Desiree Ng, 22, is an undergraduate majoring in Sociology at Nanyang Technological University who is involved with youth-at-risk, migrant workers and the homeless population of Singapore. She shares more about who she is and what she does!
How have you been giving back to society?
I just ended my internship with a social service organisation called Care Corner that does outreach work with at-risk youth. I also volunteer with the Covid Migrant Support Coalition, a group of smaller migrant worker support initiatives coming together to support our migrant workers in Singapore during the COVID-19 pandemic, through mental wellness activities and supplies.
Last year, when COVID-19 struck, I helped by befriending the homeless through the Safe Sound Sleeping Place, an initiative that sought to provide transitional housing for the homeless during the circuit breaker in 2020. They provided a place for women to seek shelter and find rest in a time where many hotels, and other housing arrangements have been closed off to the public.
In my free time, I give tuition to children and youths, and I am also part of an initiative that empowers underprivileged communities in Batam through educational programs.
Besides the current groups of people that you work with, are there any other demographics that you’re passionate about and hope to help?
I am passionate about children and youth work. I want children and youth to grow into their fullest capacities as young people. Some people might consider it noble, but I think it just stems from a place of reflection of my own life – I think I’ve been very privileged in lucking out in the education system and I enjoy learning a lot.
As such, I wish for every young person to have equal access to these privileges, having the ability to pursue what they have a passion for without the restrictions of certain circumstances like socioeconomic status. I believe learning opens so many doors of opportunities for a person to discover more about themselves, their place in this world and their passions for different things.
I want to live in a society where kids grow up feeling unafraid to explore, with opportunities to seize and a hope to cling onto regardless of their background.
What inspired you to volunteer and work with children and youths?
I’d like to think we are the sum of many different experiences in our lives, each experience giving us a different clue about what we care about. I think it started when I realised that I care about other people’s stories a lot. I love listening to their lives, and I love listening to them explain about different things in their lives.
As I grew up and matured, I found that my empathy extended to less privileged communities. When I got a chance to interact with them through service-learning projects, I found the same kind of joy in learning about their stories, or even helping people understand that they each have a unique story that they are writing even as they journey through life.
But I have also realised that in our society, some stories and voices have more power and more chances to be heard than others. Thus, I find it incredibly important to use my voice to advocate for others whose voice might be overshadowed or rendered less important among us.
What are some goals you want to achieve in this respect?
I hope the young people that I befriend through my work and projects will see me as a friend who genuinely believes and wants the best for them. I hope the homeless women that I befriended last year during my time at the Safe Sound Sleeping place initiative walked away knowing that they were loved and cared for and that there is a space for them in our community.
I even hope that the young teenagers whom I tutor have been impacted by the way I try to teach them, as I use class time as an opportunity to expose my students to the lived realities of communities that they often don’t hear about. I have shared with them a myriad of different things that are often of interest to me.
Whenever I pick up something in the news, whether through an article or a podcast, I remind myself to weave these into my lessons as a platform for them to learn to listen and grow. I have shared the stories of migrant workers’ backbreaking labour and the exploitative nature of the work that often renders them powerless in our community, and other times I have also shared with them the different experiences of the youths at risk that I work with.
It’s so heartening to see them learning to display empathy and hold space for others in their lives. I hope that they will grow into individuals that have a heart to champion justice in our society!
What are some challenges you’ve faced being a volunteer? And what keeps you going?
I think I am still learning to be unafraid of failure and rejection. This fear of rejection and failure has made me unable to really step out of my comfort zone because it means possibly not being good at something. But I’ve been learning to let go of this idea that I must be “good” at everything, and that giving my best is enough.
I hope when the time comes, that more opportunities to invest in the lives of people arise, I’ll be unafraid to pioneer something of my own.
It is also quite daunting to do things with no visible impact overnight. Journeying with others often doesn’t yield immediate changes, which makes it difficult to measure any form of success. But I have learnt that there are some things that metrics of success fail to measure.
For example, we cannot measure the kind of comfort we bring to another person by simply holding space for them right when they need it, nor can we measure the warmth of acceptance that a person experiences when we remind them of their worth. I try to remember that everything adds up one day. Everything we sow in hope into another person’s life matters.
I’m exceptionally grateful for the people that support me. I try to remember that with everyone I meet, I want to get to know them, and eventually love them.
To love the people I meet does not mean to assert what I think is good for them, but to journey and walk with them. To help them find out what “good” looks like for them, to cheer them on and be proud of them throughout. Everyone has a valuable story that needs to be heard!
Do you have any future plans to continue helping others?
Although my plans are still uncertain, my big dream one day would be to work in a place where I can incorporate the creative expressions of drama and theatre with youth work. To teach children and youths how to use drama as an outlet to help the people around them understand them better, and for them to discover more about themselves as well.
I hope to have a platform where children and youths have autonomy over their journeys, where they have a safe space to explore their problems and life journeys, and be proud of themselves in the work that they do.