20 August 2019: Yale-NUS students initiate Project I’mpart to support at-risk youth through academic tutoring and mentorship

By Daryl Yang

Image provided by Trybe.

While waiting to matriculate at Yale-NUS College, Joshua Tay (Class of 2021) took on an unconventional job: he worked as a supervision staff at the Singapore Boys’ Hostel.

While he was there, he realised that there was a lack of support for juvenile offenders after they left the Hostel.

“I saw that this specific group of youths needed urgent help, but they weren’t receiving the support they needed. It occurred to me that if I invested some time and effort to do something about this, then maybe there would be a realistic prospect of meeting that need,” Joshua said.

The result was Project I’mpart. Conceptualised and developed by Joshua with the support of Narash Narasimman, a social worker from Trybe (a charity organisation that specialises in youth development), Project I’mpart focuses on meeting the academic and mentorship needs of at-risk youth in Singapore, and falls under Trybe’s Growing Resilient Youths-in-Transition (GRYT) programme.

According to Joshua, the project is so named because it aims to “move beyond simply imparting skills to create a community of services where both volunteers and beneficiaries can say ‘I’m part’, and feel like they belong.”

The team behind Project I’mpart, which includes Stefan Liew (Class of 2022), Keith Yap (Class of 2020), Jay Ong (Class of 2021) and Joel Yew (Class of 2021), brings together volunteers and social workers in supporting at-risk youths who are preparing for post-secondary examinations such as the Normal (Technical)-Level (N-Level) Examination and the Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WPLN) Assessment.

Administered by the Centre for Employability Skills under the Employability Skills Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (ES WSQ) framework, the WPLN certificate allows a person to apply for admission into Institute of Technical Education (ITE) without passing the N-Level Examinations.

Joshua explained that the WPLN offers “an alternative education route” for youths who may lack foundational abilities in English and Mathematics that impede their ability to pass the N-Level Examinations. The WPLN focuses on literacy and numeracy skills in a workplace setting, which is more manageable and useful for these youths.

Partnership between volunteers and social workers is a distinctive feature of Project I’mpart.

“Our project emphasises partnership with social workers because we realised that while there are many other volunteer programmes, they often struggle to build strong relationships to engender long-lasting change. To ensure that our project is effective, we work closely with social workers who already have close relationships with our students, so as to leverage on the good work that they’ve already established,” Joshua said.

To enhance the usefulness of the tutoring sessions, his team curated a comprehensive repository of N-Level and WPLN resources to help their volunteers better support the youths they work with.

In addition, one volunteer is paired with each at-risk youth that the project serves. “Because many of our youths have either been away from school for years or are still residing in rehabilitative institutions, individualised attention and support go a long way in improving their academic performance,” Joshua explained.

Some members of I’mpart include (clockwise from top left) Joel Yew (Class of 2021), Jay Ong (Class of 2021), Stefan Liew (Class of 2022), and founder Joshua Tay (Class of 2021). Image provided by Joel Yew.

When the project first launched in 2018, the team had 16 volunteers who worked with eight at-risk youths from the Singapore Boys’ Hostel.

Currently, there are 30 volunteers who work with 18 at-risk youths, and the team has established new partnerships with other community organisations such as Chrysalis and The Last Resort.

For Stefan, being part of this project gave him the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

“When I first joined Yale-NUS College, I knew that I wanted to involve myself with serving the local communities in Singapore. I wanted to use the resources and skills that I’ve picked up over the years, given my privileged position in society, to create positive change,” he said.

“I’mpart provides me with an opportunity to make sure that other Singaporeans, regardless of background, are able to access the same opportunities, to pursue their own interpretation of a meaningful and successful life.”

The project has also enriched Stefan’s life personally and helped him grow as a person.

“I am extremely humbled to have gotten to know the youths I work with, for them to share their stories with me and for me to similarly share my stories with them. The weekly sessions have also made me more patient and understanding, and taught me to actively listen before speaking or judging,” he said.

Recently, I’mpart also organised a six-week-long sports programme for youths living at the Singapore Boys’ Hostel. Titled “Common Ground Floorball”, the programme, running from 6 August to 10 September, is organised in collaboration with the Yale-NUS Floorball team. Students, alumni, and even the team coach volunteer weekly to teach floorball to the youths.

On what advice he would give to other Yale-NUS students who are considering joining the project as a volunteer, Joshua said, “It’s hard to generate meaningful change by yourself – that’s why we have each other! Together, we can do better.

The project received funding support from the National Youth Council’s Our Singapore Fund as well as the Service in the City grant administered by Yale-NUS’ Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE).