Why youths volunteer: Inspired by the ones who helped him through his darkest days
Having been supported through his struggle with generalised anxiety disorder since he was in JC, 21-year-old Syahmi hopes to do the same for others.
- 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 Muhammad Syahmi Sumadi, who serves in numerous volunteer organisations and was recently named the valedictorian at the Youth Corps Leaders Commencement Ceremony in April.
Spending five hours a day on volunteering may sound implausible, but for Muhammad Syahmi Sumadi, this is the average number of hours he commits to giving back to the community daily.
Over the past year, the 21-year-old RMIT-Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) undergraduate was active in a multitude of groups and organisations, including the Sembawang Central Malay Activities Executive Committee (MAEC), the youth group of Assyafaah Mosque and the Silver Ribbon Youth Chapter.
This is on top of being part of his school’s branch of AIESEC, an international youth-led non-government organisation that promotes youth leadership and links youths with volunteering and internship opportunities, and the exco of the newly reformed Malay Cultural and Muslim Society.
He also served with the Youth Corps Singapore and was recently named the valedictorian at their Leaders’ Commencement Ceremony on Apr 1 for his positive work ethic, attitude and leadership qualities.
Youthopia sat down with the dedicated volunteer one afternoon to find out what makes him tick and how he finds the energy to be involved in so much volunteer work.
“It’s definitely challenging, I’m not going to lie,” says the unassuming youth, “but to the people we help our actions may mean the world to them. That’s why I always try my best to help my friends, the community, or just anyone in general.”
Syahmi’s first experience with volunteering was nothing out of the ordinary. At 16, he accompanied his parents serving in the former Gambas MAEC (now Sembawang Central MAEC) under the People’s Association, where he initially helped with logistics and manpower.
He also served in Assyafaah Mosque where he became a youth leader. After completing his National Service in 2022, he found himself with more time to organise activities to engage the community, such as the mosque’s overnight cycling event, Night Light Bike Ride 2.0, which saw about 60 participants.
Seeing his potential, a youth development officer at Assyafaah Mosque nominated him for the Youth Corps Leaders Programme, a nine to 12-month community leadership development programme.
After clearing the selection process, Syahmi chose to work on a project related to mental health as it was something close to his heart, having struggled with anxiety himself.
Finding support in his darkest days
Syahmi opened up about a difficult time when he was still in junior college and struggling with mental health issues.
“I was referred to my counselor for help because I felt a bit lost and at times also had this physical way of manifesting my stress, which was numbing pains. It was very distracting and I could not focus in class,” he says.
Syahmi was eventually admitted to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a myotonic disorder (where his nerves involuntarily fire causing symptoms like his hands shaking) and generalised anxiety disorder.
During this low period in his life, Syahmi said that there were two people who made a big impact on him. The first was his counselor, who was a pillar of support for over a year while he was in JC.
“She was really the nicest person and helped me push through a lot of things. I always confided in her when I felt very bad, very sad or very tired, and she was really the one person who was there for me.”
After enlisting in National Service, Syahmi also started to experience something he refers to as “mind fog”, where his thought processes and ability to focus were hampered as a result of stress. Thankfully, he had a patient and understanding Warrant Officer who helped him through the period.
“I really got through it because of my encik. He’s very strict with other people but always took his time to teach me. From there my mind fog just went away and I also slowly got more involved in volunteering.”
Raising awareness of mental health and building safe spaces for people
Having come out of that difficult period with the support of his counsellor and encik, Syahmi was inspired to give back to the community and support others in a similar way as he took on more volunteer work.
As part of the Youth Corps Leaders Programme, participants were given the opportunity to run a project with community partners or national agencies addressing a social cause of their choice. Syahmi chose to be part of the team improving the Singapore Association for Mental Health’s (SAMH) tool for engaging the community in mental health conversations called It Starts From Home.
Wanting to go above and beyond, however, the team decided to build on the tool and run an entire programme to engage youths in the Marsiling community, giving rise to the YCS Mindscape initiative.
“YCS Mindscape’s objective is to promote mental wellness and create safe spaces for youths to be able to communicate and express their perspectives, talk about anything and just de-stress,” says Syahmi.
After a successful fundraiser, the team worked alongside SAMH and Marsiling Cares Community Link to organise 11 engagements from June to October 2022, with Syahmi spearheading six of them.
These ranged from simple activities like bookmark-making and art jamming to more elaborate sessions involving interaction with horses conducted in collaboration with HERD.
One of the things that encouraged Syahmi most was seeing how returning participants became more comfortable in interacting with the team. He recalls one in particular who he initially found difficult to engage during the first session slowly warming up to him by the third.
“Of course, he was still a bit more introverted, but I could talk to him. That in itself was a safe space because he could talk a bit more,” says Syahmi, who hopes his team’s efforts helped such individuals find new ways to de-stress and express themselves.
The sessions continued to draw a good response and by the time the team held their “finale carnival”, the event was drawing participants even beyond the youths in Marsiling, with friends from other estates and children coming to enjoy the festivities.
“It was very fun to see that they all enjoyed themselves. When we enjoy ourselves we also de-stress and create good memories,” says Syahmi.
Hopes to inspire others to make a difference
While the work at YCS Mindscape wrapped up after seven months, Syahmi still continues to give whatever free time he has to numerous volunteer organisations, recently taking on leadership roles in several of them
When he is not attending lessons or participating in his school’s bowling co-curricular activity, Syahmi serves as the assistant secretary at the MAEC and is the volunteer management committee leader with Assyafaah Mosque Youths.
In the future, the empathetic youth hopes to start another initiative to help migrant workers in Singapore pick up skills applicable to their workforce before returning to their home country, something he feels strongly about.
Syahmi remembers receiving a phone call from his family’s former domestic helper who was in tears as she shared her struggles to start a business back in her country.
“I want to create courses focused on that reintegration to ensure that when they go back, they have skill sets that are applicable to their workforce. I think that’s important to make sure that no one ever cries again.”
Syahmi’s passion for volunteering has not gone unnoticed by his peers, with many expressing intrigue at his numerous commitments and how he juggles them all.
Some of his friends started supporting his efforts by showing up at events he was organising, such as the YCS Mindscape finale carnival. A couple of youths at the Assyafaah Mosque also approached him to ask how they can volunteer as youth leaders, and Syahmi was more than happy to involve them in an upcoming event even though it was past the signup deadline.
For youths who are considering doing more in the volunteering scene, Syahmi hopes to encourage them to take the first step without expecting anything in return and see where it leads.
“I know it sounds naive, but I truly just want everybody to be happy at the end of the day and to also volunteer and hopefully create an impact on the world.
“I believe even the smallest actions do just that, and I’m hoping to create a spark for others to change the world also.”