Why youths volunteer: Bridging the gap between sports and those with special needs

Beyond volunteering with the Youth Corps Singapore, Xavier Lim also spends his time with Team Nila to help out for sports events.

Amanda Tan

Skills include buying the same jeans in different colours.

Published: 25 September 2023, 11:57 AM

  • 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 Xavier Lim whose passion for sports helped him find the conviction to serve those with special needs.


With the same tenacity that propels him across the finish line, student athlete Xavier Lim has committed to making a difference beyond the track – ensuring no one gets left behind in the race of life.

Currently a student at Nanyang Polytechnic, the 19-year-old is an active member of the Athletics Club. However, his passion extends far beyond track and field.

Xavier shares that when he deeply cares about something, he’s more than willing to go the extra mile to contribute. It was this fervour that led him to start volunteering.

“During competitions, they have so many events for track and field, not just the throw segments. They have the sprints, jumps, so they’ll need a lot of assistants and volunteers to help out with their scoring and rubrics. So I decided hey, they need help. I love the sport, why not?”

His first volunteering experience was for an athletic event where he assisted as a marker, recording scores for the various events. As one who is well acquainted with the sporting realm, he adds that being able to witness record breaking moments up close is worlds different from watching from the stands. “That’s something that’s extraordinary and when you’re able to witness it yourself, it’s indeed very breathtaking,” he says.

Xavier Tan with his friends
Xavier (in purple) has played sports all his life and recently took a liking to track and field after enrolling in polytechnic. PHOTO CREDIT: XAVIER LIM


Another plus point for Xavier would be the chance to interact with athletes. He jokes that it’s akin to those who sign up to be a security guard at a Taylor Swift concert.

Admittedly, this was how he got to know para athlete Muhammad Diroy Bin Noordin, who served as his first exposure to the struggles faced by the differently-abled. After their brief interaction in June this year during the 12th ASEAN Para Games, Xavier was all the more convinced that there needed to be more support for the athletes. 

“I feel like some people just have the passion, the love for the sport but because of their certain disabilities or special needs, may not be motivated. And if able, I would love to have an initiative that’s able to touch on these aspects for them,” he adds.

Subsequently, he also made efforts to enrich his understanding of the challenges faced by those with disabilities. Beyond soughting out articles related to disabilities, he also consulted friends pursuing social work on their experiences. He also began keeping an eye out for activities for those with special needs and would partake in them at least once every two months. 

He stresses that beyond research, being on the ground with the community is key.

During the initial stages, Xavier candidly admits that he had limited knowledge about individuals with disabilities in sports. In one incident, he unintentionally disregarded one of the athletes who was wheelchair bound.

Lost in conversation with the others, he found himself walking ahead without considering that those in wheelchairs might require additional time to navigate. Realisation only hit once he entered the mall with the rest while the other athlete was out of sight.

Reflecting on this experience, he says: “That was one of the moments when I realised that even though we really want to treat those with special needs as normal, we do have to take into consideration there will still be some minor differences not as human but in terms of physical abilities and that we should really be more encouraging.”


Xavier Lim posing
Besides volunteer work, Xavier has also gone for first-aid courses to better equip himself to help others. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/TIANA QUEK


Presently, Xavier volunteers with Team Nila, participating in its events at least twice a month. He also does ad-hoc volunteering with Youth Corps Singapore, through invitations from his friends.

As he’s in his final year of polytechnic studies and currently pursuing an internship, Xavier plans to continue with ad-hoc volunteering. 

He also took part in Youth Corps Mission X – part of Programme X launched in 2019 to develop the next generation of youth community service leaders – to broaden his knowledge on community development. Over the three-day non-residential camp, Xavier got to hone his leadership skills as well as identify and execute volunteer management strategies that will allow him to curate impactful community service initiatives. 

National Service beckons after, but he already has plans to take on a role where he can start initiatives in the Special Needs Cluster after completing his service.

Especially in the sporting scene, which I’m passionate about and am sure I will be in for the rest of my life,” adds Xavier. 

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