differently from them.

While the society values success in the domains of studies, career, finance, family and home ownership, many young people rank family as their top life priority.

Spirituality, friends, study and work are ranked as their next few priorities. Finding meaning and purpose in life is important too.

In their desire to pursue success through different pathways, many of them face challenges such as managing parents' expectations, dealing with peer and societal pressure, and the fear of failure.

To overcome these challenges, some youth have held open conversations with their parents; some learnt to persevere through failure; while others hope that people will appreciate them for their different perspectives and talents.

One of the Youth Conversations participants, Mak Wei Zhi, recalled: "Throughout my first clinical year, I felt insignificant and often stuck in the identity that I was never enough - never smart enough, never hardworking enough.

"A group of us started Project HAY (How Are You?) after a life-changing summer that we had with a dear mentor who taught us about social emotional learning. Through Project HAY, we hope to someday see our community care for ourselves as much as we do for our patients."

Youth want greater support and awareness on mental health issues

Most of the youth felt that being able to talk about mental health issues was important, and that the community should not discriminate against people with mental health issues.

Two of the youth launched the SOAR Initiative (School of Ability and Recovery), which aims to foster mental wellness and reduce the stigma of mental illness in the community through education.

"I think that education, honest conversations and meaningful interactions with people in recovery will really make a difference in breaking down that 'us' versus 'them' barrier to sort of level the playing field for different stakeholders in the community," said Lee Ying Ying, co-founder of the SOAR Initiative.

To equip youth to better support their peers with mental health issues, Cho Ming Xiu started Campus PSY with his friends. Besides increasing the awareness of mental health among undergraduates, Campus PSY has also joined forces with eight other organisations to collectively design solutions to address mental health issues among children and youth.

Campus PSY has over 50 youth ambassadors who are equipped with appropriate mental health literacy and peer helping skills to support other youth in need.Photo: YOUTH.SG

Youth are stepping up in their own ways to protect the environment

Today's young people are concerned about the current condition of the earth because they know it impacts not just themselves but future generations as well.

While some are already leading local sustainability efforts, there are others who are just starting to think about these issues.

Nevertheless, they all agree that they need to do more, be it recycling correctly, reducing materialism or encouraging their family and friends to do likewise.

Green Nudge is a local environmental group founded by youth advocates Heng Li Seng and Tan Wan Ting. Their extensive efforts in branding their initial ground-up proposal helped them to win funding from the #OCBCCares Fund for the Environment.

Another youth, Ang Zyn Yee, collaborated with BYO Bottle SG (Bring Your Own Bottle) and Hwa Chong Green Council to organise a Youth For Change conference.

Tammy Gan worked with other youth to organise a two-day Eco Fest at the National University of Singapore and held Singapore's first-ever thrift store for men.

Beyond their own initiatives, the youth also want to partner the Government to give sustainability a greater push, and they appreciate that the authorities are open to listening and working with them.

Founder of Straw-Free Singapore Ang Zyn Yee shares about how she started the ground-up initiative at the Youth Conversations on Zero Waste.Photo: National Youth Council

Youth want to make a difference in the lives of those often overlooked

Growing up in a cosmopolitan city, the youth today are more comfortable interacting with people of different nationalities, compared to their seniors.

They are aware that the homes and lifestyles that Singaporeans enjoy today are a result of the hard work of the migrant workers, who often go unnoticed in the community.

Eager to do something to help or support migrant workers, more youth are volunteering in various projects or have started initiatives to change people's attitudes towards this group of people.

Cai Yinzhou started Back Alley Barbers to offer free haircuts to migrant workers so that they can save more of their salaries to send back home.

Sazzad Hossain established the Social Development Initiative (SDI) Academy to train new migrant workers in basic English.

Idette Chen spent four months in migrant worker dormitories and in Little India to develop her short film titled "Bangla" to create awareness of and empathy for these workers.

"We know them as migrant workers, but we don't see them as individuals with their own stories to tell," she said.

With each effort, the youth are showing us that they care and see what others might not - invisible people whom many might conveniently forget.

Migrant workers getting free haircuts from Cai Yinzhou and other volunteers under the Back Alley Barbers initiative.  Photo: Cai Yinzhou

SG Youth Action Plan - concerted effort to turn conversations into actions

By hearing what the youth have to say, the wider community not only can relate better to and support them for a better future, but also tap on their views to shape our nation.

Look out for the launch of the SG Youth Action Plan this year, which will chart a vision for Singapore by turning the collective ideas and feedback gathered from our youth into action.

The Youth Conversations was launched by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the National Youth Council in April 2018. Read more about what the youth shared on these topics and many others in the Youth Conversations Publication here.

Brought to you by the National Youth Council