Live life, spread loveMeet Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officer and youth volunteer Captain (CPT) Ryan Tan.
// REPORT Teo Jing Ting
// PHOTOS Chua Soon Lye & Courtesy of CPT Tan
His Instagram account is filled with the infectious smiles of those whose lives he's touched -- children, the elderly and even migrant workers.
At 24, CPT Tan is a Regular with the SAF. But underneath the tough uniformed exterior is a man often clad in a simple white tee and jeans, ever-ready to serve the needs of others.
It all stemmed from a simple desire to give back to society. This led CPT Tan and his friends to volunteering with the Sunshine Welfare Action Mission Home in Sembawang under the Meals-On-Wheels programme. The initiative delivers nutritious home-cooked meals to the elderly who are living alone, sick or too frail to buy their own food.
CPT Tan soon realised that, beyond food, the elderly needed love and company too. However, the volunteers could never stay long as they had to deliver the food to many locations within a fixed time.
"We realised that we needed more manpower. So we got our friends to come along, allowing us to spread the load and spend more time with the elderly," said the Cambridge University graduate.
Word spread through social media and there was an influx of volunteers. The group got so big that CPT Tan and his friends decided to start 1YOUTH, an initiative to build a community of young people keen to serve society with love.
Since starting last May, the society has grown from just seven to more than 300 volunteers aged between 19 and 35.
"When people are united and share a common vision, amazing things can happen. In terms of practical operation and getting things done, it's very similar to military operations."
United in purpose
As its numbers grew, 1YOUTH decided to reach out to other parts of the community. Last Deepavali, they organised a celebration for migrant workers through a tie-up with the Migrant Workers' Centre. Apart from giving out chai tea and biscuits, 1YOUTH set up a photo booth so that the workers would have pictures to remember the occasion by.
In August 2017, they started running a free monthly health screening for children from lower-income families in partnership with charity organisation Sunlove Home.
"We were very inspired by a health programme run by Sanjeevani Hospital in Mumbai that provides free healthcare to kids from the time they are in their mother's womb till they are 18," explained CPT Tan.
The first health camp they organised, which included volunteer doctors, dentists, psychologists and social workers, was a great success.
To make subsequent ones less intimidating, 1YOUTH decided to liven up the atmosphere with food, games and activities -- carnival-style.
"This concept was well-received as the idea of seeing a doctor was rather scary to the kids. We also take the opportunity to engage and educate parents about proper nutrition for their kids," said CPT Tan, who can speak five languages including Malay, Hokkien and Cantonese.
A staff officer in the Joint Operations Department, CPT Tan feels that everything he learnt in the SAF has proven beneficial in his social work.
"When people are united and share a common vision, amazing things can happen. In terms of practical operation and getting things done, it's very similar to military operations -- from planning, recceing and settling logistics to the event day."
The eldest of three children had signed on with the SAF as he was inspired by his commanders during his National Service days as a Commando.
"I saw how they conducted themselves and were doing things with a sense of purpose; and I wanted to be like them."
An infectious energy
Approaching its one-year mark, 1YOUTH has set up a website (1YOUTH.com) in response to numerous queries received from overseas parties. The site also serves as an avenue for sponsors looking to come on board.
The society also plans to expand its reach -- to help with Meals-on-Wheels in other parts of Singapore, and partner kindergartens and orphanages for health camps.
It has been a good nine months, but CPT Tan is still awed by the number of youths who want to make a difference.
"We all yearn for a sense of belonging and identity, and there are a lot of youths who want to make changes to society in their own little ways," he mused.
"Because there are so many of us, the energy is very infectious. Who knows? Maybe the kids who benefitted from the health camps can do something for the next generation."