Service learning is a term that is sometimes casually thrown around in areas of community service and community engagement, but what does it really mean and what does it entail?
NUSCares is an annual community service project by NUS College (NUSC) (affiliated with the previous University Scholars Programme (USP)) students residing in Cinnamon College. Previously known as Batch Project (BP), this multifaceted service project interestingly originated as an alternative to the popular Rag and Flag, which students from USP collectively decided to withdraw from in 2018. Due to the rich history of NUSCares and the nature of it, being the first service learning project introduced to NUSC freshmen upon their entry into the honours college, it is known as the flagship service learning project of NUSC. This year, more than 40 freshmen participated in NUSCares, making up about 10% of NUSC’s new intake. In this article, we explore the origins of NUSCares at NUSC, the NUSCares’22 project and why it’s special. Read on to find out all about the experience!
Hannah Ong, the Project Director of NUSCares 2022
“Hello! I’m Hannah, a Y2 Psychology Major, currently residing in Cinnamon College. Personally, I really enjoyed my own NUSCares (2021) journey, and it was the highlight of my University orientation experience. Hence, I wanted to recreate some of that for the new batch of NUSCares members!”
The history of NUSCares and Batch Project
The title ‘Batch Project’ (BP) had to be changed as a result of the formation of NUSC, from USP. The NUSC admin had plans to shift away from the notion of having a segregation between the years of study, instead hoping to engage everyone in the NUSC community, be it the incoming batch or the older batches of USP students, to participate in such activities. With BP being a project that was largely intertwined with orientation activities, the admin required a name change before the project could be re-introduced to the NUSC community. As such, from 2022 onwards, BP will be known as NUSCares. Being a part of the transition from USP to NUSC, the project also benefited from more liberal funding and a greater emphasis during the publicity campaign for NUSC’s orientation events.
What about BP itself, then? You might wonder how the original project came about, and how exactly did USP’s involvement in the university-wide Rag and Flag transform into the emergence of BP. To fully explain this phenomenon, we will refer to this detailed article written by the students of BP 2020 themselves, explaining the origins of BP.
According to the BP article, the debate on whether USP should pull out of Rag and Flag began in 2017, during which time a letter signed by members of the University Scholars Club (the club that manages the majority of USP’s workings) requested an online poll to decide whether USP should withdraw from the NUS-wide event and “organise an alternative public engagement performance” for future batches to participate in. While those involved in the debate agreed that Rag was effective in facilitating bonding for the USP freshmen, “there was contention over the environmental unsustainability of Rag”. Furthermore, “there was a general consensus that Rag did not achieve meaningful engagement with the public”, as there was minimal community service involved, and the beneficiaries themselves had rarely even attended the central event.
In accordance with the results of the Rag Referendum and the poll held amongst USP students, USP eventually withdrew from Rag and Flag. However, this sparked the community’s wishes to create something similar, but even better, for the future batches. Hence, BP was founded, its members making great effort to find out the needs of the target community, whilst also retaining the performance element of Rag to put up a dance item, all while facilitating meaningful bonding amongst the freshmen.
Working with children for 2022
Every year, NUSCares chooses a target group and organisation to work with, based on identified societal concerns or vulnerable groups. In 2021, Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH) was chosen to generate awareness about mental health amongst the USP community. This year, after much deliberation and online meetings, the committee agreed on children as the target group instead. Firstly, everyone was interested in working with children – they found it meaningful and important to be able to impact the younger generation when they are at such an impressionable age. Secondly, they were able to reconcile it with a societal concern of addressing environmental issues.
Hannah enthused: “I personally have always loved working with children. With children, we were able to incorporate other causes such as environmental sustainability and mental well-being, through our themed sessions!” says Hannah. Through planning a series of educational and fun workshops with children, they would be able to slip in topics related to environmental conservation in bite-sized ways for the young audience to understand.
NUSCares’s Groundwork and Storyblogging committees
There are two major committees in NUSCares – Groundwork, which aims to have direct and sustained interaction with the chosen beneficiaries, and Storyblogging, which documents NUSCares’s activities and generates awareness about the community through media awareness methods. For 2022, NUSCares made a decisive choice to rid the dance committee due to dwindling interest in the dance aspect of BP in recent years, instead focusing all efforts on its work with the target community (children) and the student community (NUSCares).
The Groundwork committee collaborated with Bethel Community Services (BCS) and Children’s Wishing Well (CWW) to conduct a series of 10 themed workshops with children. Some of the topics covered in these workshops include energy conservation, mindfulness, and living a healthy lifestyle.
Hannah conducting a waste management workshop alongside another NUSCares member
While the NUSCares committee had actually begun planning this project in October 2021, majority of the execution of the project took place over the course of their 2022 summer break, from May to July. As such, this allowed for the incoming NUS College Y1s to join and take part in the respective activities.
Li Jiaxin, a Y1 NUSCares Groundwork member, shared that it was a very meaningful experience. She further elaborated, saying, “We got to work closely with the kids and provide them with guidance through enrichment activities (such as crafts), and they were very energetic and keen to participate in the activities!”
A creativity workshop that Jiaxin facilitated
Certain challenges were faced along the way, as described by Jiaxin: “Matching the children’s energy levels was something we had to contend with. We had to command their attention when giving instructions, because children are understandably easily distracted and start to play with materials ahead of time. We had to constantly check on everyone and help them stay on track to finish the project! When working with children, I’m always reminded to let go of the way that I think something should be done. Instead, I learn to give them autonomy in choosing how they wish to do certain things!”
The Storyblogging committee was also hard at work throughout summer, organising an online two-day bootcamp on essential skills. Newcomers had the opportunity to engage in extensive discussions on topics such as interacting with children, and pick up relevant skills such as photography basics, article-writing, video production, and more. This formed a strong basis for the team to start up their channels on Instagram, TikTok and the NUSCares blog site. The TikTok sub-committee has produced an array of childhood-related content, with one of its videos recently garnering a staggering 21.2K views! It speaks strongly to the passion and effort put in by all participants.
Overall, the NUSCares participants have thoroughly enjoyed themselves this summer, forming tight bonds with each other whilst carrying out meaningful service activities which were also fully planned and executed by the project’s student committee. What service learning projects are you looking forward to in NUS? Do share your thoughts with us by tagging us on Instagram @nusresidentiallife, we would love to hear them!