Why youths volunteer: Shaping a new narrative post heartbreak

Who knew volunteering was a way to get over a relationship that ended?

Amanda Tan

Skills include buying the same jeans in different colours.

Published: 8 November 2023, 9:36 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 Cynthia Ku, who used to serve in the mental health cluster and is now part of the community peer supporter cluster. Cynthia is also preparing for a YEP that’s set to happen this December, in Vietnam.

Heartbreak is never easy to bear. For Cynthia Ku, the six months following the end of her long-term relationship back in 2019 was a period of enduring the darkest of clouds. 

“I can find someone better.” Simple yet piercing, those words from her then partner echoed in her mind for quite some time. It didn’t help that Cynthia had always relied on him, finding it difficult to venture into new experiences on her own. Even attending something simple like a fitness class seemed like an insurmountable feat.

After close to a year of being in this constant spiral, she woke up one day determined to change for herself. These dark clouds became the backdrop for a transformation.

“I took a paper and pen and started noting down what do I want for my life, why did I end up here and how do I move on from here,” she recalls. 

The first thing she did was to work out alone. While daunting at first, it served as proof that she was capable of being independent, that she wasn’t as inadequate as she had thought herself to be. Gradually, she began exposing herself to more experiences and this process of self-validation boosted her confidence.


While the three-year relationship didn’t end on bad terms, Cynthia shares it left her with a crippled sense of self-worth. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/WAFEEQAH AZHAR


Around that time, Cynthia also stumbled upon an opportunity to join the Youth Corps Singapore’s Mental Health Cluster as an ExCo member. She thought that since she was already in a phase of self-improvement, she might as well explore her interest in mental health and contribute to a cause she was passionate about. 

She eventually became the publicity team lead in 2021 and, during those three years of leadership, Cynthia not only found joy in helping others find themselves but also experienced significant personal growth.

She explains: “Volunteering gives me clarity in my own journey. Of course, helping others makes me happy, like being able to be there for someone, being able to (know) they trust me enough for me to enter their space and journey with them. But at the same time, I also feel that the things that I picked up along the way really helped me to reflect and shape the person that I am today.”

She also credits her immense progress to the supportive friends she made in the mental health cluster. Describing her volunteer friends as like-minded individuals, she shares that because of their common passion, they’re able to connect and understand one another effortlessly. 

“We are there to witness each other’s personal growth…I feel like they’ve got my back. They will catch me if I fall,” she adds. Small but thoughtful actions like encouraging her to emcee for events were some of the many ways the community at Youth Corps Singapore looked out for Cynthia.


Cynthia obtained a degree in psychology at James Cook University. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/WAFEEQAH AZHAR


Volunteering has also aided Cynthia in her career as an associate psychologist, where she works at a special needs school, handling referrals and providing services such as psychological assessments and behavioural management. 

She notes that both her volunteering and professional experiences complement each other. Volunteering has given her opportunities to improve her soft skills, such as effective communication and better interpersonal connections, which she can now effectively apply to her professional role. Additionally, the knowledge she’s acquired through years of education and training has equipped her to be more intentional in shaping the content she shares on Youth Corps Singapore’s social media platforms.

While Cynthia has stepped down from her role as publicity team lead, she looks at it as a way to pass the baton on to empower younger volunteers. “I cannot keep hogging that position…I’m very honoured to (have been able) to be part of the team but I feel that I should also let the young people be able to try and empower them to lead.”

She intends to focus more time and effort into contributing towards the community peer supporter cluster, something she’s been wanting to do for quite a while now. Cynthia and her friends are also gearing up for a Youth Expedition Project in December, where she and 18 other volunteers will head to Vietnam to curate mental health programmes for targeted communities in the rural and city areas. 

Titled Project Untangle, the team will also set up a mental wellness corner in one of the libraries there.

As team lead for volunteer management, Cynthia has plans to organise activities that will encourage introspection. “Because the theme is Project Untangle, we’re thinking more of to untangle the knots within us and of course, to help to untangle the knots within the community,” says Cynthia.

While things are uncertain as Project Untangle is a rather new concept and vastly different from other Youth Expedition Projects, Cynthia is beyond excited to see how things will turn out as going on an overseas volunteering experience has been a long-time wish of hers.


Cynthia also hopes for more individuals to muster up the courage to reach out and seek help should they be struggling mentally. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/WAFEEQAH AZHAR


Reflecting on the past four years, she shares: “Honestly, I don’t know if I’m fully healed also. I’d like to think that I’ve made progress for sure but I feel that healing is also a journey and that I cannot possibly say I’m healed.” But with all things considered, she’s pressing on with the belief that the things she wants to accomplish are attainable; it’s just a matter of time.

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