Making a lasting impact through a volunteering experience is not easy.
Trying to make a difference to the life of someone whom you can’t verbally communicate with?
That’s a real challenge.
Despite the daunting task, a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student and her team of student volunteers managed to run a three-day-two-night camp for deaf youth in 2023.
Kho Jia Xuan, who is currently pursuing a degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering with a second major in food science and technology, spoke to Mothership on how and why she decided to engage the deaf community specifically.
“We decided not to work for, but with the deaf community – they are just like any one of us,” Kho explained how this volunteering experience is different from others.
Kho and her team wanted to continue the good work done by their predecessors.
Prior to 2020, her CCA, Camp OutReach (COR), used to volunteer overseas at a school for the deaf at the end of the academic year.
COR started organising Local Deaf Camps for young people in Singapore.
The intention behind the camps was to provide a safe space for deaf youth and COR members to interact, bond, and learn.
Besides empowering the deaf community, Kho’s team members took this opportunity to learn and improve their leadership and planning skills as well as their understanding of the community in Singapore.
“As long as one is genuinely eager to learn more about the deaf community and what it constitutes, [the deaf community] would be more than happy to share their stories with you and teach you about sign language, regardless of your signing ability,” she quipped.
Having said that, in preparation for the camp, Kho’s team attended compulsory Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) lessons, which included 10 lessons and one test.
Language is not the barrier
From what Kho shared with Mothership, communication is not the biggest barrier to this project.
Some of the challenges which the team anticipated were insufficient sign-ups from the deaf community, and not being able to secure sufficient accommodations.
It was also difficult to get sufficient cash sponsorships as they faced several rejections from organisations that they reached out to. Some organisations did not even reply to their requests.
It got to the point where they deliberated on cutting down their budget significantly.
The obstacles pushed the team to the brink of giving up.
However, they constantly reminded themselves that challenges were part of the process of doing anything fulfilling.
They were also determined to not let down their seniors, school, participants and friends.
Thankfully, the National Youth Council’s Young ChangeMakers (YCM) grant, which is easy and quick to apply for, helped them immensely.
The YCM grant supports youth-initiated projects that benefit the Singapore community and society with funding, mentorship and other resources.
Being a youth-for-youth programme, it also helps to empower youth as decision makers to evaluate projects and mentor project applicants.
“One thing that I like about the grant is that barriers to entry for ground-up initiatives like our project are relatively low, which enables many youth in Singapore who want to make a difference to the society to do so,” Kho mentioned.
Heavy workload on top of school
Camp planning started six to seven months prior to the event.
The team first brainstormed for ideas and agreed on the camp’s overall theme before proceeding to gather funds and make logistical arrangements.
The team also did a livestream on YouTube to recruit members of the deaf community who were interested to partake in the planning process with their team.
As with all projects, it was easy to feel overwhelmed with multiple things going on all at once.
Constantly having to lookout for responses from partners, obtaining funds, organising games and mass activities certainly took its toll on Kho and her team.
The project added additional difficulty to NTU’s already rigorous curriculum.
Project deadlines were added on top of academic ones.
Some team members also had to juggle their professional internship on top of the project.
To add more fuel to the fire, final examinations were merely a month away from the camp.
Fortunately, partners such as Salt and Light Archery and NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) were very responsive and eager to work with the group, contributing to a smooth planning process.
NYC also has a kickstarter guidebook for youths interested in starting their own project, one that provides tips and tools that covers the different stages of ground-up project.
“However, everyone pushed through and the camp was a huge success in the end,” Kho said with relief.
Heartwarming stories emerged from the experience as Kho shared about a shy boy named Ernest who had touched the hearts of her team members.
Kho fondly recounts Ernest being nervous to speak in large group settings.
He was deaf in one ear and had difficulty communicating to those who were completely deaf, as he did not know sign language.
During the camp, however, he was welcomed by others with open arms and was even taught how to sign.
He eventually forged strong bonds with his group members, who supported and encouraged him throughout the camp.
At the camp’s final activity, Ernest broke out of his shell and even volunteered to do a catwalk which was a pleasant surprise to everyone.
How has the camp impacted the planners?
Kho mentioned that through large-scale interactions with deaf youth, the camp has taught her how to be more brave and confident as a leader, especially when giving instructions to a large group.
She also enjoyed interacting with people who come from different backgrounds and have different ways of communicating with each other.
“Seeing how the participants communicate with one another and form bonds really taught me how friendship is able to transcend language barriers,” she concluded.
Find out how the YCM grant can support your project or initiative for the community here.
If you require more information on how to kickstart a project, NYC’s guide details the different stages of starting a project and offers some tips and tools to do so.
This article, sponsored by the National Youth Council, made the writer think about what she could do to impact her community.
Top photo via Camp OutReach