by Bay Jia Wei (17S06R) and Yang Si Qi (17A01C)
Photos by Amelia Chong, Amelia Lee, Deborah Lee and Jennifer Shen
Five minutes before registration was to open, everyone involved was already feeling nervous, to say the least. The journey hadn’t been a smooth one so far – the technical rehearsal on Wednesday had been plagued with hiccups, and the stage logistics set up before hand had accidentally been cleared by Estate. Nevertheless, the team remained optimistic and excited, weeks of training and preparation all leading up to this. When the doors to the Hodge Lodge opened and herds of students streamed in, organisers, performers, and participants alike held on to a nebulous question (subconsciously for some, perhaps):
What does it mean to serve?
Hosted annually by the Raffles Interact Club, Youth Got Heart (YGH) has been a staple event of the Raffles school year since 2008. The event aims not only to inspire youth volunteerism, but also to serve as a platform for youths to find out more about service opportunities. For the past few years, YGH has always been a key feature of Interact’s efforts to reach out to the student body. It aims to draw students’ attention to various Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and how they could engage in service.
Prior to the concert segment of the event, Interactors were seen giving tours to participants and introducing them to the exhibitions present on service. A series of pictures, drawn by the children that the Interactors volunteered with, lined the aisle to the Performing Arts Centre (PAC). These framed pieces of art spoke of the fulfillment that one could draw from serving others. Further down the path, exhibitions on the various service opportunities were displayed outside the doors of the PAC. These were not limited to merely Interact’s direct services, but also included several external projects – including Habitat for Humanity, and History and Strategic Affairs Society’s (HSTA) “Step up, Speak Out” initiative that was aimed at imparting oratorical skills to children from underprivileged backgrounds or who were undergoing behavioural changes. By leveraging on the honed public speaking and debating skills of the club members themselves, HSTA’s service project highlighted to those present how one’s focal areas of expertise could be put to good use for a good cause. In all, the students manning the boards impressed the crowd with their enthusiasm and passion for the different causes that they volunteered for.
Though the volunteers were at the ready to inform interested students about the numerous projects that they were involved in, the sheer amount of participants, though indicative of the event’s success, also meant that it was difficult for everyone to be exposed to a sufficient degree. As such, we thought it would have been beneficial if a longer time period could have been given for students to familiarise themselves with these service opportunities. Perhaps by extending these exhibitions for a week at the canteen, the wider student population could have been exposed to these opportunities as well.
After browsing through the exhibits while indulging in the refreshments provided, we were ushered into the PAC. The concert programme opened with a speech by main organizer Goh Jia Ling (16S06S), who talked about her experiences in service and her encounter with Guest-of-Honour Mr Takalah Tan. She then introduced the thematic structure of YGH 2016 that would guide the series of performances for the evening: Courage, Dedication, and Passion.
YGH skilfully struck a balance between vibrant performances and informative videos, accomplishing its motive of educating its audience while keeping their energy levels high. The performances kicked off with a dance item by RGS Dance Batch of 2015. In the introduction to their performance, one of the emcees mentioned that dance was their way of service, shedding light on how art forms can be performed with the intention to serve.
Backstage, disaster had struck – one of the guitars had gone missing. In order to stall for time, the emcees extended their audience participation segment, going around to ask increasingly awkward attendees about their experiences with service and what service meant to them. Amongst the few selected ones, many mentioned that they do not serve regularly, due to time constraints, which was indicative of the demanding nature of service.
Thereafter, many bands took the stage with their renditions of uplifting songs. Some familiar tunes that evening included “Blackbird” (The Beatles), “Bright” (Echosmith), “Wings”, “Waiting on the World to Change” (John Mayer), and “It’s Time (Imagine Dragons)”. The concert was punctuated with inspiring videos, centred around Courage, Dedication, and Passion – core values necessary for service. Within the videos, Interact Club members and various interviewees talked about their motivations for serving. They stressed that service wasn’t always easy, as “to see the rainbow, you have to bear the rain”, and emphasized the importance of long term service.
Towards the end of the evening, Mr Takalah Tan Kok Liang, the Guest-of-Honour, gave his address, speaking to us about his own life and the importance of youth volunteerism. Mr Takalah’s experiences were nothing short of incredible and awe-inspiring: Mr Tan used to lead a prosperous life, and was known as a man fond of overcoming challenges. It was this perseverance that led him to excel during his National Service. Tragically, Mr Tan’s life took a turn for the worse when he was involved in a motorbike accident where he had only a very slim chance of survival. He displayed the grotesque photo of him post-accident with the air of a man who was proud of how far he had come. The new name he gave himself after the accident – Takalah – meant ‘can’t lose’ in Malay, and this became a new motto that he lived by. Indeed, while the accident robbed him of the chance to continue living the life that he once led, he recovered spectacularly, taking the gruelling surgical processes with optimism – and even good-naturedly exclaimed that he was glad to have been a “guinea pig” for the trainee surgeons at the hospital! Mr Takalah Tan showed us the true meaning of compassion and sincerity as he charmed the crowd that evening, reiterating the importance of service, especially with regards to youth volunteerism.
Mr Takalah’s friend, Mr Lee Wei Kong, who also suffered from an acquired brain injury, was delighted to have been present at the concert. In an interview, he described the performances as “flavourful” and “eye-popping”. 10 years after his accident, he still struggles with his speech. However, his optimism and drive for living was incredibly inspiring, as he shared with one of our reporters the art pieces that he painted at Westlite Dormitory for a living. We were touched and motivated by his endeavours and the great fortitude and endurance he displayed despite facing such difficulties.
After the talk, the event closed with a performance by Triumviratus. That evening, the audience streamed out with starry-eyed looks and a renewed perspective on service. What does it mean to serve? Perhaps the meaning of service is transient, and service is something within us waiting to be rediscovered time and again. Youth Got Heart acted as a first step, to gather the courage of youths in starting a new journey, sustained by dedication and fuelled by the passion for service. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Visit Youth Got Heart 2016’s website for more information on volunteering opportunities.
List of performers:
RGS Dance ’15
Running for Council
Andrea and Ruth