By SMU School of Accountancy Social Media Team
Volunteering your time for community service requires passion and dedication—that is a given. But starting a fresh initiative has even greater challenges which SMU School of Accountancy undergraduate Joel Long Deng Kai has certainly faced his fair share of.
A year ago, Joel and a few friends took on the challenge of starting the INSPIRE mentorship programme in the Kebun Bahru community, which actively mentors children from low-income families in the community. Despite the challenges, they’ve managed to grow the programme, and in March 2019, Joel was presented with a Letter of Commendation from the MP of Nee Soon GRC, Mr Henry Kwek, in recognition of his contributions to the Kebun Bahru Community.
We caught up with Joel to find out what drives him to keep INSPIRE alive and going strong, one year on:
Q: We heard that you are actively involved in community service within the Kebun Bahru Community. Can you share with us more about what you do?
A: Ever since we started the INSPIRE mentorship programme under Hope Collective’s Centre of Learning about a year ago, we’ve been actively involved in implementing and growing an innovative curriculum that currently serves the needs of around 30 children from low-income families living within the Kebun Bahru community. This programme hopes to forge meaningful relationships and offer holistic learning experiences to these children through community support, spirit and care. All done with the vision of inspiring each child to realise and reach their boundless potential.
Joel (in black and on the front row) with his young charges and fellow INSPIRE volunteers
Q: Starting such a programme from scratch must have been challenging. Can you tell us what were some of the difficulties you encountered and how you and your friends overcame them?
A: It certainly was, and will be for the foreseeable future; but nothing of value comes easy. The hardest was getting the community, especially the kids and their parents, to see the vision that we had, while retaining and attracting both volunteers as well as beneficiaries. Ultimately, working hard did all the ‘hard work’ for us—cliché but true.
Q: One year on, the INSPIRE programme is still going strong with 30 children from the Kebun Bahru Community under INSPIRE’s care. How do you strike an effective balance between school, CCA and volunteering in your community?
A: I’d be lying if I said I am not struggling! Time management is always something I’m striving to improve on but the more I’m involved, the more I learn, and the better I get at it—hopefully. For me, volunteering with this programme is something I genuinely enjoy and though it entails loads of work, I find it to be extremely rewarding. I feel volunteering at INSPIRE is akin to me taking a break after a long hard day staring at the books, so I guess feeling this way helps me view such commitments not as additional work, but as avenues of rest and restoration.
Q: Can you tell us how your experience in SMU and SoA has influenced you in your dedication towards community service?
A: The flexibility (in terms of the curriculum) SMU offers is something I’m really thankful for. The spare time I have outside of school has allowed me to discover and explore areas of interest and I’m grateful that it’s afforded me the time to discover and start something I love doing. On top of that, the support I get from both my peers, as well as professors have been a source of inspiration and strength.
Q: Lastly, we heard that you were presented with a Letter of Commendation from MP of Nee Soon GRC, Mr Henry Kwek, in recognition of your contributions to the Kebun Bahru community. Congratulations! Do you have any message you would like to share for like-minded students/individuals who are keen to contribute to their community but have yet to take the first step?
A: As the old adage goes, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’. And if I could, I’d add the word courageous in front of ‘step’. Taking the first step isn’t easy and struggles always abound, but I think university is the best time for you to explore your passion to find out what you truly love. It’s the time to make the most mistakes, and to learn from them, while surrounded by a close-knit and supportive community. I genuinely believe that we’re all blessed in ways that allow us to contribute and reach out to those with less. It’s given me so much purpose and so much to be thankful for. Give ‘giving’ a try and you’d be surprised at how much you’d receive.
Joel at a birthday celebration with fellow volunteers and the children in INSPIRE