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TOC Youth activism perspective

By Jorina Chai

My first foray into grassroots work was in September 2005.

Bored with the run of the mill MOE-mandated community service activities organised by my school, I decided to get involved in something which would have a broader impact on the community.

Raising funds and selling flags was not my idea of meaningful and purposeful community work.

Joining the Youth Executive Committee (YEC) of my constituency appealed to me greatly as I believed it would have more far-reaching effect in terms of having a positive impact on the lives of citizens.

Passion for serving the community

I chanced upon the website of the Punggol Community Club YEC and decided to join it, purely out of my passion for serving the community. Altruistic as it may sound, that is the reason many of my fellow committee members joined the YEC.

Sadly, after a term of two years in the YEC, I am not satisfied with how it works. I feel that many YECs exist mainly to organise activities for citizens but nothing is done to help improve their lives or address the more fundamental problems they may have.

Recreational games, sports, children’s parties etc do serve to enrich the people’s lives, but I believe they can only enjoy these fully when their basic needs and fundamental difficulties are addressed.

I speak of the lower-middle income and low-income families whose interests are often overlooked as the rich get richer and the country is focusing much more on how it can ride on the economic boom.

Grassroots and politics

Currently, there are channels for these families to seek help, and one of them which I would like to commend is the regular Meet-the-People sessions held by Members of Parliament of various constituencies. However, these sessions have a political slant to it and the people involved are members of the PAP or the Young PAP. Many people firmly believe that grassroots and politics should not mix.

I beg to differ. I am one of them. I have not joined the YPAP yet but I am currently involved in its activities and am likely to become a member, because I feel the government can improve on its policies and can do more to engage certain strata of society such as the youths and the poor. I am hoping that being part of YP can open up doors for more efficient and effective communication.

The YEC comes under the umbrella of the People’s Association Youth Movement which is not affiliated to the People’s Action Party.

Misconception

Grassroots work is often viewed as either blindly carrying out tasks for the ruling party or doing volunteer work with a seemingly altruistic aim but actually harbouring thoughts of entering politics in the future. This may be a gross generalisation but judging from the response I received when I told others about my involvement in the grassroots arena, this is sadly a misconception held by many.

Grassroots and politics should remain separate entities, but I feel that it is only with knowledge and involvement in both areas that one can have a better perspective of things and be better able to effect change.

I believe that one can affect change through both the grassroots and politics. However, it is important that those who aspire to do both should be candid about the nature of the intertwined interests of the needs of the community and how it relates to the political process.

Jorina Chai is a first year law student who has just served her first full term on her constituency’s YEC. She's also contemplating joining the Young PAP.