By Regina Marie Lee (13A01B)
After 10 years of activity, Boon Lay Youth Club (BLYC) was closed down as a CCA this year to become an SIG (Student Interest Group).
BLYC is perhaps best known for the annual New Year Countdown it has organised since 2003. It was started in May that year by a group of 5 Raffles Junior College students, after talking to Madam Ho Geok Choo, then the Member of Parliament for Boon Lay. One of the founders was Madam Ho’s son. Because the school was located in Ghim Moh, the group picked Boon Lay as it was a poorer constituency.
Since then, the club has been involved in grassroots activities there. They initiate, plan and execute events together with grassroot leaders. For its contributions to the community, the club won the Most Active Grassroots Organisation Award at the Boon Lay National Day Local Awards in 2009.
When asked about the decision to make the club an SIG, Mr Eng Han Seng, Dean of CCAs and PE said: “The key reason is that the workload of students is becoming heavier. Meetings and preparation for events sometimes go on very late at night, and because of the distance I think the students face a challenge (in this respect). Activities can end very late, past 11PM.” This sentiment is echoed by BLYC Chairperson Keith Yong. “RI was located in Ghim Moh when BLYC was started, and because Boon Lay was near, the travelling time was quite short.”
Instead, the school now wants to focus on the local community. “It’s better for us to try to work within our community in Bishan and Toa Payoh,” said Mr Eng. Plans for a new avenue to work with grassroots in Bishan are underway, helmed by the Raffles Leadership Institute (formerly Raffles Institute for Experiential Learning). “RLI will look into forming a new CCA serving Toa Payoh and Bishan, and explore whether there is a need to start a new CCA or if it could be on other platforms.”
Could the public criticism that BLYC received from former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong, an Old Boy himself, have played a role in the decision? In 2011, in a commentary published in Today newspaper, Mr Siew called BLYC’s CCA status into question, and asked if it was “inappropriate for Ministry of Education and RI(JC) to officially sanction and endorse activities that directly or indirectly support any specific political party or politician”. Whether this assertion is valid or not, BLYC Chair Keith insists that this is “not a problem”. “All this while, we have been working with grassroot leaders and our stand is very clear that we are not involved in any political activities,” he said.
The decision to demote the CCA to SIG status was only communicated to the club in December 2012. When asked why the decision was made now, since the former RJC has been in the Bishan campus since 2005, Mr Eng explained, “(the school had) deliberated for some time…we found that maybe it’s time for us to move out of Boon Lay.” Instead of entirely shutting down the CCA, the school is “trying to transit slowly and also give Boon Lay constituency time for this transition”. Mr Eng also admitted that the school is “opening it as an SIG for students who stay near Boon Lay (where) it is meaningful for them to serve in the West. If there are still interested students and they want to continue serving in Boon Lay, then it is up to a year to year review (to continue as an SIG).”
Miranda Yeo, BLYC Vice-President from the Class of 2011, said: “I am personally very saddened by this decision because BLYC has been a wonderful training ground not only for me, but also for the batches of seniors who went before me. It was an avenue for us students to work alongside capable adult leaders and analyse problems at the municipal level.”
Fortunately, the leadership of BLYC have not given up, and still intend to allow new students to experience the benefits of grassroots service in Boon Lay. With 22 Year 6s currently, BLYC is hoping to recruit 20-30 Year 5s. Activities will be recognised through the CE-01 Community Education platform as a student-initiated service project. “There won’t be any CCA records or requirements to meet, and we will give opportunity for students interested to organise their own CE-01 project in Boon Lay based on their interest.” For example, BLYC recently organised Arts For Us, which brought various art forms to the community through performances and arts activities. “(This was) completely based on members’ interests and grassroot leaders helped them to achieve that,” said Keith. Instead of merely setting up a CE-01 project independently, Keith explains that “BLYC [has] the contacts of grassroot leaders who can help us and provide us with a lot of resources, such as financial resources when we tie up with organisations to fund our activities.”
Having said that, Mr Eng remarks, “Batches of students (in BLYC) have been impacted positively, are more service-oriented and grew to have the desire and passion to serve the community. We want to continue that spirit. However, in terms of the structure, platform and location, we want to move it to a vicinity that is more meaningful and in our local community.”