3 young Singaporeans came home with life-changing experiences after making a change in others’ lives.


Dusty paths worn into the ground from continuous use take the place of paved walkways and motorways. Gleaming stars in the night sky take the place of glittering lights in city skylines. Potable water is hard to come by, so are clean toilets and air-conditioning.

Many city dwellers may find the prospect of visiting these less developed places unappealing, but more and more young Singaporeans are doing just that to lend a helping hand to the less privileged.

Social mission trips have become more commonplace in Singapore today. Usually organized by schools, religious communities or aid organizations, these trips involve traveling to less privileged countries to help locals. Justine Tan, currently pursuing a Diploma in Early Childhood Studies at Temasek Polytechnic, said her faculty’s biannual Cambodia mission trips usually garner great response. The 19-year-old had the opportunity to participate in the school trip 2 years ago, with 40 other students.

Students are motivated by different reasons to join social mission trips. Janel Boo, 20, has been on 3 such school-led trips so far. Her first trip took her to Cambodia and the next 2, Myanmar. With a laugh, the recent Republic Polytechnic graduate admitted that her initial intention was for a superficial reason—to accumulate Values in Action (VIA) hours.

Janel (first row, first from the left) has gone on three school-led mission trips. Photo courtesy of: Janel Boo
Janel (first row, first from the left) has gone on three school-led mission trips. Photo courtesy of: Janel Boo


As part of the VIA program introduced by Singapore’s Ministry of Education, secondary school students are required to participate in activities that give back to society. This is so as to provide ‘learning experiences that support students’ development as socially responsible citizens who contribute meaningfully to the community’. Students would be graded based on the number of hours they clock in doing community work. The higher the number or hours, the higher the grade. “One trip [would earn me] nearly 50 hours of VIA,” Janel explained. “Moreover, going overseas is always exciting!”

But she has since found a bigger purpose to joining these trips. “With each trip, my perspectives…change [and] I learn more about myself too,” Janel explained.

Another youth who’s no stranger to social mission trips is Celestine Pedro. The 19-year-old student has conducted music lessons for children attending the Don Bosco High School in Teuk Thla, Phnom Penh when she was on a mission trip to Cambodia.

Celestine grew especially close to a Cambodian girl during her trip. Photo courtesy by: Celestine Pedro

“[It was] so nice to have everyone paying attention,” she recounted. The trip was organized by A Call To Share (ACTS) Singapore, a Catholic organization with missions to Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Vietnam.

While she had previously gone on a similar trip to Sarawak, Malaysia, this trip to Cambodia left a far greater impact on her. Seeing how “willing and eager” the children are to learn made Celestine realize how fortunate she is to be able to go to school. “I remember [that] after this trip, I just stopped complaining about school altogether…because these people would kill for an education,” she said.

Justine also recalled a trip when she led a group of Cambodian children out of their village for the first time to visit the world-famous Angkor Wat. “They were extremely excited on the bus. Some of them even got motion sickness because they had never been on a moving vehicle before,” she said.

Justine grew close to the children over her nine-day stay in the village. Photo courtesy by: Justine Tan

She also recalled how she was extremely moved by the children’s thoughtfulness, when they chose to keep the soft drinks provided at lunch – a prized commodity to many of them – so that their families would get to taste the beverage as well. “Honestly, that really tugged at my heartstrings.”

While most mission trips are shorter than 2 weeks, the memories formed during the stay are unforgettable. Celestine vividly recalled tear-jerking moments toward the end of the trip, especially on the day her students sent her off. ­They passed her cards filled with touching messages, which she has kept with her. Sharing similar sentiments, Janel said, “I always hate that we have to leave after bonding with them.”

As they make a difference in the lives of people, they said they also see themselves transformed as well. “To change and be changed” were words that left a deep impression on Justine. ­They were the words of Mr LyHeng, “an inspiring, humble Cambodian man” whom Justine met during her trip. Indeed, she concurred that she has changed for the better. ­The village children whom she brought out of the village for the first time taught her “to be contented with everything” she has. “­They showed me that happiness can be found anywhere, [as long as] you search for it.”

About the author: Amanda Choo



When she’s not dreaming of exploring the world, Amanda is probably either curled up in bed or listening to her favourite songs of the moment on repeat. While she craves comfort and security (mostly in the form of chocolate and pizza), she’s also a huge thrill seeker and enjoys rollercoasters and rafting. Just don’t ask her to choose what to eat, there’s a high chance you won’t get a definite answer.