A group of former at-risk youth organized an educational event with NECDC to address the needs of today’s young Singaporeans.
Youth today face a different world from past generations, one with a distinct set of challenges. Most manage to navigate safely and progress in life. But there are some unfortunate individuals who fall for the wrong choices in life.
This group is often referred to as youth-at-risk. Sadly, they are commonly stereotyped as being hopeless and are too often left to their own devices.
Last Saturday, the Architects Of Life, or AOL, organized an unconventional event, together with the North East Community Development Council, to highlight some of the common challenges young people face today, and to correct the negative perception that society has of our youth-at-risk.
Glenn Lim, founder of AOL, said, “Our society has been conditioned to pay attention to the flaws or weaknesses of people, and this includes our youth. The way we treat our young people is subtly influenced by how we view them. Having low expectations of them, formed by our stereotyping, will likely lead to them experiencing lower capability and self-worth. Therefore, we—especially families and schools—need to learn how to identify and harness these young people’s strengths in order to channel them into the right avenues, and to give them a chance to flourish.”
One such example was 36-year-old Johnny Chin, who got involved in a gang at the age of 13 and spiraled into a life of drugs and crime. He dropped out of school before completing his secondary school education.
For the next 19 years, Chin was constantly in and out of halfway houses and rehabilitation centers. Consequently, his family and friends distanced themselves from him, leaving him to feel like an outcast.
Chin turned from his wayward lifestyle four years ago, when he looked at himself in the mirror while injecting himself with his regular dose of drugs. At that point, he could no longer recognize the person in the mirror and the truth hit him like a ton of bricks that he was wasting his life away.
On that same day, Chin called a friend who was working in a halfway house and sought help to wean himself from his drug addiction. The friend took him in and Chin embarked on the road to recovery.
Since that day, Chin—now the lead mentor of AOL—has totally broken his addiction to drugs and enjoys a renewed sense of purpose in life. He now puts his past experience to good use, by helping other ex-offenders and guiding them onto the right path. Chin has also attained a diploma in counseling, and his personal life has benefited from his turnaround: he gets hitched this month.
Mr. Teo Ser Luck, mayor of North East CDC, and the Guest-Of-Honor at the event, expressed his discontentment that such youth were falling through the cracks of society. Teo also revealed plans to establish a resource center for youth-at-risk in the near future.
“It is important to work with outreach groups like AOL to mentor our youth-at-risk. And having more resource centers will provide places where outreach groups of different organizations can come together and design programs to help these young people,” Teo said.
Teo was also a guest panelist alongside speakers from two other organizations dealing with youth-at-risk: Don Wong, executive director of New Charis Mission and Suyra Omar, vice-president of 4PM.
During the panel session, speakers cited the great influence that the Internet and new media have on today’s youth. With easy access to (and constant bombardment of) information on the Internet, youth have too much information to handle and too many choices to make. Therefore, they are in need of much guidance to make informed decisions.
Yasmin Whitlock, a 13-year-old student from Bedok North Secondary School, said of the event, “It was an inspirational and emotional experience. I’ve learned to never judge a book by its cover.” She was one of 100 participants at the Eunos Community Club—other attendees included parents, youth social workers, educators.
It was a significant spectacle for the attendees to see a group of 15 ex-offenders from AOL working together to stage this meaningful event. It sent a loud and clear message of hope: that our youth-at-risk can turn their lives and destinies around, transforming a wasted life to a useful one.
Log on to www.architectsoflife.net for more information on AOL.