Amateurs – and loving it

By Joshua Chiang

am·a·teur (m-tûr, -tr, -chr, -chr, -tyr)

  1. A person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession.
  2. Sports. An athlete who has never accepted money, or who accepts money under restrictions specified by a regulatory body, for participating in a competition.

Today the word ‘amateur’ is so synonymous with inexperience and sub-par performance that we often forget that the root of the word is amor – love. In other words, an amateur is driven by one thing – love (or passion).

When Andrew Loh was Chief Editor, one of the things he often said was that TOC is run by a bunch of amateurs. It was a statement he made with pride.

We are amateurs.

It might not seem like that sometimes to people who read our articles and the stories we break. But like how the idea for the Face to Face forum came about, most of the things we’ve done so far are often the result of a moment of inspiration followed by many hours of panicking and wishing we hadn’t been so easily carried away by our ideas to begin with.

Some of our bigger stories this year happened because we stumbled onto them. A case in point would be the series of articles on homeless people. It all started when Andrew was staying near Sembawang Park and got to know the campers on the beach. I joined him on one of his visits and was so angered by what I saw that I decided to write something about it. (See “People of the Tents“) If anyone had asked me then, I’d confess that I had no plans beyond that single article. But then one thing led to another. Before we knew it, we were writing story after story on not just the campers, but also about the HDB policies that led to homelessness.

That was pretty much how the Moratorium on Death Penalty campaign came about. I cannot speak for the rest, but my involvement began for a very simple reason – I could not sleep at night knowing that there was something I could do for Yong Vui Kong. Sure, my contribution might not change any thing, but I felt I had to try.

When The Online Citizen, together with The Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign organized a petition-signing at Speaker’s Corner in August to ask for clemency for Vui Kong, about 150 turned up – a very encouraging sign considering that a similar event the year before saw just 40 people.

Today, I attended another ‘amateur’ event – Second Chances in the Park. It was organized by two of our volunteers Kirsten Han and Damien Chng, who also founded the ‘We Believe in Second Chances’ Campaign. Now these two are young. Kirsten is 22 and Damien, just 19. Neither of them had organized something quite like this before. But the event went amazingly well. It was fun and it was meaningful and everyone had a great time. Some passers-by were so impressed, they even stopped to sign a banner meant as a present for Vui Kong’s 23rd birthday.

People often express surprise when they find out that The Online Citizen is not made up of a bunch of career professionals but a team of volunteers from different walks of life.

Considering the fact that there are hardly any financial rewards to be reaped from doing what we do, not to mention knowingly putting ourselves under the uncomfortable glare of the Government spotlight (we believe that if we want to be taken seriously, we cannot remain anonymous), I really think one of the main reasons why we do what we do is because we give a damn.

Which makes us a bunch of amateurs.

I’ve been a reader of The Online Citizen longer than I’ve been part of the team. I’ve come across many comments expressing frustration and a desire for change. But underlying these comments is a sense of powerlessness. The reasons range from how the incumbent will block any progress, to the perceived weakness of the opposition parties. We keep looking for Singapore’s version of Barrack Obama. We keep waiting for elections to come so we can cast our votes.

And in the meantime we keep waiting for a professional to show up and lead the way. But let’s not forget that ordinary people, us ‘non-professionals’, can do something too.

Be an amateur. Get involved – now. And don’t worry too much about the results.

Because in the words of four men who were supposedly bigger than a religious figure, all you need is love. Amor.