Youth leaders across ASEAN are helping their own communities despite COVID-19 travel restrictions

They created music videos, distributed food and medical supplies, and shared verified resources to motivate their local communities.

Wan Munirah

Published: 9 April 2020, 10:23 PM

Despite travel restrictions imposed around the world, some young leaders from the ASEAN Youth Fellowship (AYF) have started interesting initiatives to motivate their communities in their fight against COVID-19.

Organised by the National Youth Council and the Singapore International Foundation, the AYF programme develops a network of emerging ASEAN young leaders who are keen to make a positive difference in the region.

Some of the AYF alumni Youth.SG spoke to have created uplifting videos and distributed food and medical supplies to motivate healthcare staff. Another joined forces with public health experts and tech volunteers to deliver timely updates about COVID-19 updates in their country – even while being physically away.

Here are three of their stories.

Creating a music video to boost morale 

Dr Ian Mathews, 38, was inspired to create a dedication video with his colleague, Dr Valerie Tay, to boost the morale of all Singaporeans and fellow healthcare workers.

The pair reached out to their personal contacts and healthcare workers from different hospitals, institutes and clinics, and asked them to submit video clips of them singing the one song every Singaporean probably knows by heart: ‘Home’

Dr Ian Mathews and Dr Valerie Tay also sang a few lines in their dedication video.

“We chose this song to remind us that the work that we were all doing in our own various ways to help fight the spread of disease, yet maintain social solidarity, was imperative.

“While there was so much uncertainty, we knew that we were not alone. As a nation, we would get through this together,” said Dr Ian, who received about 30 video submissions for the project.

The video has garnered over 42,000 views to date, accompanied with comments thanking them for their efforts.

“A couple of people reminded me that I cannot sing. But most [comments were] supportive and there were many words of encouragement from Singapore and all around the world!” joked Dr Ian, a consultant at the Emergency Medicine department at National University Hospital (NUH).


As part of the COVID-19 outbreak response, Dr Ian (left) was tasked to set up the extended screening facility for separating patients with fever and respiratory symptoms from the main department.


Dr Ian, a 2018 AYF alumni, also shared the video with his friends across ASEAN to lift their spirits: “Once the video was released, the AYF fellows lent their support in ‘likes’ as well as supportive comments on our various WhatsApp chat groups.”


While Dr Ian does not have plans to release another singing video, he felt grateful that the video has managed to cheer up his viewers: “Maybe a more upbeat dance video next?”


“After seeing many familiar and happy faces of our friends, we knew that despite our individual struggles, we are all in this together, and we must continue to do our best for Singapore,” said Dr Ian.

Distributing food and supplies to healthcare staff 

Palliative care physician Dr Venita Eng was inspired to help other healthcare workers like herself after witnessing their struggles managing the COVID-19 situation.


Dr Venita was doing her clinical fellowship in Singapore when she received news about her colleagues falling sick in Indonesia.


“It started on Mar 21 when cases in Indonesia raised exponentially. My friend from a central referral hospital shared pictures of him and his colleagues on the verge of collapsing due to fatigue. Some even got infected as they couldn’t protect themselves properly.

“It saddened me to hear their stories in my WhatsApp groups. I felt that I was in a “safer” position in Singapore.

“So I felt obliged to pay forward all the kindness I’ve received from my Singaporean colleagues, to help my fellow colleagues in Indonesia,” said the 29-year-old medical doctor.


A photo of healthcare workers (top) sent by Venita’s friend. A day later, Venita sent meals to the hospital (bottom).


Dr Venita tapped on her close contacts of Indonesian colleagues working at the frontline to find out how she can help.

“Most of them are lacking basic resources like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and food. I looked for supplies and got five boxes of masks from my sister’s friend. The doctors and nurses were jubilant as they were really out of masks,” shared Venita, who is currently based in Singapore.

To help more colleagues at the frontline, Venita gathered small donations from her friends and families and purchased meals and PPE through suppliers in Indonesia.

“It was surprising that these small acts of kindness created such big ripples. I got connected to new friends who happened to be social media influencers and business owners, and we started non-profit organisation on Instagram together.”

