A butterfly effect: Creating ripples of change for sustainability through volunteering

With a deep-rooted love for wildlife sparked by childhood exposure to nature documentaries, Jian Kai has become an advocate for sustainability causes.

Amanda Tan

Published: 23 June 2023, 2:39 PM

  • In this Why Youths Volunteer series, we hear from Youth Corps Singapore volunteers about how they got involved with volunteerism and what motivates them to continue serving the community.
  • We spoke to Low Jian Kai, who serves in Youth Corps’ Sustainability Cluster.

There are always different ways of pursuing one’s passions. For some, it’s through their hobbies while others, through their careers. 

For university undergraduate Low Jian Kai, it’s expressing his love for the environment – particularly butterflies – through volunteer work.


Rather than the usual dogs and cats, Jian Kai kept caterpillars as pets when he was younger. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/TIANA QUEK


Animals and nature have always been a big part of his life. Having watched countless nature documentaries while growing up, it got him curious about the world around him, how he can help protect it, and how he can show others the beauty and intricacies of the animals we coexist with.

This fuelled his desire to study veterinary science in polytechnic. But he didn’t make the cut and was forced to pivot to another field. 

Now, the 24-year-old attends Nanyang Technological University (NTU) where he majors in Chemical Biomolecular Engineering. While it’s far from what he had originally intended to do, Jian Kai says that it hasn’t been a deterrence.

He shares how during the COVID-19 pandemic, with not much to do at home, he picked up wildlife photography upon discovering his father’s camera and began sharing his shots with friends and family via his personal social media accounts. Accompanying the photos were some fun facts about the animals.

A friend of his encouraged him to try volunteering with Youth Corps Singapore’s Sustainability Cluster, where he would have the opportunity to participate in and plan initiatives, after taking notice of his love for the environment. 

“I was like, why not? Maybe I can share what I know, what I’ve learnt so far, raise awareness and get people curious about nature,” he recalls. 

The Sustainability Cluster is established to build a youth collective focused on environmental sustainability to address pressing issues through the empowerment of youths. They seek to raise social awareness on environmental issues and rally youths to kickstart sustainable initiatives.

It’s been about a year since his first taste of community service where he participated in a beach cleanup. Since then, he has contributed to the planning and execution of a forest cleanup initiative and, more recently, organised a biodiversity walk at Botanic Gardens where he took participants around the park and introduced them to the various flora and fauna.


During the walk, Jian Kai shared about plants and insects. PHOTO CREDIT: CLEMENT CHOO


He recounts it being a rather challenging process for as much as he has prior knowledge of butterflies and their host plants, it was difficult to identify such a wide range. Additionally, there’s an evident difference in interest when it comes to insects as opposed to “more charismatic animals” like snakes and birds, shares Jian Kai.

That said, he and his team did their best to share what they could with participants.

“I would say (volunteering has) inspired me to do a little bit more to raise awareness. That’s the biggest thing I’m trying to do, especially with people who aren’t very familiar with nature.”

Moving forward, he hopes to organise another biodiversity walk. He adds that engaging plant experts to assist them would definitely help enrich the experience for participants. 

However, while he aspires to do more, he acknowledges that the biggest hurdle when it comes to volunteering is finding the time to do it.

Currently in his second year of university, the undergraduate says that it’s tough to balance studies, hobbies and volunteering. There’s also a need to coordinate with other volunteers in the cluster when planning for meetings.

“They may not be studying. They may be working as well so we really have to compromise and find a common time to plan our events,” Jian Kai shares, although he remains undeterred. It’s through these volunteering sessions that he feels more empowered to go further in his journey as an advocate for sustainability. 

While participating in park cleanups and biodiversity walks, he has witnessed the public’s appreciation for these efforts. Many residents in the area often come up to them to express their gratitude, hoping they can do more for the environment.

Seeing participants become repeat volunteers is also rewarding, he says.

“I’ve seen people from primary school to secondary school then there’s the other spectrum of working adults. It’s very heartwarming to see that so many people out there are interested in helping the environment.”

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