1. A challenge that you’ve managed to / tried to overcome this year
Liana, 2017 Gap Year Intern: Discomfort. Even amidst the brightness of meeting and working together with our community partners i.e. the host of people doing amazing things in Singapore and all around the world, there is also the growing understanding of a reality that requires all these amazing programs in the first place. I'm still grappling with this, and always learning.
Kei, Course Architect: Due to the nature of our work, there feels like there is always more that can be done. At the beginning of the year I had a hard time prioritizing what I should do first, and also accepting the fact that some things would have to be put off . One of my colleagues introduced the matrixes of ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ as a way of deciding what to prioritize and what to postpone. This was really helpful in allowing me to plan my time more effectively (e.g. urgent AND important things first, non-urgent and important things second, etc.) and to come to terms with the fact that one cannot do everything.
Hema, Course Architect: A challenge for me as been always been to get through to youths with different personalities and interests. Finding different ways to engage them with the content of the course can be difficult! I'm not sure how I tried to overcome this but I always try to remind myself that role modelling enthusiasm, awareness and kindness helps to set the tone for students.
Liyana, 2018 Gap Year Intern: Professionally, transitioning from a highly bureaucratic and organized workplace to a smaller, leaner team was a challenge. There were many things I had to adjust to such as an open plan office, a close-knit team, the absence of “departments”, and with that, having to multitask more than usual. As a self-professed introvert and lover of routines (like Fast Food Fridays!), the “close-knit” part took a while to get used to. Ever the consummate professional (or at least I try to be), I tend to keep my distance and be the kind of person who comes to work, does work, then clock out. In other words, I compartmentalize personal and professional relationships. But when you work at a place that calls itself a ‘family’, then well, too bad. That said, I’ve never felt pressured to share anything that I was not comfortable with sharing. There is also a sense of safety and security where you are allowed to make mistakes, and know that someone will have your back, stand up for you, and support you in your growth. But it’s all still a work-in-progress for me :)
2. Community partners or collaborators that you were grateful to work with this year
Liana: SO MANY. ALL OF THEM. Honestly, I've been flooded with humility by the huge variety of people out in the world doing good and so humbled by the thoughtfulness of the many different initiatives that see meaning and hope in dusty corners of our society that so often get overlooked. And not just in Singapore, but also with our overseas community partners where Skillseed conducts its courses. One particular story is maybe a stand-out (though honestly I could go on and on about the partners and collaborators who are endlessly inspiring): last year, when I first joined Skillseed, I was sent on a recce trip with an ex-colleague Xin Er for a trip on art therapy and empowerment. There was an organisation that was going to close down, and they were searching for collaborators so that the services they were rendering could continue for the partners and beneficiaries they had built relationships with. Unfortunately, our plans for a March course fell through, and we had to do the always-unpleasant task of letting our community partner know that we wouldn't be able to work together for that quarter. But sometimes at Skillseed you have to be able to seize opportunity when it arrives; often this entails keeping dozens of things in your head at once to see the possible links between seemingly disparate objects, and this synapses buzz just happened when plans to run an end-year public course in Chiang Mai materialised towards the second half of the year.
It was honestly something special when we returned to this organisation - on hindsight, to the first organisation I touched base with in my time at Skillseed - and ran the programme that we'd been planning for a year. I even found out that they had applied for a grant on their own end to help fund the event, and that they had been holding on to those resources on the chance that we would finally be able to collaborate. My entire time at Skillseed has honestly been a lesson in faith and belief in human effort, power and spirit - and in the limitless generosity we've encountered in all the places we've been. This generosity might take different forms - to date, in just this last month, it's taken the form of 2 papayas, 1 bunch of bananas, a hastily-bought pirate roulette set, a catered and unexpected lunch after a trash pickup event, samples of experimental coffee scrubs, starlit nights in a burbling and hand-dug hot spring...the list goes on! (Keep your eyes peeled for a narrative version about this last list - or visit The Adventurous Fellowship Facebook page for a pictures of our adventures in Chiang Mai!)
Hema: I would say Good Market! Amanda's enthusiasm and passion towards bringing people who are doing good together is something I really admire and support.
It's also through the Good Market that we got to work with Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society and the youth wing of the Sri Lanka Wildlife and Nature Protection Society! Being able to let our students understand how companies and organisations can support different causes is very powerful, because it affects the way they consume, and eventually, how their families consume as well.
I hope the Good Market idea will expand throughout the world so that anyone who wants to support companies that do good in the country they are visiting can do so, easily!
Liyana: SPD and the mentors involved in the SPD Youth Development Programme (YDP). Despite being the Skillseed newbie, I was quickly welcomed by everyone involved in YDP. The dedication and enthusiasm that the SPD sistas and mentors displayed week after week were both infectious and uplifting. I know this is said often but such a truth bears repeating, that is, everyone I have met on this journey so far, from the participants to our partners, have been truly inspiring in their own unique ways. I feel blessed for the opportunity!
Kei: I’m incredibly grateful for individuals and community partners who helped us organize and run our recent Adventurous Fellowship trip to Chiang Mai. Geylang Adventures was our original collaborator when we launched the Fellowship back in May. Since then we’ve come across the most dedicated, generous, thoughtful people and it’s been a joy to work with them. Ko Phyo and all the students at BEAM Education Foundation, Paweena and friends at Trash Hero Chiangmai, Ora and Q who connected us to Nerdy Coffee and the folks at Chiang Mai Municipality, the folks from Local Alike, P’ Pong who shared his expert perspective on the complex phenomena of urbanisation in Chiang Mai, Gai who was an incredible translator and help throughout the trip, Dr. Vail, Taam, Bong A, P’ Gao, and Huiying who connected us with the incredible Dara’ang Development Project near Chiang Dao.... I could keep going. I was so inspired by each of these individuals and their persistent and thorough work, and grateful to get to work with people who are so committed to doing what they can to enact positive social change.
3. A thing that happened in the Skillseed office that made you laugh
Hema: Can this be “made me cry”? I teared when I had to leave HUSK and Siem Reap knowing that I might not come here again as a Skillseed facilitator.
Kei: So many things... where to begin. From Huijia’s continuous pep-talks and unwarranted rants about love advice, to everyone’s character quirks, we generally always find reasons to laugh
Liana: Kei sings everything. Now I too am singing everything. It makes me laugh when I realise, but it is truly an effective (if embarrassing) way of keeping stress down and spirits high. Would recommended regardless of singing ability.
Liyana: To be honest, I can’t recall a single defining moment that stood out for me. In fact, to put it in a poetic-somewhat-cheesy manner, laughter would be the paint to depict the Skillseed office if it was a painting. From uber lame jokes to moments of astonishing incredulity where all you can do is laugh, it is no exaggeration when I say that Skillseed is where humour thrives. Even when we’re stressed out over something, our sense of humour is what keeps up going.