Is it always better to ‘wait’ for more experience and wisdom? Here are 5 young Singaporeans who defy expectations and inspire others to believe in the power of youth .

What does it mean to be young?

Typically, our younger years are associated with being cavalier, a chance to rebel and avoid responsibility.

Yet, if you look closer, most of the youth around us are stories untold, waiting to unfold: with dreams and aspirations of their own as they find their footing

Here are 5 young people who are representing, inspiring and serving Singapore in their own way.

1. Michael, an independent cafe staff with a mild intellectual disability

Opening and closing the café, preparing food items and serving customers – these are some of the important tasks Michael has to do as he manages YMCA‘s Sidewalk Café independently. Michael first started out as a room attendant cleaning hostel rooms, before serving as a waiter and cashier at the Y Café. Time after time, he excelled at his tasks and proved his capabilities which led to the task of managing the Sidewalk Café.

Running the cafe is no walk in the park. He often faces difficulty communicating with the customers and getting them to understand him. Undaunted, Michael shows grit and initiative by proactively reaching out to his supervisor for help to improve his interactions and also initiated the use of a translation app to communicate with customers who are unable to speak English. This July, he will be receiving the Exemplary Employees Award by SG Enable and will participate in YMCA Proms 2019 as a volunteer for the first time.

2. Grace, a groundup leader who redefines neighbourliness

Living on campus through her student years at the National University of Singapore, Grace realised that unlike her hall experience, she didn’t know many people in her HDB flat. So, she co-founded Friendzone – a meetup for young adults to befriend their neighbours. The team now hosts gatherings in Marine Parade, Tampines and Clementi with plans to expand across Singapore.

“Nowadays, we tend to live in echo chambers. It’s been awesome meeting other young people in the neighbourhood that I have no mutual friends on social media. These newfound friends have inspired me with new perspective.” Grace is passionate to change the way we interact from how neighbours can go beyond superficial ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ relationships to connect deeper.

3. Afzal, an overseas volunteer who’s now an an avid local community builder

After completing his national service duty, Afzal felt that his life lacked purpose and meaning but an eye-opening Youth Corps Singapore trip to Vietnam changed his heart and what he understood about volunteerism. “To me, volunteering is more about building ties than handing out food. It’s about creating connections between communities.”

Upon returning, he saw an opportunity to serve by helping out in terms of heartware, not just hardware where he led a local team called Stirling Smiles to install gates for rental flats at Stirling Road. “Since the gates aren’t safe, they always close their doors and are used to keeping to themselves. My team also initiated bonding activities where families could collectively create a vision for the Stirling Road they wished to see.”

Besides volunteering, he interns at the social enterprise The Hidden Good as well as work part-time at a social service organisation – all whilst completing his degree at SUSS! He shares, “I only started taking action when I was in my 20s, and I still get scared. But I always tell myself that there are teenagers who are doing incredible things, so what’s stopping me?”

4. Jing Yue, an unmotivated student who ends up motivating others

Following Jing Yue’s parents’ divorce, she felt alone, empty and unmotivated until she turned her life around and went through SHINE Children and Youth Services’ school program’s “Start Right” which helps Secondary School students start right after the long school holidays. Beyond improving academically Jing Yue was able to identify her passion and developed her soft skills. Upon graduation, she started volunteering for not only the same program that helped her but also a reading program and took part in outings with students.

She shares the importance of campaigns like 500 Heroes, “What surprised me most is how just a simple encouragement or a little talk when children are feeling down can do wonders. I think everyone can be a hero to someone else in their own way, and every hero is different. What’s important is to have the ability to connect with others. I hope I can be someone whom I needed when I was younger. That to me is a hero.”

5. Asher, a social worker-turned-founder who empowers youth

Asher’s work is greatly inspired by his own struggles growing up in a dysfunctional family and his own mental health struggles. Formerly a youth worker, coach and social worker, he now runs Limitless, a nonprofit that aims to empower youths from backgrounds shaped by mental illness, poverty and social inequality as highlighted in their campaign to sponsor dreams. He shares, “I found hope and got better. So I’m passionate about ensuring that youths can pursue their big dreams and break down their own barriers.”

Asher has a special focus on mental health, something that was once overlooked in Singapore. “Stigma is real, and I’ve heard youths tell me things like ‘when I was officially diagnosed, my mother called me a monster’.” Limitless caseworkers aren’t deskbound and are often meeting youths outside for their counselling sessions, working with other agencies to ensure that their housing, medical, employment or education needs are met, and even engaging them with experiential activities such as rock climbing and songwriting.