Paying Kindness Forward by Supporting Troubled Youth
Volunteer Ms Tan Sze Wei is no stranger to struggling – or to the difference that a supportive adult can make.
The 40-year-old has struggled with dyslexia as far back as she can remember, but the people she met as she journeyed through life made a difference, including teachers who would not give up on her, and who helped her overcome her difficulties. She is now married with an eight-year-old son, and a manager at a statutory board.
Having made good despite her challenges drives a desire to give back, which she does as a volunteer for the Appropriate Adult Scheme for Young Suspects (AAYS) and Vulnerable Witness Support Programme (VWSP). She also volunteers with other organisations.
“I was fortunate to have some extremely kind people in my life who went out of their way to help. They impressed upon me the value of giving back to society, and that helping others has a compounding effect. I wanted to make a contribution, especially towards young people,” she said.
Sze Wei supports children and youth when they undergo police investigations or attend court hearings as witnesses, playing the role of a “neutral adult” and looking out for their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Because they may not be able to be with their parents, this can sometimes mean sitting with them outside courtrooms before they testify at State Courts or Family Justice Courts. Volunteers like Sze Wei keep them calm and engaged, including through word games, puzzles, stories, or simply chatting with them.
It can also sometimes mean having to rush down to a police station while a child is being interviewed, leaving her husband to care for their son.
“They are my greatest cheerleaders in my volunteering journey. When I tell my son I am heading out to help other children, he gives me a thumbs up,” she said.
Volunteering with the youth has shown Sze Wei that there are often deeper reasons behind why children act out. A young shoplifter she encountered, for instance, skipped school because she was demoralised by her test results. Another teenager disrupted Zoom-based classes because he felt lonely and ostracised by his classmates.
Like her, with the right help, they could turn things around, she said.
For Sze Wei, volunteering is truly rewarding. What also helps is that she feels well supported. “The committed staff members from Children’s Society have been a great support. The training sessions organised for volunteers by Children’s Society have also been very helpful, and I know I am not alone in this journey.”
Family cheerleaders: Sze Wei (left), pictured here during a June 2019 family holiday, says her family stands firmly behind her passion for volunteering