Made to Make a Difference
Every once in a while, a youth comes along who tosses every negative stereotype of that generation out of the window. Entitled? No. Narcistic? Never. Soft? Not even close. Instead, 22-year-old Leow Min Chon is thoughtful, altruistic and somewhat of a visionary. As a student at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) pursuing a Diploma in Engineering with Business, instead of joining the usual clubs or taking up a sports co-curricular activity, he chose to join a volunteer group.
“I’ve always wanted to make a difference,” says Min Chon. “Volunteering let me interact and empathise with young and old, and understand their problems. It struck a chord within me and I wanted to do something more for those in need.”
That was the reason he started Project Refresh! while still at NYP. The programme partners Community Development Councils to improve the lot of low-income elderly by clearing, cleaning and painting their homes.
“I was at an SGfuture public engagement event conducted by Young NTUC where I got to meet many young adults who wanted to volunteer and learn outside of their workplace but didn’t have any avenues to do so,” recalls Min Chon.
Drawing on his experience volunteering at various NYP initiatives that saw him helping the disabled as well as underprivileged children, he came up with the idea for Project Refresh!
“I knew they felt strongly about giving back to society, especially the needy and those from low-income families but that they did not always have the time to devote to projects that require consistent commitment.”
Project Refresh! solved that problem. With just five initiatives a year, each lasting a full day, the time required is highly manageable. Yet, the impact is immense. Anything from 20 to 100 households are given makeovers each time.
Fresh Perspective from Project Refresh!
Project Refresh! also gave this only child from a middle-income family access to a Singapore he did not often encounter.
“One type of resident I got to meet was the hoarder. One house we went to had so much clutter that the door could not even open. When we looked through the window, we saw the house was so full of stuff that there was only a tiny pathway from the living room to the kitchen, wide enough only for one person to walk through.”
Part of the task of Project Refresh! is to help such people de-clutter their homes, something that is not always easy.
“Generally, they hoard because they feel that the items have value and when we come to declutter, they resist us,” says Min Chon.
On other occasions, the experience can be rewarding.
“There was a mother with two children who realised that having a cluttered house was detrimental to the health and safety of her children. When we came around, she was delighted that we could help her declutter and was willing to dispose of most of her items. We managed to transform her home and make it liveable.”
At times, the encounters are heart-breaking.
“I got to meet many residents, especially the elderly living in small one-room flats. They live on their own but they miss their adult children and would always hope they would come to visit them regularly.”
Into its third year, Project Refresh! is expanding its scope to include plumbing, electrical work and even furniture overhaul.
Broadening the Scope of Volunteering
Min Chon is not stopping, though. This year, fresh out of National Service (NS), he applied for and received the Young NTUC U Heart grant. The programme, organised in collaboration with NTUC Income, encourages youths to initiate skills-based volunteering projects that leave a lasting impact on the lives of the beneficiaries. A first dollar funding of $1,000 is given to each approved project.
Min Chon’s winning idea was to bring pre-school children from low-income households to the library to be part of its kidsREAD programme. Started in 2004, kidsREAD aims to promote a love of reading among children, help them develop good reading habits and provide a platform for those of different races to interact with each other from young.
“I knew some people who volunteer at kidsREAD and thought it would be a good opportunity to expose more kids to the programme,” explains Min Chon.
The children started the visit with a mass reading session before enjoying some one-to-one reading time where volunteers read to them. They learnt how to borrow books and attended a speech and drama workshop as well as an art and craft workshop.
“They really enjoyed themselves because they got to explore a new environment and participate in hands-on activities like acting out a scene from the book they read and doing a penguin art project,” says Min Chon.
Hoping to Change the Future
These days, Min Chon is interning at Learning Vessels, a social enterprise that works with children while waiting to enter the National University of Singapore where he has been awarded a scholarship to study Business Administration. Attached to Learning Vessels’ business development arm, he helps to manage the funds as well as plan activities.
“I’ve always like organising events,” confesses Min Chon.
In fact, his experience with the start-up has further fuelled his interest in business.
“I had wanted to study abroad but since my involvement in the start-up environment in Singapore, I felt that studying here would help me integrate into the environment,” says Min Chon who hopes to found his own start-up one day.
“I would like to do something with children’s education.”
Whether as a volunteer or a future start-up founder, it seems that making a difference will always be a part of this young man’s mission.