Nurturing girls to become better, stronger, smarter

She teared up as she explained to the group of a dozen female students why she picked her mother as her role model.

They just had a big fight, but that did not cloud her judgment.

Having been raised single-handedly by her mother for most of her life, Angela* never doubted her qualities.

And speaking about them only made her appreciate her mother more, Angela, 16, told AsiaOne in an interview.

She was recounting the emotional session under Students Care Service's (SCS) Hey BELLE! Programme.

Launched last year, Hey BELLE! aims to empower female youths and guide them in building their character through experiential activities in sessions like this.

Angela admitted that she was initially not receptive to Hey BELLE! and did not attend most of the sessions in her first year under the programme. She was also not open to sharing the issues she was facing at home and in school, according to SCS social worker Cheryl Ong, 27.

"It took us a while to establish trust between ourselves and Angela through various platforms. For her, enrichment activities might not be the best approach, hence we had to use more contact time (individual meetings with social workers), and involve her as a volunteer to help her see her potential and abilities," Ms Ong said.

"It's really about shifting her mentality from how she used to think about herself in the past, to how she can take charge and make a difference in her life."

So did these strategies work? Both Ms Ong and Angela herself seemed to think so, especially after the latter's participation in an SCS-organised charity programme called Project Food Share. It required volunteers to pack and distribute groceries to the doorsteps of low-income families.

"By visiting these families one by one, I saw that there are actually a lot of people out there who need help, and I realised how fortunate I am," said Angela, who volunteered over a period of six months.

"Through Project Food Share, we got to see her responsible and friendly side, which some junior Hey BELLE! members were surprised to see from her," Ms Ong said. She added that the programme also instilled in Angela the awareness that she can do something to contribute to the community.

"We used to hear from her about her doubts in helping others, being unsure of how it can be done, but through this project, we saw how this Sec 4 girl unleashed her abilities, and contributed through her own little ways to make a difference in others' lives."

Angela's also learnt how to accept other people's opinions - something she couldn't do in the past - which, by her own confession, has also made her less bossy.

Another student who has become a more positive person after about a year in Hey BELLE! is 15-year-old Aisha*.

She told AsiaOne that she used to have difficulty expressing herself and suffered from very low self-esteem - traits that were not apparent during the interview.

Speaking with ample confidence, she said that she would be a closed-up person hiding her talents if not for Hey BELLE!.

Not only that, Aisha's performance in school has seen a marked improvement as well. Her Mathematics grade, for instance, has jumped from "U" to "C", thanks to tutorials provided by SCS volunteers. Her attendance issues at school (once, she didn't turn up for a whole month) have also since been resolved.

The eldest of three sisters was thankful to Hey BELLE! and SCS, which she called her second home, for turning her life around.

With a tagline of nurturing girls to become better, stronger, and smarter, Hey BELLE! hopes to produce more success stories such as Aisha's and Angela's.

What started as a group work programme in schools now has a club - the Hey BELLE! Club - in which SCS social workers and programme executives work with female youths to provide them with more platforms to bond, develop life skills, raise their self-esteem, and learn how to lead others.

"We hope to reach out to as many female youths as possible, and create a supportive social circle for females and empower them to be leaders of their lives," Ms Ong, who has been with SCS for almost 4 years, said.

*Not their real names

huizhen@sph.com.sg

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Your support for SCS' work will help them to continue providing programmes and services for the children and youth under their care to maximise their potential. To donate to SCS, please go to www.sggives.org/scs; to partner them for Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, please contact Rae Mok (Ms), Manager, Community Partnership, at 62869905 or email rae_mok@students.org.sg; to find out more about the work they do, visit their website at http://www.students.org.sg.