By Low Yi Ern
Yi Ern is a rising junior at Yale-NUS College, and is currently an intern at Skillseed. She is interested in the local social entrepreneur scene and likes to play sports and bake in her free time.
Hema’s interest in Skillseed’s work was sparked when she participated in a community service project during University. During this experience, she felt that her group was insufficiently equipped to meet the community’s needs to create a positive and sustainable social impact, and did not fully understand the purpose of such community service programs. When she learnt of Skillseed’s model of social impact, she decided to join the Skillseed family as a gap-year intern before converting to a full-time position. Hema shares that “it was a difficult decision not to follow the norms of pursuing a well-paid job after graduation. But looking back, I do not regret following my gut and taking up the position at Skillseed.” Whilst recognising the privilege that she had in choosing her own path, Hema believes that Skillseed has provided her a platform to grow and become the individual she is today. Currently, Hema’s day-to-day roles include developing courses, proposal-writing, and social media management.
Throughout her time at Skillseed, Hema has continued to grow in her understanding of how to connect with, and support students throughout their journeys. She recounts the first trip she led with Skillseed to Bali, and how she struggled with her role as a facilitator: “Initially I did not have the vocabulary for facilitation and reflection. But three years on, I now feel confident intentionally moulding reflections for students and have learned a lot about my own facilitation style.”
Hema describes her facilitation style as one that is more passive and reflective – for instance, she focuses on holding space for reflection and synthesising emergent thoughts from the group. Hema attributes her increased confidence to skills learned from Skillseed’s internal workshops led by her team members like Kei Franklin (shout out to Kei!). Looking back on the first experiential learning journey that she led at Skillseed, Hema feels a marked change in how she now runs courses. “Now the roles are reversed. I am not only leading the trip but am also teaching and guiding someone through their first ever facilitation experience, which is crazy.”
That said, Hema still experiences frustration from time to time when she sees how some students interact with members of other communities. As someone who values the kindness and graciousness of community partners, she struggles to express her annoyance in a productive manner when students do not reciprocate the same generosity or respect that they are given. Hema shared that this is a challenge she has yet to fully overcome. Negotiating one’s personal set of beliefs with one’s professional work is no easy task, but Hema often reminds herself that these experiences can also be opportunities to shift students’ perspectives on the meaning of Service and their place in the world.
Hema’s time at Skillseed has provided her with a platform to learn and explore different issues. “As part of a small team handling a very fast-paced workload, you learn quickly on the job and have the opportunity to try new things like creating guidebooks and reading kits on InDesign – (shoutout to Xin Er for the help)!” Hema also compares Skillseed’s working culture to a bubble, where values of respect and support have been deeply ingrained in the company. She shares that the strong support system at Skillseed was a major part of her learning journey, and she was able to confidently grow in her work due to the support and encouragement of the team.
However, Hema’s time in Skillseed has not been without difficulties. She initially struggled with making sure she covered all the fine details within the paperwork that she did, and getting used to multi-tasking when it came to collaborating with others. With the friendly guidance and the collaborative efforts of her directors and colleagues, however, she has improved and become more detail-oriented, while also relying on her team for advice and peer reviewing of her work.
Hema’s time at Skillseed has given her a new lens through which she views the world. She often catches herself unconsciously analysing the power dynamics of relationships around her, and is actively concerned with the social conditions of the people she interacts. Whether it is through her work or her own travels, Hema is always learning about the unique stories of the people that she meets. Hema firmly believes in the importance of respecting every person as a human being, and constantly seeks to understand the journeys of different individuals across all walks of life.
“At Skillseed, you often act as the in-between, and you have to learn to find common ground and navigate space between different community partners,” shares Hema. She often finds herself acting as a mediator between different community partners, and she has spent much time facilitating student discussions with various community partners. Having had the opportunity to work with people that stand passionately for their cause, she has also been inspired to do the same for the issues that she cares about. Hema co-founded her own social initiative, Vaangae Anna, that aims to break down social barriers between Singaporeans and migrant brothers in Singapore through community events. She thanks the Skillseed team for the support they have given and continue to give to her and Vaangae Anna till today!
When asked to describe her most memorable experiences at Skillseed, Hema shares how she always feels encouraged when she witnesses a breakthrough in students who are finally able to fully grasp the content that they have been learning about. Especially in short courses, it is sometimes difficult for students to experience a change in mindset towards a particular social issue. However, she loves it when “ students put their heart and soul into a course and really understand what we are trying to teach them.”
Hema also fondly recounts the unexpected kindness and generosity of many of the community partners that she has interacted with. “It is the love and care that they show you even when they do not have to ... and you feel like you need to hug and squish them out of love. These are the things that I will miss after I leave Skillseed.”
Through Hema’s experience working at Skillseed, she realised that her heart lies in community work. Moving forward, Hema will be doing a Masters in Global Health and Development to pursue her passion in community work (yay Hema!), and hopes to organise more collaborations for the migrant brothers involved in Vaangae Anna to showcase their talents and skills.