“Why waste any second chances?”
Meet Yong Jie, a 26-year old studying Social Work at the National University of Singapore (NUS). As a final-year student, he has ensured that it hasn’t all been grades and essays – spending his 4 years as a dedicated member of student organisation NUS Enablers, aimed at creating a more inclusive community on campus by both raising awareness of and reducing the social stigma surrounding special needs.
Starting as a volunteer in his first year, he was worried for the state of NUS’ facilities when it came to catering to students with special needs. Given the large size of the campus (and the confusion surrounding how to get around the different faculties), Yong Jie foresaw some issues when it came to navigating the campus. Searching for a way to get on top of it, he sent an e-mail to NUS’ Disability Support Office to look for an inclusive space to join prior to the start of school. It was then when he got the opportunity to stumble upon NUS Enablers and its annual Freshmen Orientation Camp, which sought to eliminate physical challenges from orientation programmes and help freshmen navigate the campus.
And the camp proved to be a delight – an Amazing Race which took into account students’ physical impediments, information on the shuttle buses to help them familiarise themselves with getting to the different faculties, and the accessible routes to all the elevators. Seeing it as a club worthwhile of spending his time with, he felt that it would be a meaningful opportunity to volunteer for the next camp, so as to help the next batch of students benefit from it as much as he did.
Yong Jie then moved on to a slew of positions for NUS Enablers – Programmes Director in his second year, Welfare Member in his third, and Secretary in his fourth, earning a spot in the organisation’s Executive Committee. He had even collaborated with external organisations to hold an inclusive carnival in NUS, which saw a total of over 400 visitors gain awareness of the challenges and experiences associated with the different disabilities through a series of games and activities. With this under his belt, and the successful execution of NUS Enablers’ Freshmen Orientation Camp, Yong Jie saw the organisation attain the NUS Student Life Award (Community Engagement).
In his third year, he took a step back from director positions and joined the welfare team, with the aim of meeting like-minded and passionate individuals. Concerned about the lack of internal engagement within the club, he brought his vision to life as he pushed for bonding events and welfare initiatives. After which, realising the need to leave a structured system behind to push the organisation to higher standards, Yong Jie took it upon himself to then step up to the role of Secretary in this year’s NUS Enablers’ Executive Committee.
When asked about his most memorable experience in NUS Enablers, Yong Jie gave a fond smile and recollected his memories from his second year in the club. During the Freshmen Orientation Camp, where he directed the Programmes department, it came to a close at a picturesque lawn on campus. Picture this: Picnic mats underneath the trees, dinner filling their stomachs, fairy lights adorning the entire set-up. Tired but pleased, Yong Jie and the team of volunteers he had pulled in to help make the camp what it was, sat and talked through the night – undoubtedly pleased that they had played their part in kicking off another year of building an inclusive space in NUS.
Being a student with special needs himself, Yong Jie understands the need for such an organisation. A left-side stroke at the age of 19 and subsequent difficulties with his limbs did not stop him from continuously working towards his goals, and instead gave him a push to reach for more. Aside from doing well in school, he has his own business – Stickr.sg, an online marketplace for creatives to sell beautiful designs, left to the artists’ imagination.
One year ago, bored and searching for a side project, he yearned for an idea to take up. Embarking on a plan he had in mind, he set up a website with the intention of providing a platform for a select group of people to sell what they had to offer. Yong Jie then personally headed over to Carouselland, an annual flagship event featuring various Carousell vendors. He chatted with various artists and creatives there – convincing them into coming onboard his venture and cementing a promising start to the business. From there, he took the once-small e-commerce website and turned it into a burgeoning online marketplace.
The inspiration behind this fascinating idea? An interest in supporting our local creatives. Amazing pieces of art have always been in our community – but they are usually confined to Instagram shops and the tedious manual purchasing system that comes with them. With Yong Jie’s plans in motion, he uses his platform to boost the more well-known artists’ following, and to help smaller artists gain traction and recognition for their hard work.
This isn’t his only plan, though. Yong Jie took it upon himself to let me know that while he strives to further grow the platform, this will not be his main source of income. He ultimately wants a job in the disability sector, as he feels that it is his calling to help others experiencing the same circumstances as him. Yong Jie’s own time in the hospital, in the wake of his stroke, was a lonely experience. With no one to ask for advice from, he admitted that he felt that life was hopeless, and that things were a little dark for him. He scored a boost in confidence and independence after securing a job as a systems developer – earning him a more positive outlook on life. With that, he turned the situation around and saw his circumstances as a second chance to live. Not wanting to waste this precious opportunity, he knew that he no longer wanted to sit in front of a computer. Seeking something more meaningful, he embarked on a journey to help people wherever he can.
And so can you. Look out for organisations around you which serve to help these otherwise-forgotten members of the community. (If you’re in NUS, NUS Enablers may be a good start!) Take up opportunities to engage with initiatives to help, be it on an ad-hoc basis, or even through internships dedicated to these efforts.
While you’re at it, don’t forget to support our local talents too. Shout-out to Stickr.sg for giving our creatives a platform, and we can’t wait to see others flourish as well.