She is now more aware about the poor in Singapore
Nearly 6,000 Nanyang Polytechnic students will be having their graduation ceremonies from Friday to May 12. TRACY LOW (firstname.lastname@example.org) speaks to two who intend to use their skills to impact society
She did not grow up poor, but she knew poverty existed.
She initially thought that it was not serious in Singapore.
But after meeting the poor for her final-year project at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), she realised she could not ignore it any more.
It strengthened her resolve to be a social worker and to be able to help the poor address the issues that prevent them from leading a meaningful life.
Miss Michelle Vong, 19, will be graduating with a Diploma in Social Sciences (Social Work) from NYP on May 10.
She will also be receiving the Ngee Ann Kongsi All-Rounder Award and National Council of Social Service Silver Medal on Friday at NYP.
She plans to become a social worker after completing her university education at the National University of Singapore.
Miss Vong lives in a four-room flat in Hougang and has two older sisters. One is in university and the other is a freelance graphic designer.
Her mother is a housewife and her father works in the IT industry.
As part of her final-year project last year, Miss Vong and six others conducted interviews with 10 low-income families to come up with a campaign to raise public awareness of poverty.
They hope the campaign, called Light Their Plight, will reassure such families that it is possible to break out of the poverty cycle.
Through a photo exhibition, the students managed to raise almost $5,000, which was shared among the 10 families. They were also referred to social services after the campaign ended.
Speaking to The New Paper last Friday, Miss Vong said: "People are not poor by choice, it's by circumstance. You can't look at a person and know they are poor until people actually get to know them."
She realised this after meeting an auntie who works at a school canteen selling cooked food.
What struck her was that she not only comes from a low-income family, she also has two sons in their mid-30s who are both deaf, mute and severely autistic.
She was also living with her brother-in-law, who had suffered a stroke, and an elder brother.
All of them survive on her income of around $1,000 as a canteen lady.
Said Miss Vong: "It just changed my view of poverty and made me think that poverty is something that can be hidden.
"When poverty is hidden, it's not good for the families and society, because their standard of living is being compromised."
Miss Vong also met a single mother who brought up her son, who has Down syndrome and who is now 33, after her husband abandoned the family when the son turned one.
The husband left as he was unable to take on the financial and caregiving responsibilities of raising a special needs child.
Miss Vong said she and her friends gave each family they interviewed a family portrait as a token of appreciation.
She did not realise such a simple gift would have an impact on the single mother.
Said Miss Vong: "She was so touched after receiving the portrait that she broke down in tears.
"She also told us that she was happy to see that there are social workers who care about low-income families."
Miss Vong started developing an interest in social work in secondary school.
She was featured in TNP on Aug 19, 2013, after being awarded an NYP scholarship in Year One.
During her studies, she also had attachments at the Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda) and the Institute of Mental Health, where she assisted in financial assistance, biopsychosocial assessments and discharge care planning .
Miss Vong's lecturer, Ms Jocelyn Tan, 36, assistant director (Allied Health), School of Health Sciences, said: "Michelle is a driven and energetic young lady with strong leadership and organisational skills.
"Michelle's dedication to community service truly inspires people around her. Her busy study schedule has never deterred her commitment and enthusiasm to serve the community."
It just changed my view of poverty and made me think that poverty is something that can be hidden. When poverty is hidden, it’s not good for the families and society, because their standard of living is being compromised.
— Miss Michelle Vong