A-Level 2021 Student Features: To Rise While Lifting Others

By Jaime Rusli (22S03L) and Mei Feifei (22A13A)

This year, Raffles Press invited eight accomplished Year 7s to share their experiences in JC. We hope that all of us can see a piece of ourselves reflected in their stories of leadership, service, and above all, resilience.

This is Part 2 of our A-Level 2021 Student Feature.

Farezuan Zulkifli

In primary school, Farezuan Zulkifli had his first taste of volunteering when he signed up with a school group to visit an old folks’ home. He fondly recalls singing a multilingual medley of folk songs for them—“I was pretty embarrassed of my poor attempt to sing some of the lyrics and was afraid that I would end up offending some of the elderly there. To my surprise, many of them seemed to derive enjoyment from it instead and appreciated us giving our best effort to lift their spirits.” While he might not have found a passion for singing after the experience (though he does find listening to music a great way to destress), this was just the beginning of the 2019 Mendaki award recipient’s volunteering journey.

Farezuan volunteered as a tutor for underprivileged children ever since he was a secondary school student in Victoria School. After completing his O-Level examinations in 2018, Farezuan decided that he wanted to put a more pronounced effort into volunteering. “I felt as though I had spent a large chunk of my time on wanting to achieve my own goals and working for my own benefit to the point where I felt quite drained. As such, a part of me reckoned that if I could set aside my time to try and help others, it would drive me to not only focus on myself but also to be more aware of the community around me,” he shares. Volunteering was also a way for him to help others who are in a less fortunate position than him. 

Working with underprivileged children was an obvious choice for Farezuan. He feels that as a student now, the best way for him to give back to his community is through tutoring children. He found motivation to continue serving as the children slowly opened up to him over time, despite their initial shyness and reservations. 

To Farezuan, volunteering was not just a one-way exchange. He used to find it difficult to reach out to others in a genuine manner, but seeing the progress and improvements in the children whom he interacted with granted him the confidence to go on. Volunteering also taught him to see the act of service as a symbiotic relationship.

“Having spent time with the beneficiaries, I quickly realised that my preconception of the beneficiaries benefitting from me only was far from the truth […] Having gone through their own journey in life has given [the children] an innate strength and spirit which I should try to emulate in my life as well.” 

This changed his perception of the beneficiaries whom he was serving, encouraging him to keep an open mind in his future service endeavours. This empathy was also carried over to his endeavours in school. 

While in RI, Farezuan was part of the International Service and Leadership Experience (ISLE) Enrichment Programme. One of the highlights of his RI life was the ten-day ISLE trip that he embarked on with his batchmates. It was fulfilling to see their plans come to fruition, and Farezuan remembers that “there were plenty of wholesome interactions that the team had with the children there that will likely stay with us for a long time”. Other than the rewarding experience ISLE provided, it had other impacts on him too.

As someone who aspires to become a teacher in the future, Farezuan was greatly inspired by his ISLE teacher-in-charge, Mr Kek. “From the start of the elective, his passion for teaching and serving was evident. He was constantly challenging us to consider different perspectives and to always think deeply about certain observations that we made.”

In Mr Kek’s classroom, regular self-reflection was encouraged, students were entrusted with their own decision-making, while mistakes were always seen as part of the process. Thanks to Mr Kek’s guidance and nurture, Farezuan found ISLE sessions a comfortable environment for him to grow in.

Farezuan’s gratitude for Mr Kek might also be a reason behind his dream of becoming a teacher. He describes the role of an educator to be a “very noble and important job” (to his teachers, this must come as substantial affirmation!). Farezuan believes that teachers are important in shaping characters and imparting values to their students. “Although it does seem like a heavy responsibility and will be rather taxing, I feel that it is a meaningful and fulfilling career. Additionally, being able to teach a diverse pool of students which have their own strengths seems rather exciting and interesting as well,” he revealed.

Farezuan is undoubtedly grateful for the opportunities he has been given in RI. When asked what advice he would give to his juniors who would like to balance schoolwork with volunteering, he says, “when it comes to doing community service, there is really no fixed time or duration. In Raffles, I would say that we are quite fortunate as there are plenty of avenues for you to sign up to volunteer with differing levels of commitment.” He also recommends juniors to gauge their current situation—how they are coping with commitments like academics and CCA—before dedicating themselves to service. 

In the future, Farezuan hopes to further his commitment towards service by planning more initiatives on top of being a participant. He sees the migrant worker community as another group that he hopes to serve in the future. To end off in Farezuan’s words, “when it comes to doing community service, there is really no fixed time or duration”. After all, community service is more than just another accomplishment to include in your portfolio—each volunteering opportunity is meaningful and impactful in their own unique ways.

Jitesh Ruban

Community service has always been an integral part of Jitesh Ruban’s school life. While most of us may have only started volunteering later in our lives, Jitesh embarked upon his very first volunteering activity at the tender age of nine years old, where he was a buddy and mentor to a Primary 1 student who had just entered the school. Through assisting him in integrating into the school community, Jitesh discovered the delight and enjoyment he could derive from interacting with younger children. This experience proved to Jitesh his confidence and readiness to take on a wider range of responsibilities in various volunteering projects. 

