Student volunteers engage vulnerable families to curate customised programmes for ComLink

When the National University of Singapore’s Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Centre (CTPCLC) released the list of organisations that its undergraduates could volunteer with, Mr Yeo Qin-Liang and Ms Valerie Phua were instantly drawn to Community Link (ComLink).

“I thought it was a really good chance for me to learn more about how the government is moving towards involving residents more in designing programmes and services,” said Mr Yeo, 22.

Along with Ms Phua, Mr Yeo and two other CTPCLC volunteers conducted six focus group discussions (FGDs) to better understand the perspectives of the families living in rental flats in Marsiling and Bedok.

As ComLink is designed to provide targeted and concerted interventions to better support vulnerable families with children, the findings from the discussions helped in the curation of customised programmes at the ComLink sites.

SSO@Bedok General Manager, Mr Shawn Koh said, “I want to appreciate our volunteers for doing a wonderful job in facilitating the FGDs. Through the FGDs, we developed a greater appreciation of the needs and challenges of our families living in the rental flats and also how we can work more closely with our community partners on specific programmes to address these needs.”

An example of the kind of programmes that will be conducted is, social enterprise Preschool Market’s programme to expose children aged 4 to 9 to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. Several other initiatives focusing on employment, homeownership and caregiving concerns, that were highlighted during the FGDs, will also be jointly developed with corporates and other community partners and implemented in 2020.

Hearing how a single father had to weigh the costs of feeding his family and travelling to a job interview made Mr Yeo realise the difficult choices people from low-income households often encountered.

During these discussions, participants also shared stories of how they came up with creative solutions to their problems. For instance, Ms Phua recounted the tale of a young mother and job-seeker who scoured the Yellow Pages to find the contact details of various companies so that she could contact their human resource departments directly, instead of through an intermediary, such as a recruitment agency. She eventually found a job this way.

As a social work undergraduate, Ms Phua said people often hear stories of the disadvantaged and vulnerable people from second-hand sources, like a professor.

“But actually seeing people in the flesh and hearing their stories …gives me a whole new appreciation for them as individuals,” she said.

“And I think that will be invaluable to my practice later on, when I become a social worker.”