How a 24-year-old’s family and educational background drove him to help underprivileged youths and families
With his skill sets in financial technology, he co-developed a scam prevention application that aims to help those most susceptible to falling for scams.
In celebration of Youth Month, Youthopia is highlighting stories of youth who have created spark in their life. Samuel Chew, 24, shares how his family circumstances guided him to take part in civic programmes.
Growing up, Samuel Chew preferred to close himself off to others.
Describing himself as “quite cheeky” and someone that held little to no interest in caring for others, he would prioritise his personal interests over that of his peers. But witnessing the struggles of his family changed Samuel.
His father was diagnosed with dementia and diabetes, forcing his mother to take on the mantle of being the main breadwinner in the family. Even then, it wasn’t enough to upkeep the household for the years following his father’s diagnosis.
In a bid to lessen the burden on the family, Samuel started helping out whenever he could. Eventually, he felt the innate desire to help others in similar circumstances too. Now 24, he spends a bulk of his time on many civic engagement programmes. He strives to help communities grow in terms of education, mental wellbeing and cybersecurity.
In hindsight, Samuel attributes his lack of empathy back then to his family placing most of their attention on his father’s conditions.
“I did not always take charge of my family problems, nor did I look inwards as well,” he said. It was only until he began taking up part-time jobs that he got a wake-up call and finally decided to step up not just at home, but externally in civic engagements and other similar opportunities as well.
When Samuel first enrolled into his Diploma in Financial Technology studies at Republic Polytechnic, he was mostly drawn by its job prospects and the monetary benefits that came with them.
His mindset then shifted in the latter half of his studies. Rather than chasing for economic gains, he thought to use his newly gained skill sets to pursue a career in entrepreneurship and do more for underprivileged communities in Singapore.
Throughout his polytechnic journey, he was given an in-depth understanding of Singapore’s financial systems, coding, data analytics and financial modelling. He found that lower income families had difficulty accessing financial systems. And in their attempts to navigate it and make ends meet, they might be more susceptible to scam attempts.
In addition, Samuel also realised how today’s youths are more tech-savvy yet can overestimate their ability in correctly identifying scam messages and staying away from them.
With these insights in mind, he developed a scam prevention application with two other RP students in 2022. Named WatchBear, the application that utilises functions like chatbots, machine learning and colour features to identify suspicious messages and potential scammers. It also takes note of public advisories in flagging suspicious and fraudulent numbers, and informs WhatsApp users of the probability of a conversation leading to a scam.
It also makes use of the chatbot function to converse with the potential scammer and trick them into revealing more information such as their point of contact or hidden intent, which WatchBear will then send to the authorities to assist in investigations, while also keeping its users safe.
“After scams occur, victims will suffer from consequences such as financial loss and identity fraud. The damage done also causes emotional damage, especially so if one has been scammed a huge amount,” Samuel said.
He, alongside his teammates, made WatchBear to prevent a scam before it can occur, and raise awareness on what online users – especially those from vulnerable groups – should do when faced with a similar situation.
“Although there are already many scam prevention initiatives created by the Government and banks, we thought that one more does not hurt, even if it came from a school project.”
In line with his desire to help the community, Samuel also partook in other civic programmes that involved socially impacting families and the younger generations. One of which included a tuition programme, Tuition with Love – a volunteer-driven initiative that aims to provide children from underprivileged families with additional support in their education.
Having gone through a similar programme himself as a student in primary school, Samuel sheepishly recalled how playful he was during these sessions. Regardless of his antics, his tutors were always kind, patient and “willing to take the necessary steps” to guide his learning.
Through the three years he spent volunteering at Tuition with Love, he was able to put himself in the tutors’ shoes and get a glimpse of how it is like to spend time and resources helping these children grow and learn.
The programme allowed him to pick up on not just how to discipline younger children, but also teach them studying methods and other values that could potentially stick with them for life.
Aside from voluntary engagements in a community setting, Samuel also partook in the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Citizens’ Panel with Youth on Mental Health last year alongside 54 other RP students. He worked with a team dedicated to researching and crafting solutions for the topic of mental health and its impact on youths and their families.
The focus on families and mental health issues laid in how both topics are connected and are hardly something youths open up about, especially so should they have unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Samuel voiced out his concerns about this factor, and proposed solutions like the Minds Together, Hearts Forever family panel with his teammates to tackle such problems. The project addressed conducting talks with a reduced generalisation of mental health content, with each being curated specifically to each individual.
“Mental health is not just a word for people that declare (a condition) and get a diagnosis from a doctor. It is also something that can happen to every one of us,” Samuel pointed out. He also emphasised how it would be helpful to provide families with tools that bring about awareness and acknowledgement of their mental health.
The RP graduate will spend the next two years serving National Service (NS) with the Singapore Police Force. Samuel thinks there is a chance that he may utilise his skill sets again and help scam victims once more. It could also afford him to “learn firsthand how they deal with these incidents”, which could improve WatchBear’s work.
As of now though, the RP graduate is scaling down his civic engagements temporarily to focus more on family and think of his future plans after NS. He still welcomes his school juniors to reach out and ask for advice regarding certain engagements.
Ultimately, he advises youths that aspire to participate in civic activities to attain a sense of balance in their commitments.
“For students aspiring to focus on social impact or simply to do something for the community, it would be very helpful to get the support from your family, as well as to centre yourself in a good group of friends that you can go to when you feel burnt out,” he said.