When Ravivarma Muniandy worked in Singapore as a cleaner, gardener and bartender six years ago, the Malaysian never dreamt that he would be back as an exchange student at NUS Arts and Social Sciences.
Ravivarma had dropped out of school at 18 due to financial issues and took up blue-collar jobs in the Lion City to earn a living, working up to 12 hours a day. His goal was always to continue his studies and once he had saved enough, he returned to Malaysia and continued his polytechnic diploma. He has since made it to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia to pursue a bachelor's degree in media and communication.
“I wanted to do better with my life,” Ravivarma, a Year 2 student, said of those trying times.
But times have turned for the 24-year-old, who has been back in Singapore since July. This time, he is here as part of the Temasek Foundation Leadership Enrichment and Regional Networking (TF LEaRN) Programme.
TF LEaRN is a scholarship sponsored by Temasek Foundation aimed at grooming regional leaders to take up leadership positions in Asia. Selected students from top universities in Southeast Asia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan spend a semester in universities in Singapore, and correspondingly students from NUS, Nanyang Technological University, the Singapore Management University and the Singapore University of Technology and Design go to universities in these countries. The programme aims for students to experience other countries’ unique cultures and nurture networking, community engagement and leadership skills.
In line with the objective of the programme, the scholars contribute to the wider community while on exchange, including leading fund raising events, tutoring disadvantaged communities, and helping in environmental conservation.
One of the activities that Ravivarma took part in was the NUS Students’ Union (NUSSU) Flag Day on 28 July.
“We approached random people and asked for donations,” he recalled. “This really made me more confident to speak to strangers. Some people came forward without us approaching to donate and I was impressed by those who felt that it’s their responsibility to come forward to help those in need.”
A fellow TF LEaRN scholar, NUS Arts and Social Sciences Year 4 student Violet Ng, also benefitted immensely from the programme. The Southeast Asian Studies major in had gone to Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Indonesia for her exchange from January to April.
“I did community service in the form of discussion workshops at the Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies UGM,” Violet said. “I organised two workshops, one on censorship and one on diversity in society. I decided to organise these workshops since I saw that there was a need for Indonesian students to have more platforms for discussion.”
It is important and meaningful to discuss what Indonesian students thought about their own country, and at the same time share her own experience and opinions, she said. This would allow all parties to reflect on their own experiences and find more meaning in their community service.
Ravivarma and Violet shared their experiences at the TF LEaRN Young Asian Leaders Forum, held at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House on 17 October.
Delivering the welcome address at the event, Professor Bernard Tan, Senior Vice Provost (Undergraduate Education), stated that he hoped the scholars would continue to impact the community beyond the TF LEaRN exchange.
Youth in Asia face great challenges but are also presented with many opportunities, said Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health, in his keynote speech. This is especially true given the region’s strong economic growth, he added, citing statistics from the McKinsey Global Institute which show that Asia is on track to account for 50 per cent of global GDP by 2040 and will drive 40 per cent of the world’s consumption.
“We live in an age of disruption,” said Mr Amrin. “There are great challenges but there are many opportunities.” He added that the youth of Asia are a dynamic driving force for peaceful and sustainable development.
Having turned his life around after his fair share of struggles, Ravivarma certainly agrees with these sentiments. “We fall down to rise up. So let’s rise up to make this world a better place.”