When I first began my role as a junior facilitator for the Young Leaders of Tomorrow Summer Program, I had very little knowledge of the impact and the high level of engagement that both the students and myself were to experience through the program’s NGO project.
Unlike the rest of the YLT program, which is directly at developing the individual student, the NGO project is designed to provide an avenue for engagement, service, and action in the very community in which the students live, attend school, and play. The leadership skills that are developed and sharpened in the Microfinance simulation, leadership cases, and Inner Leader module over the course of the program’s two-week session culminate and find their greatest showcase in the students’ execution and presentation of their NGO project. Simulation becomes reality; exploration becomes application.
Working as a team, the Singapore students were instructed to do two things: promote and create avenues for intergenerational family bonding and document memories.
I am sure that on the surface this seems like a fairly simple task—get grandparents and their grandchildren to spend time together while also documenting the memories that are shared in, say, a photo or journal entry. However, as both the students and I quickly realized, the task was, in fact, not so simple. With such a broad scope and an array of ideas and resources available to them, deciding on a concrete strategy and then in turn all the nuts and bolts of that strategy was no easy feat. And as a facilitator, aiding the students in overcoming this undertaking proved to be equally frustrating.
It is important to understand, as was repeatedly made clear to me, that my role as a facilitator was not to teach the students or to politely shove information into their brains; it was strictly to facilitate—to assist and guide the progress of each individual student’s own learning and understanding—and this method of instruction applied most during the NGO project.
Though my objective was made clear, like the students, I struggled with its execution and in finding the perfect balance between advising too much and too little, especially during the final days of the project. As the students’ presentation date drew near, panic, frustration, and bewilderment were the most palpable feelings in the room, and I felt them as well. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in the students’ abilities—quite the opposite in fact. I was instead worried that the scope of the project given to them was just too extensive and too broad for anyone to complete impeccably within a 2-week deadline. So I adjusted my expectations a bit. Whether this process happened knowingly or subconsciously at the time I’m not quite certain.
However, as I assisted and observed the students in those final days, I was undoubtedly struck by the resilience and steadfast commitment they exhibited. No matter how substantial and never-ending the project’s difficulties seemed, which they often did, these young leaders were never defeated for they remembered their “why,” who they were serving and for what purpose. The nature of the project was such that the students did not, for the most part, work directly with the beneficiaries of the NGO (WINGS, Women’s Initiative for Aging Successfully), and the BOND project, they never seemed to lose sight of their objective and of the Singaporean community they were serving.
When one thinks of service, a laundry list of activities in which the volunteer and the community in need have direct interaction with one another, such as picking up trash or visiting the elderly in nursing homes, often comes to mind. However, service is not solely about action or doing in the conventional sense; it can also encompass a service mindset whose aims and objectives are still set on serving but whose means of action are rather non-traditional—developing a campaign proposal for example.
My experience with the Singapore students and as a facilitator on the, possibly life-shattering, NGO project showed me the importance of remembering my “why.” Despite my frustrations and the struggles that the balancing act of facilitating naturally produces, keeping my objective in mind proved to be key. Just as the students kept their aims—to serve WINGS and the greater Singapore community—at the forefront of their hard work and stressful afternoons, I had to keep my aims in mind as well. And I’d say we were both successful in our pursuits. The students produced an impressively thorough and creative campaign, and I learned to internalize and maintain the very same service mindset that the Young Leaders of Tomorrow Program promotes. Though I was guided and assisted along this journey by my very own “senior facilitators,” the learnings and takeaways are fully and happily my own.