A Life-changing Journey of Discovery and Friendship

The inaugural Friendship Express brought together 50 Asian youths on an expedition spanning Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, in a spirit of camaraderie, cultural appreciation and collaboration on socially meaningful projects.

The FX youths worked on social innovation projects in nearby villages to meet the water quality, livelihood and nutrition needs identified by the community in the Thai province of Buriram

Aspiring apparel designer, 19-year-old Felix Nai, signed up for the inaugural Friendship Express because he wanted to make new friends and to use his design skills to help local communities. What he did not envision however, was how his perceptions about life would be challenged as a result of his experience.

From 11-23 June 2012, the Friendship Express, organised by the Singapore International Foundation, brought together 50 Asian youths from Singapore’s five polytechnics, the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok. It was an expedition spanning Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, in a spirit of camaraderie, cultural appreciation and collaboration on socially meaningful projects.

Over the two weeks, the Friendship Express participants gained insights into the three countries from ambassadors in Singapore; packed food hampers for needy families at one of Singapore’s most successful social enterprises, Food from the Heart; learnt about Malaysian culture through social projects and a home-stay experience; and worked with Thai locals to develop innovative solutions to community issues such as water quality as well as livelihood and business.

For instance, Felix and his team from Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design collaborated with Baan Patairin villagers in Thailand’s Buriram province to create new product designs that would increase their earnings. At the end of five days of ethnographic study, brainstorming and product proto-typing, the group presented the villagers with their ideas and a marketing plan, and conducted a sewing demonstration.

After interacting with the villagers, Felix has realised that the local weaving trade is a serious means of livelihood for them.

Felix recalled that at first there was so much hope and excitement that their group’s ideas were going to rejuvenate the local weaving trade and improve their lives. As a design student, he has always taken the ability to sew for granted, but after interacting with the villagers, he has now realised that for others, it is a serious means of livelihood.

“I am now inspired to be a socially responsible designer,” he said before adding, “I have been deeply moved by the connection we forged with the villagers despite the short amount of time together. I thought I was here to give, but ended up receiving much more, in terms of genuine warmth, hospitality and friendship.”

Teammate Ray Lim, a business and social enterprise student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, agreed. “Before I joined the Friendship Express, I was feeling a little lost and confused about my course of study and future. But this experience has revealed to me the powerful difference social enterprises can make to the life of a community and this has provided me with a new motivation to do well in my studies.”

Leon Ling, who is studying Biomedical Science at Singapore Polytechnic, sums it all up: “The two-week journey may have come to an end but we will take away with us the friendships we forged, and unique and life-changing lessons about ourselves and our shared humanity. I know that when we meet again in future, we will be better people than we are today, who can and will do more to build a better world.”    

Click here for video highlights of the Friendship Express.

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