Together with her GOODS FOR GOOD team, Dr Venita has managed to help hospitals across several provinces in Indonesia, such as Jakarta, Kalimantan, Java and even up to Papua.


Healthcare workers receiving a batch of medical supplies, such as masks, goggles and face shields.


“In less than two weeks, we managed to gather more than S$200,000 in donations, which helped to provide thousands of PPE to more than 41 hospitals across Indonesia. We also distributed over 8,000 meals for medical frontliners.”

Dr Venita also reached out to her AYF networks to gain new insights.

“Some of the fellows helped me to connect with PPE suppliers and other hospitals in smaller islands that need help. Getting insights from people working in other fields and specialities, such as economy, business, leadership and management, helped me to see things in a new perspective,” said the 2018 AYF alumni.

Sharing timely updates about COVID-19 in Indonesia

Ainun Najib was inspired to start KawalCOVID-19, an information portal in Indonesia, after realising there was a lack of timely and verified resources for citizens to find out more about COVID-19.


Ainun Najib (right) had a scare when his 8-year-old son (left) was advised to go for a COVID-19 swab test due to his cough. Thankfully, the result turned out to be negative.


The 34-year-old Singaporean PR said: “I was very concerned with the growing coronavirus threat in Indonesia, especially in the early months of January to February.

“There was a big risk of community outbreak across Indonesia which could eventually reach my rural hometown in Gresik, Jawa Timur, where my parents reside. I was worried as they are at risk of getting COVID-19.”


Ainun, who has been based in Singapore for the past 17 years, was moved to do something about the escalating situation in Indonesia.


He activated his networks promptly and started WhatsApp groups to reach out to panel experts, and created a Telegram group to recruit volunteers for his tech team.


Ainun (right) with his friend Zain Fathoni (centre), who leads the tech team in KawalCOVID-19.


“It started with a small WhatsApp group with a few people, which then grew to over 100 along the way. The group consists of panel experts, such as doctors, epidemiologists, virologists, the President’s millennial staff and some of the Governor’s staff,” shared Ainun, who is working on analytics in a tech company.


“I also openly called for tech volunteers on Twitter, which surprisingly gained huge interest. It is the main reason why our Slack team is over 800 now!” said Ainun.


Since Mar 1, Ainun and his team have been pushing out quick updates about the COVID-19 situation in Indonesia across three platforms: FacebookTwitter and website.

“When we first launched our Twitter account on Mar 1, we gathered 30k followers in just three days. We now stand at 89.1k followers.

“The website took a bit of time as we needed to scrutinise the quality of the content. We released our first content on 5 Mar, an FAQ on COVID-19, together with the launch of the website.”

The 2019 AYF alumni also reached out to his networks across ASEAN to procure medical supplies: “The network has helped us connect to people who can help with delivering COVID-19 test kits from Singapore to Indonesia.”

Thanks to the one-month-old portal, Ainun and his team have managed to advise a few locals to cancel major upcoming events to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia.

“It was during the early days where we rushed to advocate cancellations of major gathering events. We rushed our Superspreaders article just in time to advise decision-makers at Nahdlatul Ulama to cancel their event, which was due to take place in a week.

“Majority of the elderly Muslim scholars who would have attended are at high risk and could potentially become the next super spreaders within their communities.”

Cheering on their communities away from home 

Her initiative might be just two weeks old, but Dr Venita is looking forward to doing more.

Dr Venita said: “I do think that the world will change after COVID-19. I hope this experience will make us realise that we are sharing the same difficulties. Even in the hardest of situations, we can still help each other and find solace in people despite being apart.”

Similarly, Ainun continues to hustle on with his team back at home to keep up the fighting spirit against COVID-19 despite being away from Indonesia.

“By now, I have come to accept that COVID-19 is with us for the foreseeable future, and it is upon us to adapt to it and to take care of each other.

“It is also a bit of an epiphany for myself. I have gained more clarity on what we need to do together and how we should view the world surrounding us. I feel compelled to start appreciating each moment in life with gratitude, and to start taking care of our ailing planet seriously,” shared Ainun.

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