By Daryl Yang | Images provided by ComPact
In just the second week of his first semester in college, Brandon Lee (Class of 2020) was already participating in his first community service project at Yale-NUS College. Volunteering as a befriender to a group of South Asian migrant workers, Brandon’s role was to welcome them to the College and get to know them on a more personal level.
“I was involved with the hosting of and mingling with migrant workers on our very own campus. Upon their arrival, we gave them a tour of our school, after which our new friends chose between watching a movie in the lecture theatre or playing cricket and football at the Cendana courtyard,” Brandon said.
“After the activities, we brought them to Cendana dining hall for dinner, courtesy of students who donated their dinner allowances for the evening.”
This event was one of several activities organised as part of the College’s inaugural Community Service Week by ComPact, a Yale-NUS student organisation dedicated to increasing the involvement of students in off-campus community service.
According to Clarissa Leong (Class of 2017), one of its founders, the group aims to build a service-oriented culture in the College by making opportunities for community service readily available to the Yale-NUS community.
“There are so many activities going on around campus, but rarely do you see any related to community service, in part due to the small number of community service-related organisations,” she said.
“While some students might volunteer outside campus on their own accord, it can be especially challenging for students without prior connections to service organisations to enter the service ‘scene’. ComPact aims to fill this gap by making community service more accessible to everyone and building a service culture in Yale-NUS along the way.”
Football in the Cendana college courtyard
Community Service Week is one of the group’s initiatives to foster a culture of service. Hoa Nguyen (Class of 2017) was one of the students behind the campaign and explained that the idea was to promote such a culture “from the very start of the semester, and especially for the freshmen, the start of a four-year journey”.
Hoa added: “We wanted to provide a variety of opportunities and options for Community Service Week as we wanted to enable those who participate, the international students especially, to see different sides of Singapore that exist beyond the College compound. The opportunities included working with underprivileged children, seniors, as well as migrant workers.”
For Brandon, who has been actively involved with community service even before joining Yale-NUS, he was motivated to volunteer for the event with the migrant workers because he wanted to show his appreciation to an “often-marginalised group of people who are instrumental in our lives [in Singapore]”.
“My greatest takeaway would be an increased sense of empathy towards our migrant worker friends,” the freshman shared. He was touched by the positive attitudes of the workers who shared with him over dinner their hardships from working in Singapore.
“[T]he gruelling hours….their struggles with familial relationships back in their home country, the list goes on,” he said. “While they were sharing all these hardships, they actually did it with a slight smile that speared my heart. They took all these grave adversities in their stride and lived each day one at a time… To me, they are the ones with the biggest heart.”
The student response was very heartwarming, says Hoa, with over 40 student volunteers participating, more than half who volunteered for more than one activity.
“Even though these are one-off events, some of the volunteers were passionate enough about the cause to commit to volunteering for a longer period with the organisations we worked with. That was also one of our goals for Community Service Week, to spark people’s interests and passion for different causes in society,” she noted. “We hope that this will become a tradition, or even incorporated into Orientation week in the future.”
According to Clarissa, student interest in community service has been growing and the group is also planning to reach out to faculty and staff for future events. Other events included a panel discussion on inequality and poverty in Singapore, and a blood donation and bone marrow donation drive.
Apart from Community Service Week, the group has organised a service fair where individuals share their volunteering experiences with peers and a health and fitness session with young girls from Yayasan MENDAKI. ComPact also facilitates ongoing volunteering opportunities with the national reading programme, National kidsREAD, and the Institute of Mental Health.