How two 19-year-olds spurred a youth volunteer movement to give back to the community through music

The Resonance Project, started by Elijah Chao and Ivan Chiew, has become a platform for youths to teach music to the disadvantaged and elderly.

Caleb Lau

Grew up a musician, found a calling in photography and writing. Still in love with all of them.

Published: 19 January 2023, 9:25 AM

It was their love for music that first connected Elijah Chao and Ivan Chiew back when they were 16-year-old schoolmates. 

Often jamming together after getting to know each other through mutual friends, a casual conversation gave them the idea to realise a shared desire to give back to the community. 

“We like to communicate and get to know people, learn their stories and just see how we impact one another’s lives,” says Ivan who, like Elijah, is now 19 years old and soon enlisting in National Service.


After six months of jamming together and throwing around ideas, Elijah and Ivan (second and third person from right respectively) decided to initiate the project in 2021. PHOTO CREDIT: THERESOPROJECT/SHENG XU


“We wanted to do a music project together, and saw that a lot of beneficiaries have a big need as it’s not feasible for centres to develop and spend on these resources, especially on a weekly basis,” added Elijah. 

This eventually led to the birth of the Resonance Project, a youth-led initiative that sees volunteers spend several hours weekly at various centres islandwide teaching kids and elderly how to play the guitar and ukulele. 

Beginning their planning in January 2021, Ivan and Elijah searched for partners and made preparations to recruit volunteers. Along the way, the two recruited students from their cohort, some whom they knew through their jamming sessions. 

Within a month, Elijah said three organisations expressed interest in the project, and this helped the project find its niche in serving the disadvantaged primary school children and the elderly.


At some beneficiaries, chord playing on the ukulele is taught over approximately 16 sessions, culminating in a mini performance. PHOTO CREDIT: THERESOPROJECT


Elijah shares: “For the elderly, we focus on intergenerational learning and active ageing, and give them contact with youth in their lives. 

“On the youth side, our focus is to be older brothers and sisters to these youths with less access to music.” 

Working closely with the beneficiaries, the team set a common goal to forge human connections with music as the medium.  However, before plans could be solidified, the increasing COVID-19 measures and circuit breaker period promptly put a stop to any volunteer activity. 

“We went from five to eight people per volunteer session to zero due to COVID-19,” says Elijah, “but we were reluctant to move things online as we were afraid no one would want to come back physically.”

In spite of the circumstances, the team hustled ahead, working instead on curriculums for each beneficiary and later on conducting three rounds of volunteer recruitment in that year. 


Through the recruitment rounds, Elijah and Ivan agreed it was important to find students who had a desire to serve for at least one year and potentially become future leaders within the project. PHOTO CREDIT: THERESOPROJECT


As COVID-19 restrictions eased towards the end of 2021, the team, which had then grown into eight departments, gradually returned to their primary duties conducting an estimated 40 weekly sessions at over 11 beneficiaries. 

The year 2022 saw big and positive changes for the project, including independently organising a two-night music showcase in November dedicated to raising funds for their continued work with their beneficiaries.


Each night of the showcase featured ten student group performances, many of whom were current volunteers and committee members of the project. PHOTO CREDIT: CALEB LAU


“It’s not just a milestone, as for me and many of us, it’s to show we have survived and we are committed to serving the community long-term,” Elijah said. 

Having graduated with International Baccalaureate diplomas and soon enlisting in National Service, the duo have slowly reduced their roles in the project, with Ivan stepping down earlier in 2022 and Elijah stepping down as president to take an advisory role in mid 2023.

Nonetheless, they remain driven to see this project, which has now seen its third generation of leadership, extend its reach to a wider youth community through events similar to the showcase and a bigger pool of volunteers.


With over 260 active volunteers aged 12 to 18 years old, the project currently serves around 160 beneficiaries in 10 centres across Singapore. PHOTO CREDIT: THERESOPROJECT


“As we weren’t funded by anybody, it was our sheer will and desire to help that got the project here,” Ivan says, “There’s a certain spunk, a certain hopefulness that we fuel ourselves with.”

Elijah chimes in: “The youth community we belong to still needs lots of serving and we are trying to solve that puzzle.

“Someone needs to do it and even though it’s unknown territory. We are going to try to be that someone.”

For those under 18 years old and looking to volunteer with The Resonance Project, you can reach out via the project’s Instagram or website. The project also conducts sporadic recruitment periods throughout the year, which are announced through their social media platforms.

As for those above 18, support can be given through merch purchases or instrument and monetary donations.

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