story May Tay
The community service scene at Yale-NUS College is off to a slow start as students demonstrate lower levels of interest in community work than expected. This trend may change with time, and as the Service Executive Committee (SEC), which seeks to be a network of socially-oriented student groups, revises its role.
The level of interest in community service among the student body has been “lower than anticipated”, according to Nhaca Le Schulze, Program Manager for Leadership & Global Citizenship at the Centre for International and Professional Experience (CIPE). She gave the example of “Give Me A Break”, a CIPE initiative for students to spend their mid-semester breaks engaging in community service. Although “rather generous funding [was] available”, no students signed up.
The SEC also faced unexpected obstacles due to a lack of student buy-in. Meghna Basu ’17, one of the founding members of the SEC, said that the founders had emailed the student body last semester in hopes of building a central database and website with community service-related contacts. “We started it to try and build a culture of community service at Yale-NUS,” Basu said. Not a single student responded to the request.
Students interviewed observed that community service work by the student body consists primarily of individual effort. Basu said that “individual people seem to do quite a bit of stuff independently, but this isn’t being brought into the larger Yale-NUS community”. Li Nanlan ’17, for example, shared that she currently volunteers with Action for AIDS and Magic Bus, an educational program for underprivileged children.
Yet, student organizations with community service objectives also exist at Yale-NUS. The Committee for Appreciating and Meeting the People On Site (CAMPOS) was founded to engage the construction workers and other stakeholders working on Yale-NUS’s new campus. Li said that the CAMPOS does a “great job” of engaging with communities outside of the College.
KidsAccomplish, a volunteer-run enrichment program for upper primary students, is another example of a student organization engaging with the community. The program was started by Saza Faradilla ’18 in March 2015. While there is no central group at Yale-NUS that oversees community service, Faradilla said that “people were quite open” to volunteer for KidsAccomplish.
Those interviewed suggested reasons for why community service may be less visible on campus. Faradilla said that students could be occupied by other extra-curricular commitments. Ms. Le Schulze said that students may find it difficult to juggle the demands of regular community service alongside student life. She added that public service internships over the summer break are very popular among students at the College.
The current situation may be changing as the SEC looks into ramping up their efforts. Seven members of the SEC gathered last Thursday for a “fruitful” and “necessary” discussion, according to Hannah Yeo ’18 of the SEC and founder of Habitat@YNC, a chapter of the Habitat for Humanity movement. Currently, there are ten members in the SEC, most of whom are representatives of service-oriented student groups. Several ideas were suggested during the meeting, such as monthly meetings for members of the SEC, a calendar to coordinate community service-related events for students, and a yearly fair to promote service opportunities to the student body.
Students interviewed unanimously agreed that it is important for Yale-NUS students to give back to the community. Li said the student body is in a good position to do so because of its diversity. “We have [many] students who are engaged in other programs in different parts of the world, and they [can] see different faces of [a] problem … I feel that this kind of variety in … perspective may shed light on other approaches to solve certain problems,” she said. Yeo said more time could see student groups build up resources and capabilities that will empower them to serve the community better.
“It is of utmost importance that service to the community is part of the [Yale-NUS] DNA,” Ms. Le Schulze said. Citing the College’s vision—In Asia, for the world—she said, “If we cannot even be for our own community, how can we be for the world?”