The best of both worlds: CCA and community service with SMU Habitat for Humanity

Written by Miguel Rhett M. Matugas, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

SMU has always been a university that encourages students to venture beyond the walls of the seminar rooms and develop themselves in fields outside the world of academics. It is no surprise then, that co-curricular activities (CCAs) are a large part of the life of a typical (but still “different”) SMU student. Another important view that the university holds and hopes to pass on to its students, is that one should place helping those in need on par with the pursuit of personal excellence or accolades.

CCAs are about interacting with others, developing oneself, and pursuing interests. Community service offers the same opportunities, while also enabling one to wholeheartedly contribute to the betterment of society. Building on the story of Suhaimi, an SMU graduate who excelled despite adversity and was fuelled by his passion for serving the less fortunate, and in the wake of SMU Vivace 2014, we would like to introduce a CCA that allows students to develop themselves outside the classroom while also serving others—SMU Habitat for Humanity.


SMU Habitat for Humanity is a CCA under SMU’s Special Interest and Community Service Sodality (SICS), and connected with the Habitat for Humanity organisation.

Habitat for Humanity is an international non-profit organisation whose mission is to eliminate poverty housing worldwide by building simple, decent houses with the help of the homeowner families themselves and volunteers. The SMU-Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter was officially launched in August 2012 and it is the first campus chapter in Singapore. SMU Habitat is an official CCA under the SICS body in SMU.

The students organise both local and overseas community projects. Through the local project, ‘Operation Homeworks’, students visit elderly staying in 1-2 room rental flats four times a year to help clean their homes. By visiting each unit four times a year, the students also build relationships with the elderly that they help. For overseas projects, student teams visit overseas countries such as Cambodia and India to help build houses in poor communities.

One of the teams sent to Manado, Indonesia in December 2012.

One of the teams sent to Manado, Indonesia in December 2012.

To date, SMU Habitat for Humanity has sent SMU students on six build trips to countries such as Cambodia, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, and has raised over $50,000 for Habitat for Humanity. Locally, SMU Habitat for Humanity has engaged averagely 70 SMU students per session of Operation Homeworks and successfully completed the first ever SMU Staff, Student and Faculty Operation Homeworks in August 2013.

To find out more about SMU Habitat for Humanity, we spoke with one of the co-founders of the club and a recent graduate of the Lee Kong Chian school of Business, Ms Shiyun Yong.

Shi Yun (right) with her team mate at Karjat, Mumbai December 2011.

Shi Yun (right) with her team mate at Karjat, Mumbai December 2011.

Q1: As a co-founder of this CCA, what spurred you to start this initiative?

A: Back in my first year of university, like many of my peers, I was busy exploring SMU, figuring out what my interests were and where I would spend my time. I’ve always believed in the community and the power of what a community can do when it comes together. Looking at SMU, I saw a space for a CCA that would bring different stakeholders in SMU together to serve the community. We were big about the students doing their own community service projects, and that was great, but what were we doing together as one community—staff, faculty, students? With that idea in mind, a group of us decided to start SMU Habitat for Humanity.

Q2: What are the objectives of SMU Habitat for Humanity?

A: SMU Habitat for Humanity’s primary objective is to unite the SMU student body, staff and faculty, through building communities and transforming lives together. We’re all about the community—the SMU Community and the broader community in which we reside. We don’t believe that community work is just about giving, it is in giving that we receive. We learn and grow so much when we are united for a cause, the sum of what we can achieve for the community together as SMU is greater than what any individual could do on his/her own.

Q3: What were some of the key challenges you faced during the project set-up phase and do the same set of challenges exist for you now or have they evolved?

A: As with pioneering anything, the most prominent challenges come from the establishment of processes and guidelines, and from really starting to distil what our actual objectives are. We started with a complete blank page, and as freshmen, we barely had an understanding of SMU as a system, as a community. We did a lot of trials and errors in terms of what processes worked for us, and continually redefined our objectives, to ensure sustainability and continuity for the CCA.

Now that we have the processes, guidelines and system in place, the challenges really lie in continuity and sustainability. For us to continue to grow and to achieve our goals and mission, we need to have leaders who understand the CCA, understand its purpose with respect to SMU and are committed to being responsible for it.

Q4: During your work, was there a specific incident that left an indelible impact on you?

A: There were so many! Specifically for me, I’ve always been greatly impacted by the work we do locally in cleaning the homes of the elderly poor. I never fail to be completely shocked at the state at which some people live in, but above that, what always leaves an impact in me is the kind of love and generosity present in the volunteers. I’ve led many different teams to clean all sorts of houses, and each time I am always amazed and humbled by the love of our volunteers. It makes me very proud to be from SMU.

Students getting down to work at one of the houses during Community Homeworks 2013.

Students getting down to work at one of the houses during Community Homeworks 2013.

Q5: What are your future plans for Habitat for Humanity or will you be embarking on a new project?

A: I’ve graduated and SMU Habitat’s leadership has also passed on to the third generation of leaders. For me, I’m still personally involved in volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, but as to what new projects are in the pipeline, SMU Habitat is more than happy to share it with you via their Facebook page ( SMU Habitat for Humanity is one great family, and I highly encourage anyone who is interested at all to pop by and have a look at what we do!

SMU Habitat's!

SMU Habitat’s!