29 October 2019: Yale-NUS students make a difference in local community with ALittleChange Singapore

By Chloe Lim | Images provided by Jared Ng

The spirit of giving has always been important to members of the Yale-NUS College community. Hence students at Yale-NUS like Nur Hazeem Abdul Nasser (Class of 2022) and Frances Pek (Class of 2022) have made giving back to the local community a central part of their student life with their project, ALittleChange Singapore (ALC), a non-profit youth organisation that seeks to strengthen the relationships within low-income families.

A Youth Corps Singapore Affiliate Non-Profit Organisation, ALC was started in 2015 when Hazeem and a number of his friends from different Junior Colleges and Polytechnics in Singapore felt that volunteering could be more purposeful in Singapore. “We thought we could make volunteering more targeted with a close community of engaged volunteers across Singapore, aside from the usual one-time charity concerts and one-off elderly home visits,” ALC co-founder and ex-President Hazeem shared.

ALC started off as a broad-based volunteering platform for students to volunteer with a range of activities organised for low-income families in Singapore. They have narrowed their focus over time to concentrate on bridging communication gaps in low-income families with their activities. On the side, they continue to work towards building a community of student entrepreneurs, volunteers and leaders for their initiatives with conferences and summits.

“We started off with care package programmes where we gave away food items to low-income families, specifically during festive seasons. After a while, we saw that spending time with them as a group, on top of giving food to these families, was very meaningful for them as well.”

In September 2016, ALC was officially registered as a non-profit. Since then, the team has organised and managed over 200 volunteers to engage with approximately 5,100 beneficiaries across three different community programmes.

Over the past two years, ALC has organised multiple community events for volunteers and low-income families at various community centres. One such event was ALittleCamera in 2018. From May to July, parents and children alike were given film cameras to take snapshots of their daily lives together, for greater memories to be forged amongst families as a starting point for deeper relationships.

“ALittleCamera was definitely one of ALC’s most high-impact projects,” Hazeem said. “It was really about restoring pride and dignity to parents through this programme; especially for low-income families, where parents are burdened with financial limitations, it is difficult for them to juggle their roles as both caretakers and breadwinners.”

In March 2018, ALC ran their own youth conference, ALittleConference, for youths to brainstorm and create their own ground-up initiatives. The group’s members created a service learning curriculum for the conference, during which volunteers had the opportunity to meet young social innovators, experienced social entrepreneurs and community partners – such as Lion Befrienders and MINDS – to raise awareness on the variety of social issues present in Singapore.

Frances, who was an ALittleConference organising team member, shared that it was a great experience to see youth participants equipped with the essential skills and tools on starting meaningful and sustainable community projects.

“I was happy to hear from the participants that they had a positive experience at the conference and learned immensely about service work and social entrepreneurship. ALittleConference solidified for me what community service should entail as well — that empathy only comes with interacting and understanding the needs and strengths of community members and partners,” she said.

During the conference, ALC volunteers and participants created a service learning curriculum that was later shortlisted to be featured in Paris and Nice and recognised by Institut Francais D’Appreciative Inquiry and David L. Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry, both top international education research and business centres. It is currently being used by Singapore’s National Youth Council. Continuing the French connection, ALC represented Singapore at the inaugural Paris Peace Forum, an international event on global governance issues and multilateralism, in November 2018.

Starting a non-profit organisation was not easy, however. Hazeem shared that much effort was put in to re-defining their core mission and goals during ALC’s early stages.

“In the beginning, it was difficult to work with a vision that was too broad and without a clearly defined scope; we felt that the team was chasing too wide a variety of opportunities and was getting burnt out,” he said.

“What kept us going however, was the families we helped along the way,” Hazeem shared. Through the interactions with the families they were helping, the ALC team found out that there were recurrent problems regarding disunity and conflict occurring in families that had school-going children, especially between parents doing shift work and their children.

“Eventually, this shifted our vision from being just a broad volunteering platform to one that focused on an issue which is underreported in the social service sector,” Hazeem shared.

The organisation now works closely with the National Youth Council, and often have different neighbourhood Youth Executive Committees and Foundations supporting them in their cause.

When asked on advice for potential volunteers or aspiring changemakers, Hazeem said that it is always better to try something and fail than to never have tried at all.

“Don’t be afraid to try! The road may look uncertain and terrifying, but it brings so much satisfaction at the end of the day.”

You can check out ALittleChange Singapore’s work at https://alittlechange.sg/ and https://www.facebook.com/ALittleChangeee/