The good that is necessary

10 July 2018 | Education
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NUS Law graduating student Janna Wong is driven by the goal to work with the underprivileged and marginalised

One might call NUS Law graduating student Janna Wong a "do-gooder". After all, she is the founder of a social initiative which runs workshops for the underprivileged with the hopes of teaching them skills that will allow them to earn supplementary income. However, she would rather see it as a duty she needs to fulfil, a good which is necessary, hence the name of her social initiative — The Necessary Good (TNG).

The catalyst for the start of this initiative was an NUS module — Business and Finance for Lawyers. “We were given the freedom to do all kinds of things for our final project, such as writing a research paper or starting a business or social enterprise,” Janna recalled.

The assignment came as a timely opportunity to fulfil Janna’s goal to work with the marginalised. “For the longest time I wanted to do something like this but always felt like I had to wait till I’m smart enough, influential enough, old enough and rich enough to do so but I realised it’s unlikely that I would ever reach a point where I think I’ll be enough and that means I’ll just spend all my years working on myself and never doing what I really want to do,” she candidly shared. Her concerns about accountability and transparency also led her to actively manage the project herself.

The fact that it was an assignment was an unexpected boon as well. “There would be no turning back, regardless of how scared or doubtful or anxious I’d come to feel,” she said.

TNG reaches out to beneficiaries both locally and internationally. Since its inception in October 2017, it has forged partnerships with organisations like Hagar Singapore, Tamar Village, Beyond Social Services and Sensitive Action Tanzania, an orphanage in Tanzania.

A self-taught jewellery-maker, Janna tapped on her friends in the creative industry locally to conduct workshops for the underprivileged in Singapore. However, with an increase of volunteers with a variety of skills offering to conduct workshops, TNG is slowly expanding its scope. They have successfully conducted a bookbinding workshop and are currently developing workshops in areas such as resin casting, jewellery-making and sewing.

On the global front, TNG raises funds to conduct projects overseas, beginning with Sensitive Action Tanzania. From 28 June to 10 July, together with a group of volunteers, Janna travelled to Igoma, Mwanza where the orphanage is located, to gain a better understanding of long-term sustainability projects that would be appropriate there. Some projects include an agriculture project and building a nursery. She is also currently hoping to raise $2,700 (US$2,000) to fund the nursery project.

For the longest time I wanted to do something like this but always felt like I had to wait till I’m smart enough, influential enough, old enough and rich enough to do so but I realised it’s unlikely that I would ever reach a point where I think I’ll be enough and that means I’ll just spend all my years working on myself and never doing what I really want to do.

Janna’s interest in helping marginalised people can be traced back much further than her time in the University. She reminisced about starting a charity when she was younger called “Dollar to Change” with the concept that if everyone gave just one dollar, millions of dollars could be raised to help the people who really need it. Despite her youth, Janna managed to raise some money through marketing this idea which she eventually donated to a few charities.

Before starting TNG, in her polytechnic years, she had the opportunity to conduct paper-crafting workshops for underprivileged women. Quickly discovering that paper-crafting was not something easily learnt, Janna picked up jewellery-making. With that skill on hand, she then went on a few mission trips with her church to Thailand where she taught children how to make jewellery out of materials that can be locally sourced. Eventually, selling the jewellery provided the children with sufficient funds to buy their own van.

Drawing comparison to the proverb of teaching a man how to fish, Janna said, “the whole point is really to teach them skills so they could learn to help themselves”.

The driven, self-motivated individual wears many hats; besides being a founder of the social initiative, and embarking on a career in law, Janna is also a co-founder of an online store, KEJJ.co, opened with three other artist friends to sell their hand-made craft items. This online store became a stepping stone for TNG, providing many different avenues to raise funds.

“KEJJ Co. did six Christmas markets in 2017 to raise funds for the project. The artists of KEJJ Co. also contribute a percentage of their sales to the project,” Janna shared. Crafting is a hobby and an outlet to explore her creativity, she added. 

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Janna with some of the orphans at Sensitive Action Tanzania (Photo: The Necessary Good)

Unfazed by the many roles that she has chosen to take on, Janna hopes to continue to juggle these different elements even after graduation and starting her legal career. She calls TNG the motivation for much of what she does.

“It's really a luxury to have everything that we have right now, to have three meals a day. Some people have meals only once a week and when they have that second meal in that week, they're so happy. It bothers me that in countries like Tanzania; or any part of the world that has poverty; how these people can live on so little. I think that was the main issue I had, the fact that I wasn't doing anything about it and I was just living comfortably while someone else is struggling just to buy shoes, for example,” she shared.

Sharing that 1kg of rice in Tanzania is only $1.20, Janna said, “Can you imagine the difference that $1.20 can make? Why are we not doing it? $1.20 is not much to us, it costs less than our lunch but you can feed the whole orphanage.”