Issues of the present are borne from seeds planted in the past.
As a youth in Singapore studying History, this is something I have constantly been exposed to. One poignant example would be understanding how race was utilised by colonial powers as a biological basis for exploitation and its legacies in the present.
While I was excited to share these insights with my peers, I most often met with the typical response of
“But I can’t really do much to change anything leh.”
Disheartened by such responses, it led me to think: Are Singaporean youths really apathetic? Shouldn’t we, youth who are at the prime of our lives, pick up the baton of “changing the world”?
Having done some research about youth advocacy in Singapore, I realised I could not have been more wrong.
In the past decade, youths in Singapore have been more vocal in speaking up about the issues they care for, particularly so in the difficult period of the pandemic.
Despite the pandemic upturning our everyday lives, many young individuals have still demonstrated an admirable sense of compassion, resolve and love for the community!
Read on to discover what different youth groups have been up to in the past year and see how they have been making a positive impact on civil society!
Youths for Migrant Workers
One of the major concerns highlighted from the COVID-19 pandemic situation was the plight of migrant workers in Singapore.
In the past year, the emergence of COVID-19 clusters in overpopulated dormitories has greatly raised public awareness over the less-than-ideal living and working conditions faced by migrant workers.
Even more recently, the use of open-air lorries to transport migrant workers has reached public scrutiny, after an unfortunate traffic accident that resulted in the death and injury of a group of migrant workers.
Welcome In My Back Yard (WIMBY)
After the COVID-19 clusters emerged at the height of the pandemic, negative sentiments toward migrant workers in Singapore reached its peak as well.
To address the “Not In My Back Yard” syndrome many held towards migrant workers, Nicole Ooi, a member of A Good Space, became involved in Welcome In My Backyard (WIMBY) during the pandemic and is now the project lead for the initiative.
Seeking to raise awareness for migrant workers and normalising relationships between the migrant worker community and Singaporeans, WIMBY has led numerous initiatives that reached out to migrant workers housed in residential areas as part of COVID-19 measures.
One of these was WIMBY’s Backyard Makan Initiative which sponsored bakes for migrant workers through a pay-it-forward movement in the neighbourhood of Chua Chu Kang where a Quick-Build Dormitory was built!
A sizable portion of the migrant worker community take up work in the form of foreign domestic workers. However, the lack of certain structural and legal protections for foreign domestic workers often results in their exploitation at the hands of employers.
As a result, many foreign domestic workers face unjust living and working conditions that have negative effects on their mental well-being.
The recent shocking case of abuse against Piang Ngaih Don or the legal case involving Parti Liyani has further highlighted that more needs to be done to protect the rights of the domestic migrant community.
Maid For More
Founded in 2019, Maid for More, is a youth advocacy group that has worked to elevate the status of migrant domestic workers through public awareness as well as safeguarding the mental wellbeing of these workers through recreational events.
This role became even more crucial during the restrictive circuit breaker measures and Maid for More continues to fight for the wellbeing of these workers even as cases of domestic helper abuse continue to perpetuate our headlines, through campaigns like #nomoreFDWabuse.
Ultimately, the issues and various struggles faced by migrant workers, both domestic and non-domestic, are heavily interconnected. Understanding this crucial intersectionality, WIMBY and MaidforMore have since formed a collective, Project Open Doors, with other youth initiatives (SG Climate Rally and Cross Rail Line Response Team) that aims to raise public awareness on the extended isolation and mental distress faced by migrant workers.
I can’t wait to see what initiatives they have lined up!
Youths against Domestic Violence
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that people were staying indoors more than ever. While the social distancing measures were necessary to maintain public safety, it had an unintended effect — victims of domestic abuse had to spend more time with their abusers behind closed doors.
Many abusers, aggravated by situations of economic uncertainty and prolonged confinement periods, took out their anger and frustrations on other members in the household. Furthermore, escaping the confines of one’s abusers became a distant reality for many, which exacerbates the emotional and psychological duress of a victim.
Students for a Safer NUS
During this period, many student groups such as Students for a Safer NUS voiced their support for individuals and members of their community facing domestic violence.
Students for a Safer NUS is a student-led organisation that was borne out of the series of university incidents in 2019 that brought to light the culture of sexual misconduct happening on local campuses. The organisation aims to foster a more safe and respectful university culture that is free of sexual misconduct.
The group worked on thought-provoking infographics that explored the various reasons how a pandemic situation could lead to domestic abuse and how resulting social distancing measures have impacted victims of domestic abuse.
Inter University LGBT Network (IULN)
Another youth-led organisation advocating for domestic violence awareness would be the IULN, which represents LGBT groups from the different universities.
For the LGBT community, domestic violence is a pertinent issue, especially since they may have to deal with non-affirming family members which might force these individuals to “go back in the closet” or conceal their identity through threats of intimidation and often violence.
Hence, it is important that queer individuals remain physically and emotionally protected in non-affirming family environments.
The network designed various infographics that provided useful survival tips, heartwarming affirmations and important helplines. Other gender affirming support groups such as Queer NUS also reached out to the LGBT community during the pandemic and engaged members of their community through Zoom meetings.
Youths for Political Awareness
General Elections 2020 happened during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the handling of the pandemic situation being one of the main talking points by the incumbent party and opposition parties alike.
Recognising how the pandemic situation have shaped interests towards local politics and the significance of political leadership in a time of crisis, CAPE (Community for Advocacy and Political Education), a political advocacy group from Yale-NUS, was more active than ever in their efforts to raise civic consciousness among the citizenry.
