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top ten (re)discoveries of being in youth work.

I spent the last two days on course at SSTI (Social Service Training Institute), the training arm of NCSS (National Council of Social Service). There were many factors that contributed to my thorough enjoyment. It was conducted at their main office at Ulu Pandan Community Club – yes, a three-minute stroll over 200 metres – even nearer than walking to the bus terminal. It was great to network with people in this line of work; I was glad to meet three full-time staff from NCC and I think we connected well. The trainer was a former senior pastor of a local church and he received his postgraduate education from (my dream institution) Fuller Seminary. It was great to meet people from different demographics with a similar heartbeat for youths.

At the risk of sounding cocky (forgive me), I didn’t really learn anything new for there is nothing new under the sun. Most of the findings could be researched online and most of the principles could be self-deducted with common sense. Unfortunately, (the participants and) I do not have the luxury of time to do either, so I was glad that this course helped to piece together the thoughts that were already in my head; I declare it so arrogantly (forgive me again) because a lot of what was taught can actually be found in the 70+ drafts that I’ve written so far, just phrased slightly differently. The presentation may vary, but the train of thought and cognitive motivations are one and the same.

However, this (“Engaging Youths Through Their Culture”) course did affirm my calling, as well as my decision to enter full-time ministry to work with young people at this point of my life. I think it will benefit anyone who has “work with young people” in their job description. Here are the ten things I’ve (re)discovered about myself at the end of the course:

1. I truly am wired for youth ministry. Again, another immodest statement (forgive me, I’m on a roll!) but it is what I honestly believe; I am acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. This course has reinforced the preexisting thoughts and mentalities in my head which I have independently developed over the years. There’s no work I’d rather be doing than this.

2. I truly have the DNA of an evangelist. Within hours, I found myself sharing God’s goodness in my life and my journey to full-time ministry to Christians and non-Christians alike. We overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11) and it was almost instinctive that I did what I did – intentionally share the Gospel through my life, by my speech.

3. I truly enjoy meeting new people and I’m not afraid to air my opinions. In other words, I find it exciting to connect with all kinds of people and I’m outspoken, even in a new or unfamiliar environment. It’s been a while since I’ve mingled with non-church people and today I realised that my personality is quite consistent in every arena of my life. I can only be thankful for that.

4. I truly understood why I was a marketing manager in my previous job before I went into full-time ministry. When the trainer gave us insights into the world of media and marketing, I found myself instantly connected to and comprehended what he was sharing. These topics were my professional competencies and rice bowl; it was what I “specialised” in, sort of.

5. I truly am a senior youth after all. Instinctive compulsions are synonymous with youth. I self-declared to be senior because I no longer act crazy out of impulse, but I self-declared to be a youth because I still have these crazy impulses! (And also because I’m within Singapore’s official 15-30 year old age range!) Nonetheless, I thank God for this all-important suppressing ingredient called maturity.

6. I truly relish communicating and expressing myself through words to a different audience. On a daily basis, I work with Christians, be it my colleagues or my youths. Even the couple of at-risk youths I work with are Christians. I must admit that it’s slightly easier to speak to this group of people because we subject ourselves to a greater authority (in the Bible), and often can use phrases like “I’ll pray for you”, or “Have faith”, or “Trust God” as part of our arsenal of advice. I cherished the opportunity to articulate my thoughts with a deliberate reduction of Christian jargon.

7. I truly am able to speak the language of youth. Be it through the mediums of music, media, colloquial expressions or the virtual world, I realised that I could feel what a young person is trying to tell me in their multi-coded and often pseudo-confused state of mind, evidently manifested in their language – both verbal and non-verbal. Simply put, I think I can readily emphathise with a young person and I thank God for it.

8. I truly see myself doing this kind of work should God lead me out of full-time ministry one day. I always tell people that I take working in Grace/R-AGE a year at a time. I’d love to do it for the long run, but if I ever do something else, with the right credentials, this could be the other dream job I’d want to declare as my occupation – studying youths and talking to youths and people who work with youths about youths – what a combination!

