“Law has been my interest for many, many years. I’d apply for law school, get accepted but end up with cold feet. That happened a few times until August last year when I decided to finally stop postponing and go back to school. It’s been a great shift so far and I truly have no regrets.
Prior to that, I worked in media for five years where I reported on crime and courts, then business news at Singapore Press Holdings. I eventually left to do real estate research for a short while.
Looking back, I think my journalism experience opened up my eyes to the different facets of Singapore that we live in. When you’re reporting on business, you’re interviewing people in fancy offices at Marina Bay. It’s all very glamorous.
But when you’re covering crime, you see a lot of sadness. Showing up at wakes is part of the job, as is interviewing the family members of offenders. It’s all very intense and you get this grounded sense of what Singapore’s really like.
I think that’s why I signed up as a volunteer with ISCOS last year. Knowing that they help ex-offenders and their families, it seemed like the right volunteering opportunity since I’ve always felt this strange sense of affiliation towards this community. This happened at a time when my working hours were more forgiving upon shifting to research work, and I wanted to give back to society.
There was one particular Father’s Day project, where my task as a volunteer was to interview different fathers who were trying to reintegrate into society after their time in prison.
What struck me the most was how determined they were to change. I spoke to a father who put in a lot of effort to rebuild trust and relationship with his family. I also interviewed a guy who started his own company that hires ex-offenders, and I found that really admirable.
Apart from the writing assignment, I also volunteered to be a mentor in the ISCOS Fairy Godparent Programme. My mentee is an 18-year-old girl whose father was involved with drugs.
As a mentor, I’m just another person in her life whom she can talk to. If she needs encouragement, I try to give advice whenever I can. No one is perfect and obviously I’m not, but if she just needs someone to reason things out with, I’m more than happy to be there.
She jokingly calls me old because there is a bit of a generation gap, but er, hopefully I’m not too aunty. We’ve talked about a lot of things, even about boy-girl relationships. When she considered changing her course of study, I was there to listen to her concerns and offered my viewpoint.
The commitment level for mentoring is not too high. We just need to meet up once a month, which is extremely doable. Occasionally life will get overwhelming and I won’t be able to meet her because of external commitments, but I’d make it up to her in the following month.
Singapore is very segregated economically and socially, and I was fortunate to have encountered a lot of people from different segments of society due to my past work experience. Yes, I would recommend volunteering with ISCOS to allow yourself an opportunity to see a different side of Singapore.
Unless you’ve been through the ecosystem, it really is an entirely different world. The reality of what they go through is really quite difficult. If you believe that someone deserves a second chance, you should sign up as well.” – Rennie, 30
Rennie Whang is a volunteer of ISCOS.