by Wong Cixin

Cixin is Skillseed's most recent Gap Year intern, and has just returned to the National University of Singapore as a graduate student in the field of Speech Therapy. An animal lover who juggles a love of corgis with a fear of butterflies, she subsequently plans to use her skills and expertise as a therapist for underserved communities at a local NGO. 

IF WE have to spend a third of our lives each day working at The Office, we should be pursuing something that we find meaning in, something that we believe contributes to our lives and to the people around us - something which you can look back on as a person and say that your time had been worth the while.

I came across Skillseed and, armed with this belief and my ideals, decided to apply for the Gap Year Intern position within the next 5 minutes.

It was almost everything I was looking for in a career. A social enterprise with a viable business model; the belief in educating and inspiring youths to contribute to the community through skilled volunteerism; bringing them to see the world in an ethical way – travelling, adventures, meeting locals, impacting youths –  seriously, what more could one ask for?

Quoting one of my favourite authors, Paulo Coelho, “Important encounters are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.”

You become more and more like the people you spend the most time with – and in this fast-paced world, these people are most likely your co-workers; so choose your friends carefully and your colleagues even more so.

The first thing I noticed about the people at Skillseed is that they are very grounded and authentic. They were friendly and approachable, and were genuinely kind-hearted, but never in-your-face or overwhelmingly so.

Each of them I “interviewed” separately told me (in almost the same words) that “You know that everyone (in Skillseed) will always have your back” and that is an incredible culture that only a tight-knit organization can have. I experienced this culture myself over the weeks. Everyone is always there to help and bring something to the table. Ideas are always refreshing because people can be frank and are always up for an intellectual debate or discussion about ethics, morals, people, lives and cultures – which really evokes thoughts about issues that would not cross my mind if I carried on struggling along in my privileged daily life.

And I think this authenticity and very real family culture is what sets Skillseed apart. Their sincerity can be seen through their work and actions and this is what will help Skillseed to go far. This environment of security and the strong belief that you are loved, protected, and supported enables a person to go so much further than what they think they are capable of. And I hope this culture and values rubs off on the students and youth that we bring on our journeys.

As my time here was too short, I did not facilitate students on a learning journey. However, even as I helped out for a group’s post-trip activities, I could see the impact Skillseed had on these youths. By letting them try their hands at making and creating their own products and showcasing it to their peers and parents, they end up with something tangible they could call their own and be proud of – and these are all for a social cause. And sometimes, the knowledge that they really could do something and that there are people who believe in them is so powerful that it’s all it takes for these young adults to go onto doing something great in future. As the founder of Skillseed once told me, even if only one student was positively affected, it is enough for her to keep toiling to do better.

Finally, the highlight of my Skillseed journey was the opportunity of a lifetime to do a site assessment in West Bali with our potential partners. The journey injected a new perspective of Bali in me, far away from all the tourism. I met wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to causes they believe in and are doing such amazing things for their community. It made me feel like even though there are so many problems all around the world, there are everyday heroes on the ground trying to tackle them – and that thought itself is really comforting.

This is an opportunity that I might never have had on my own and in my lifetime, the opportunity to actually get to know someone local, to hear from them their opinions, thoughts, culture, and their way of life and to know that we, as part of Skillseed, can help to contribute to some of the amazing things they were dedicating their lives to was both inspirational and overwhelming.

It also allowed me understand and experience the kind of thought and sincerity put into designing each course and assessing a partner’s suitability. In a world where social enterprises often get caught up in the struggle of the triple bottom-line, Skillseed stays true to its promise of only working with credible NGOs and partners with real needs that we can meet. This work ethics really amazes me and gives me hope in the social enterprise scene in Singapore.

Being at Skillseed has opened my eyes to issues I have never thought about and I could see myself becoming more sensitive, aware, and conscious. Corny as it may sound, it has made me a better person, or at least a little bit more thoughtful and considerate one - I am forever thankful and grateful for that.

3 months is really too short a time to be here. However, I see tons and tons of exciting new activities planned for 2017 – here’s wishing Skillseed all the best and praying that I will have the opportunity to travel with them again one day!

This place is a rare gem in a world where money talks; I couldn’t have been happier spending a third of my life at Skillseed every day for the past 3 months. Thank you very much, my Skillseed family.

To find out more about Skillseed's Gap Year Internship, visit our community page here.

Disclaimer: this blog post was authored after the completion of the writer's internship, and its contents were in no way influenced or dictated by her former employers or other members of this organisation.

Photo credits to Auntie Sally and the Five Pillar Foundation.