9. I truly love young people. We were shown a surfeit of video clips throughout the course and whether I see something spectacular or sorrowful, I’d spontaneously ask two questions – “How can I rejoice with them?” and “How can I reach out to them?”. It could be the celebration of an achievement, the recovery of a failure or the development and fulfilment of potential. I absolutely yearn to be a part of it – whatever it is!

10. I truly am privileged to work with a kaleidoscope of youths. This is the first time I see my clients playing a significant role in my own training and development as a youth professional (if I could lump all of us into one overarching category). Unlike other youth workers in specialised roles (like social workers or psychologists) who attend mainly to one subset of youths, I have the wonderful benefit of meeting all kinds of youths from all kinds of social backgrounds with all kinds of upbringing and all kinds of aspirations.

All right, this post has certainly evolved into a piece longer than I had expected so I shall conclude it here; at the end of the day, this is how I would consider my job, or better phrased, my current phase of life – that it is my absolute dutiful delight and delightful duty to work with young people. And I praise God daily and nightly for putting me where I am. This truly is a reward that the world could never give.

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what happened to “Goal 2010”?

Eight years ago, the Football Association of Singapore claimed that Singapore would qualify for the World Cup in 2010 and subsequently created a project “Goal 2010”, which they embarrassingly retracted after a couple of years, when they realised its near-impossibility.

It’s halfway through the FIFA World Cup and while the Final 16 have been determined, my interest for this competition has hit an all time low. People have been asking me which team I am rooting for and I replied them all the same – “Singapore”. I find it strange (and quite ridiculously, to be honest) to cheer for another country’s colours; I struggle to find the passion to follow any team’s progress and I’m surprised at how apathetic I have been toward this entire competition.

I remember submitting an article on Goal 2010 during my second year in polytechnic for a module called “News Writing”. I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing then-Tanjong Pagar United coach, Tohari Paijan. He was such a nice bloke and was extremely hospitable to an 18-year-old kid on an academic assignment. There was nothing in it for him yet he brought me along on one of the away matches – against Woodlands Wellington. I met him at Queenstown Stadium in the late afternoon and witnessed the final preparations before I hitched a ride in his car to Woodlands, went into the locker room to meet and greet the players (then Under-23 vice-captain Ratna Suffian and current national team player Daniel Bennett) and even sat on the team bench during the evening match! It was a fantastic and memorable experience, I must say.

So if you don’t mind, I thought it’d be pretty interesting to revive something that I penned two World Cups ago. I ascertained then that we were not going to make it to the World Cup in 2010 and my prophetic writing came true – I was right on the money (just like majority of Singaporeans who also found Goal 2010 an unachievable target).

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GOAL 20??
2nd April 2002 | by Joey Asher Tan

The current crop of young players, whose attitudes come under serious scrutiny, jeopardise the chances of GOAL 2010. As these are the players who will eventually take over the mantle of the national team, the fear of insufficient quality in the squad may seem much more real than it really is.

The FAS (Football Association of Singapore) has placed a somewhat unrealistic target to reach the World Cup by year 2010. The Southeast Asian lynchpin, Thailand, which consistently defeats Singapore, is lying at the bottom of their World Cup qualifying campaign, and still without a win. The struggle of Thailand only serves to mirror how long the distance Singapore must journey before qualifying for the World Cup finals.

Recently, Bora Mulitinovic claimed that he would reject the opportunity to coach Singapore. “Think about Argentina. Monday – football, Tuesday – football. In South America, they eat, sleep and drink football. It is their life,” he explains, “Then look at Singapore. It is clean and pleasant, a nice place to live in. But when you find a small patch of grass to play football on, there is a sign saying it is prohibited. That is why I wouldn’t coach Singapore. The philosophy and priorities are different”.

