Affirming our ‘wholeness’ as a nation: How youth can do our part

This year has been a challenging one so far, but youth can emerge stronger from it and play a bigger role in society.

Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan

Published: 8 August 2020, 12:47 PM

As the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This year has made us question the very concept of wholeness – uprooting the plans we meticulously made, shattering our perceptions of good health and robbing us of a sense of security.

Due to COVID-19, we’ve needed to adopt physical distancing practices, and coupled with infinite Zoom calls, it has trapped us in an alternate reality of mental and emotional isolation like never before.

As a passionate Singaporean and a member of the National Youth Council’s INSPIRIT cross-sectoral leadership community, I have been thinking deeply about my obligations as a young leader and a citizen of our country. This year, while commemorating Singapore’s 55th National Day on Aug 9 and the world’s 20th International Youth Day on Aug 12, we, as young Singaporeans, have an opportunity to shake up our priorities, think beyond ourselves and contribute to the wholeness of our nation.

Through my own experiences working in international organisations as well as with the private sector and non-profits, I am convinced that global governance, as we know it, is in a period of “reset.” The issues facing us, as a nation and a world, are enormous – including impediments to our air travel, an escalating rise in unemployment, an adaptation to home-based learning and working, and a shift in how we fundamentally socialise as human beings.


How we fundamentally socialise as human being may change, given the need for physical distancing now. PHOTO CREDIT: UNSPLASH/VICTOR HE


Undoubtedly, times like this make us increasingly introspective, compelling us to think about our individual ambitions, desires and needs. For young Singaporeans this year, the boundaries between our schools, workplaces and homes have been erased.

As our nation enters the throes of a technical recession, there are countless concerns. At any rate, there is a growing basket of threats to our education and financial stability like finding a part-time job in order to contribute to family income, adapting to home-based learning modules and figuring out how to spend a summer at home in lieu of a cancelled internship.

Coupled with this, we also face the reality of an unforgiving, uncertain world wherein social media constantly reminds us of rampant inequality, ongoing racism, and the increased pressure to to adapt quickly to a digital age in order to survive.

However, while 2020 has presented us with uncertainties that, at times, feel insurmountable, it lends each of us an inflection point to realise how we can be 有用的人 (yǒuyòng de rén) – a useful person – specifically towards society.

As youth, we are hyper aware of the magnitude of challenges our generation has inherited and more importantly, the mantle of responsibility we must carry.


Youth have a huge responsibility to play in this challenging time. PHOTO CREDIT: UNSPLASH/JORDAN MCQUEEN


This is something that a majority of us are already doing in our own unique ways. In fact, in 2019, 65 per cent of young people in Singapore were engaged in civic activities in some capacity. From participating in environmental conservation efforts to providing monetary support to social causes to utilising social media to comment on social and political issues, Singaporean youth have demonstrated their commitment to being the leaders of today.
In Singapore, we have a wealth of intergenerational expertise, resources and futuristic thinking, thanks to our policymakers, private sector leaders, citizens and foreign residents who have chosen to make our island their home.

As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated in 2015, Singapore’s prolonged success will be assured if we maintain “our shared conviction that the country will endure and prevail“. While we may indeed be ‘the little red dot,’ the factors driving our spirit, resilience and historical success have been larger than life, a result of our past generations’ collective contributions.

Along the way, we have also learned about the costs of success, realising the need to continue to keep our nation relevant, listening to harder criticisms, balancing serious resource constraints, and conducting policy experiments. In short, making mistakes has allowed us to achieve our ambitions in a way no cookie-cutter plan ever could.


Youth will have to play a big role in ensuring that Singapore’s successes can continue. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

As young Singaporeans, we will need to lead and participate on issues of national and community interest, and we must look to the experiences of older generations, learn from their struggles, and most importantly, care for their and other’s needs during this time of heightened vulnerability.
Amidst our challenges, remaining selfless does not have to mean compromising our integral role as useful people and parts of the whole. Rather, it means bringing our whole selves to our households, our (remote) workplaces, our classrooms and most importantly, to each other.

This year is rife with many stories of how each of us have, in our own ways, thought about and supported our communities, sharing the weight of our surrounding risks and alleviating the suffering of others in whatever way we can.

The recent launch of a $1 million mental health fund, a translation portal to enable better medical treatment for migrant workers, a food drive to allow the less privileged to celebrate Ramadan, a grocery delivery service for the elderly, and a support scheme for households that have faced income loss, are testament of just how much Singaporean youth and youth supporters have invested in our nation.

Each of them have boldly worn the duties that come with being 有用的人 or useful person, extending their individual privileges to be shared for the benefit of those around them. For those of you reading this who are motivated to do more, the SG Youth Action Plan offers an open and diverse set of resources to further engage.

This year is an impetus to take care of ourselves, to support those we love and to contribute to our nation. While retaining our strength in times of adversity can seem arduous, this National Day and International Youth Day offer us a rethink – uniting us in solidarity, enveloping us in empathy, and reminding us of how we are all the whole.

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