Empowering needy tertiary students
OrangeAid's Future Development Programme to give out 1,000 bursaries amounting to $2.5m by end of this year
Miss Nur Aqilah Selamat was at a crossroads just three years ago.
She had enrolled in Nanyang Polytechnic's Aerospace Systems and Management course despite having little interest in the industry, after failing to qualify for junior college following her O levels.
On top of that, her father - the main breadwinner of her family of nine - had retired that year, and they were financially challenged.
But Miss Aqilah, now 20, found light at the end of the tunnel midway through her studies, thanks to NTUC Income's community development and involvement arm, OrangeAid.
She received $3,000 in bursaries in both the second and third years of her polytechnic studies from OrangeAid's flagship Future Development Programme.
It was launched in 2015 to enable tertiary students from the lowest income households here to continue with their education.
"The (Future Development Programme) really helped me a lot in terms of my family's finances," Miss Aqilah told The New Paper on Tuesday.
In addition to monetary aid, recipients have access to internships, part-time and temporary jobs at Income and other NTUC social enterprises, such as Foodfare and First Campus.
Also, they go through financial literacy and character development workshops, where they are taught life skills such as budgeting and teamwork.
The eldest of seven siblings, Miss Aqilah was bubbly and engaging during the interview, but revealed that she wasn't as effervescent in the past.
Our focus has always been on empowering underprivileged youths, whose family backgrounds may not be as favourable. Ms Shannen Fong, NTUc Income’s head of strategic communications
"Before attending the workshops, I was a really quiet and shy person, not someone you can approach easily," said Miss Aqilah, who has found temporary work as a technician in a semi-conductor company while waiting to get into a university.
"The seminars helped me build up my confidence and made me realise that I had something inside me, and I could prove to people that this girl can actually do more for herself and other people."
By the end of this year, the Future Development Programme would have given out 1,000 bursaries, amounting to $2.5 million in total, to Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic students.
Ms Shannen Fong, NTUC Income's head of strategic communications said: "Whether you choose the ITE or the polytechnic route, we want to ensure that at least you finish your studies, and at the end of the day, you are more equipped to serve the community better or have a better career path.
"Rather than just giving handouts, we felt there are other important skills that they need to learn and internalise, in terms of the way they work, their relationship with their families, and at the core, their relationship with money."
She said that NTUC Income is keen to continue the flagship initiative, and strengthen it, too.
Ms Fong said: "Now that the Future Development Programme is in the third year, we are looking to see how we can make a bigger impact for the future... where we can add value and make it even more relevant to them.
"We also understand that they (ITEs and polytechnics) have career counsellors and we want to see how we can dovetail to their efforts so that collectively, what we offer the students is integrated.
"The impact at the end of the day would be bigger and more relevant to the students."
In addition to the Future Development Programme, OrangeAid also works with organisations and schools such as the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, Assumption Pathway School and Spectra Secondary School on learning programmes for children from five to 17.
Launched in 2010, OrangeAid is funded by a portion of NTUC Income's annual insurance operating profits and donations from its policyholders and the public, and has reached out to more than 13,000 children and youths.
Ms Fong said: "Our focus has always been on empowering underprivileged youths, whose family backgrounds may not be as favourable.
"There may be a need for them to work at an earlier stage and that might mean that they may stop school and work to supplement the income for their families."
Miss Aqilah is certainly among those who feel empowered to take control of her future.
She said: "Before (OrangeAid's help), it was a bit rough for me and my family and the future was still blur for me.
"But now I can see that I have a future for myself and a path to get to my goals.
Attending the workshops allowed me to know who I am and what I can actually do in the future."