One of CAPE’s major projects during the COVID-19 pandemic was a series of webinars titled, “We The Citizens”.
Co-organised with Singapore Policy Journal, the webinar brought together prominent individuals such as academics, journalists and activists to discuss certain hot button topics such as policy and advocacy in crisis or sacred cows in the Singapore system.
Social media was also instrumental for CAPE in disseminating information about the electoral process to the wider voting population.
Well-designed infographics on their Instagram page convey various political concepts through an easily and accessible manner, shedding light on issues such as electoral fairness or the GRC system in Singapore.
CAPE continues to carry out political advocacy even after the election process and has recently collaborated with A Good Space for a ground-up conversation regarding Budget 2021.
The event, “The Ground Speaks: Budget Conversations”, brought together ordinary citizens, changemakers and even Parliamentarians to surface and discuss how the Budget could adequately address the needs of people from low-income communities, keeping in mind different areas of intersectionality.
If you would love to find more about the topics discussed in The Ground Speaks, you can head over to The Ground Speaks.
Alternatively, if you would like to find out more about CAPE and youth advocacy, you could take part in our monthly Possibility Conversations event for the month of June that will focus on the topic of youth civic engagement. Check out the details for the event at the bottom of this article!
Youths for the Environment
If there was good to be gained from the pandemic, it was that the slowing of economic activity provided a much-needed respite for the environment and explicitly laid bare many of the flaws in capitalist structures. For example, the reduction in economic activity highlighted the redundancy of crude oil (and its wealthy corporations) in a world-wide pandemic.
As a result, many youth environmental groups were increasingly vocal in the past year and approached the issues of climate change and conservation from many fresh, new angles.
SG Climate Rally
Particularly, SG Climate Rally is one of the youth advocacy groups that play a significant role in advocating environmental issues. A key believer of intersectional change, SG Climate Rally has invited many youths to think deeper about the structural underpinnings of environmental issues and their connections to other social issues.
Activism in Crisis! was one such initiative; the festival took place in August 2020 and sought to foster deeper relationships between environmental groups and social justice activists with the goal of enacting deeper, structural change.
GE2020 was another opportunity for SG Climate Rally to raise environmental awareness in the minds of voters.
SG Greenwatch, a collaborative campaign by SG Climate Rally and Speak for Climate, sought to raise awareness of the climate crisis and provoke deeper commitments to climate policy during the General Elections.
Some initiatives under this campaign included assessing the party manifestos of the various political parties using score cards, gathering other environmentally concerned voters from the same constituency or even raising basic electoral awareness among voters.
As astutely observed by SG Climate Rally, an intersectional approach could be the key to unlocking further social change.
I’m looking forward to seeing more intersectional initiatives by SG Climate Rally!
Youths for the Community
For many individuals who struggled during these tough times, it was often the wider connection to community that gave them the support to tide through this trying period.
With a growing passion to serve the community, these youths led different initiatives that reached out to different areas of the community or met communal needs through new unique methods.
Project Hills — Youths for Rental Flat Communities
The disproportionate effects on the pandemic on underprivileged individuals prompted Zulhaqem Zulkifli and his siblings to form Project Hills.
A ground-up initiative that aims to help vulnerable groups in rental flat communities, Project Hills has taken on the role of community support whether it be through distributing daily necessities or helping out with home repairs.
Even as the pandemic situation settles down, Project Hills continues to identify and look out for the changing needs of these communities.
Happiness Initiative — Youths for Mental Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many individuals.
In response to the crisis, Sherman Ho, co-founder of the Happiness Initiative and a member of A Good Space, created the Stay Strong campaign to promote positive psychology.
Educational webinars, Netflix parties and weekly podcasts from the social enterprise all worked in tandem to ensure members of the community remained mentally engaged and resilient to brave the pandemic.
COVID Mutual Aid Hub — Youths for Mutual Aid
In addition to building communities through virtual interaction, some youth-led movements focused on the concept of mutual aid and created avenues where individuals could both offer and receive help from other individuals in the community through easily accessible means.
One of these was the COVID Mutual Aid Hub, created by a group of youths, who envisioned the initiative as a form of preservation of “community” spirit.
Now functioning as a Telegram group, these mutual aid initiatives allow originally isolated individuals to be more connected to the wider community living around them.
Youths are changing the world as we speak.
Greta Thunberg stood determinedly on the world stage, condemning powerful capitalists on their corporate greed. Malala Yousafazai spoke boldly against gendered discriminations in schools, enduring an almost fatal assassination at the age of 15.
While the situation in Singapore might seem comparatively better, the compassion and resilience exhibited by our youth during this pandemic period unquestioningly proves that anyone, regardless of age, can be a changemaker.
While the challenges that youth advocates face are complex and have to be navigated carefully and deliberately, we are sure that even taking that first step to pursue change might be the start of a longer journey to a more promising and inclusive future.
If you resonate with any of the statements below,
• I am interested to learn about youth advocacy…
• I want to meet other young change-makers…
• I have ideas on how we might encourage youths to become more civically engaged…
• I want to start a social initiative but have no idea how…
We welcome you to join in at our upcoming event, Possibility Conversations (Youth Civic Engagement) and hear from our speakers who will be sharing different perspectives about youth advocacy and their experience in the youth change-making scene.
Whether you are simply curious about or have a project you would like to receive feedback on, Possibility Conversations seeks to be a platform where you can meet other changemakers interested in and hear how they are using it to create change.
Sign up here to join the conversation: https://pocojun21.peatix.com
Let us explore the possibilities civically engaged youth can bring to the communities we care about!