Jitesh’s deep-seated hope to serve his community and learn from others from all walks of life made joining the Interact Club a natural choice when he entered RI. In addition to tutoring children weekly at Henderson Care Centre, Jitesh also participated in a myriad of Interact Club initiatives. He was a part of Youth Got Heart, where he interacted with children with intellectual disabilities at the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS). During International Understanding Week, he took part in Common Ground and Sharing from the Heart.

The highlight of Jitesh’s time in Interact Club was when he participated in Live in the Dark, where he simulated the experiences of the visually handicapped for other students to go through. He also collected donations for the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped during this event. He shared, “I had a lot of fun carrying out the event, helping participants through different tasks like buying cookies and drawing while blindfolded in a pitch-black room. Through Live in the Dark, I understood the many challenges the visually handicapped face on a daily basis.”

One of Jitesh’s most unique experiences in Interact was when he learnt conversational Cantonese and sign language. Perhaps many would never think to go out of their way to take up a completely unfamiliar skill. However, Jitesh took this opportunity in his stride, approaching the task with excitement to be learning new competencies and forms of communication. Most of all, Jitesh “appreciated the fact that [he] could potentially use them to communicate with more people where previously there would be significant communication barriers”. 

Outside of Interact, Jitesh’s strong desire to impact his community led him to spearhead diverse volunteering initiatives. Driven by his passion for interacting with children, Jitesh founded Project Rostra in 2019, in which his team conducted public speaking workshops for primary school children with the Children At-Risk Empowerment Association. 

In the same year, Jitesh befriended the elderly at Ang Mo Kio Thye Hua Kwan Community Hospital. As an experienced and sincere volunteer with astute observation skills, Jitesh noted the acute loneliness of the elderly. While it took some time, the effort he invested into befriending the elderly eventually bore fruit. With much patience, Jitesh finally achieved his aim of genuinely caring for and engaging the elderly.

Jitesh’s experience with the elderly inspired him to do more for them. Jitesh’s volunteering culminated with him undertaking Walk 2 Remember with TOUCH Community Services and Tan Tock Seng hospital, in which his team organised walks and cognitive exercises for the elderly with dementia, and manned general health screenings.

When asked why he chose to serve such an assorted range of beneficiaries, Jitesh shared that he profoundly understood that each group of beneficiaries would face vastly different struggles, with each of them being significant. ”I felt for each of these groups of people and wanted to do what I could to contribute,” he said.

As a devoted volunteer, Jitesh invested a significant amount of time and effort in community service. He confessed that like most RI students, he struggled with time management and academics. He mentioned that “the main challenge [he] faced was juggling work and the various commitments [he] had”. However, he also recognised the importance of time management, sharing his belief that “getting started on work in the first place is already half the battle won”. 

Admirably, despite facing challenges in keeping up with his consistent volunteering, Jitesh never once faltered in his regular community service. Jitesh accounts his dedication and determination to the fact that his parents had always instilled in him the importance of serving others and being selfless. In particular, Jitesh felt that he had a duty to help those around him, considering that he had been “fortunate [enough] to be given opportunities like a good education”. Most importantly, Jitesh remarked, “Volunteering gives me a sense of fulfilment and purpose. It enables me to interact with people whose lives are very different from mine.” 

After gaining a wealth of experience and knowledge through volunteering, Jitesh has gleaned one important lesson—every human being is unique and has their own background, skills and struggles. He offered this insightful piece of advice: “When volunteering, each beneficiary is very different and has their own needs. It is important to have an open and holistic approach to each person to better help and connect with them.”

When asked what advice he had for students who are interested in pursuing volunteering in JC, Jitesh remarked, “For community service to be the most effective, it usually needs a long-term commitment. This means that you need to think carefully before signing up for many service activities and over-committing, as it may be better to instead focus on a few where you can really give your all and volunteer regularly over a long time period. Good time management is essential as well. Dedicate specific times to different activities like volunteering or studying to make sure that you don’t neglect any of your commitments.”

Ultimately, Jitesh believes that the best reward from his JC life is the people that he met along the way—whether it be through class, CCA, Orientation or enrichment programmes. Jitesh attributed all the fun memories he forged to all his friends who supported him. He would also like to thank his friends and family for being by his side throughout JC. 

Currently, Jitesh continues to volunteer at Ang Mo Kio Thye Hua Kwan Community Hospital and teach primary school students under Cahaya Community. Although Jitesh expects that regular community service will become harder with his life becoming more hectic as he approaches university, he is set on reserving some of his free time during the weekends and holidays for volunteer work. 

Looking towards the future, Jitesh aspires to pursue medicine as he thinks that it is a meaningful vocation. He shared, “I would like to be able to help people when they are sick, as that is when people are the most miserable, worried and vulnerable. As a doctor I will be able to not just treat diseases but also comfort and reassure patients who are anxious or upset.” As a lover of the sciences, he looks forward to learning about different diseases and conducting research on treatments to diseases. 

Jitesh’s powerful passion to serve makes one thing clear: giving back to the community will always be a constant in his life. 

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