Indeed, his outspoken standpoint epitomises the gloomy mentality of Singaporeans – how many would actually consider a professional football career?

Tohari Paijan, coach of Tanjong Pagar United, states, “Majority of Singaporeans are Chinese, yet the S-League is dominated by Malays. We must convince the Chinese community to consider a career in football”. He believes Singapore can reach the World Cup, but not in year 2010. “The youth are not convincing enough; all they want is fame. Singapore’s young players have no aim and no ambition; they must ask themselves what they want in life. There are simply too many distractions for them”, declares Paijan.

R Suriamurthi, coach of the Under-16 squad, shares similar views with Paijan, “Times have changed. Back in my time, we eat, sleep, and breathe football, and even train up to five hours a day, sometimes training even three times a day. We just want to play football”. He compares this with the youth of today’s football, “Now training is just one and a half hours, that’s all the football they do. After that, we have no control over them – their diet, their sleep – we have absolutely no chance to monitor them at all. The youths think they have everything. It’s not like Alice in Wonderland; you don’t attain skills overnight”.

There are many things beyond a coach’s control. They have no say over policies and procedures. “The education system in Singapore is great, but this system is not suitable for footballers”, Suriamurthi explains, “There’s simply not enough time for training. My players also have to worry about homework and exams. It’s very stressful for them. Some of them also have girlfriends, handphones – and all these are distractions”.

Paijan states again, “Singapore lacks the proper infrastructure. Look at the condition of the pitch. Where is the groundwork?” He also questions the mindset of those players who don the national jersey, “Players must be willing to die for the team. They must put their heart and soul into the team. But where is their sense of belonging?”

Visions, goals, and targets – all these are values that must remain constant. “Jan Poulsen’s contract expires in two years. If a new coach comes in, he will want to run everything in his own different ways”, Paijan elaborates, “If we get a Brazilian coach, will we play samba soccer? If we get an Argentine coach, does that mean we will play tango football?” He frustrates, “Everyone has solutions, but the problem remains unsolved. Singapore is not willing to sacrifice her resources”.

Furthermore, Singaporeans must stop comparing the S-League to the English Premier League. This is simply because we do not have world-class players and excellent infrastructure. In Paijan’s words, “There’s no fight; the English Premier League is light years ahead of the S-League”.

Money will not buy a championship. Two world record transfer fees were splashed out for Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, but Real Madrid is now languishing in 14th position in the Spanish Primera Liga. That is precisely why Paijan places his faith in the youth policy. Tanjong Pagar United have since nurtured highly-rated young players in the mould of Ratna Suffian and Daniel Bennett.

On top of talent and technical ability, Tohari Paijan and R Suriamurthi also stress the magnitude of attitude. Tohari’s players echo his opinions; Ratna Suffian, vice-captain of the Under-23 squad, asserts, “There is a lot of talent out there, but attitude is much more important than talent. Discipline is also crucial for a player’s development”.

Daniel Bennett, who shone in the recent exhibition matches against Liverpool and Manchester United, also reinforces Ratna’s views, “Without attitude, talent is nothing”. Bennett, who qualifies to play for the Singapore team, is an exceptional talent. It is imperative that Singapore does her best to hang on to this colossal asset. A true-blue homegrown player, he steadily rose through the ranks of Tanjong Pagar United’s youth academy. “Robert Lim discovered me in the Milo Cup, and he brought me to Tanjong Pagar”, Bennett recalls.

All we need is a just one good young player to rise up each season. If the S-League can unearth a Ratna Suffian or a Daniel Bennett every season, then there will be light at the end of the tunnel. The Singapore team needs match winners; one Indra Sahdan Daud is simply not enough.

Get the infrastructure right, keep Jan Poulsen in Singapore for a long time, invest heavily in the football academies and centres of excellence, look out for promising talent in the S-League, and most importantly, correct the players’ ailing attitudes, and only then, Singapore’s dream of the World Cup finals will be realised much sooner than later.

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