WHEN Rishikeesh Wijaya finished his end-of-year examinations on Tuesday, he went home and promptly wrote a letter to his Member of Parliament.
By Jennani Durai
The 17-year-old Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student asked Mr Charles Chong if he could be a regular volunteer at his Meet-the-People Sessions in Joo Chiat.
The teen is among a growing number of junior college (JC) students eager to be involved in MPs' work.
'Given our backgrounds and where we study, we don't really see what's happening on the ground. It made us realise that there are people out there who really need help.'
ACS(I) student Goh Yen Hang, on volunteering at Meet-the-People Sessions
'It shows they can multi-task and are aware of what's going on in Singapore. They would also become more mature. It's an attribute I'd like to see in an applicant.'
Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, on why such experience would make students more attractive applicants for universities and jobs
Schools such as Raffles Institution (RI), Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) and Victoria Junior College (VJC) already have programmes for students to shadow MPs, help out at their Meet-the-People Sessions and learn about the problems faced by constituents.
At RI, the scheme drew only around 10 students a few years ago.
But almost 100 signed up at the start of this year, prompting a selection process to whittle the number down to 30.
At HCI, the programme takes in 100 students for each four-week session.
In VJC, the scheme accepts around 50 students yearly.
HCI student Dileen Ee, 18, had to attend four Meet-the-People Sessions. However, she and her friends continued helping out at Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's sessions even after that quota had been met. He is an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.
She said: 'I felt it was meaningful and they definitely needed the help. It was near the general election, and night after night, there would be twice the usual number of people attending. There were desperate calls for volunteers.'
Many of her classmates who had taken part in the scheme planned to help out again after their A-level examinations this year, she said.
ACS(I) students like Rishikeesh and schoolmate Goh Yen Hang sought their own opportunities by going straight to their MPs, and not through their schools.
Yen Hang, 17, said he and three friends began helping out in March at the Meet-the-People Sessions held by Dr Lily Neo, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC. They began by observing other volunteers and graduated to helping grassroots leaders with interviews and letter-writing on behalf of residents.
'Given our backgrounds and where we study, we don't really see what's happening on the ground,' said Yen Hang. 'It made us realise that there are people out there who really need help.'
NUS undergraduate Kaan Hung Leng, 23, a President's Scholar, had a similar experience when, in her JC years, she volunteered to help Mr Zaqy Mohamad, an MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC.
'I realised that many people have problems far deeper than what others can understand or imagine. The tears that I have witnessed at the Meet-the-People Sessions made me understand that there are families who are greatly burdened and overwhelmed by their problems,' she said.
While detractors may accuse these students of trying to pad up their resumes, the volunteers dispute that perception.
Rishikeesh noted that there were enough JC students involved in such schemes and scholarship boards and universities would be able to weed out those who were doing it for personal gain.
Still, MPs told The Straits Times that such experience would make these students more attractive applicants for universities and jobs.
Said Mr Baey Yam Keng, an MP for Tampines GRC: 'It shows they can multi-task and are aware of what's going on in Singapore. They would also become more mature. It's an attribute I'd like to see in an applicant.'
Joo Chiat MP Charles Chong noted that many smart children lead 'pretty sheltered lives, not realising that there are poor people in Singapore. These sessions can help them develop understanding and empathy'.
Dr Neo said she has personally enjoyed having the students around.
'I miss them whenever they have exams and can't come,' she added with a laugh.