Friends for Good!

Three friends took the plunge and volunteered in a Szechuan earthquake disaster relief trip.

Chinese YBA alumni Zhou Ji (left) and Tang Zhong Hui (second from left) digging trenches for Sichuan villagers’ new houses.

BY: Melissa De Silva

They had never gone on a disaster relief volunteer mission before, but Zhou Ji and his two friends went ahead anyway. They took the trip to Szechuan from 24 to 27 November last year as part of the CapitaLand Building for Tomorrow International Volunteer Expedition, in response to the earthquake that struck Szechuan on 20th April 2013.

“The biggest challenge for us was really the lack of experience for disaster and earthquake relief activities and certainly not rebuilding houses. We were all worried if this was a task we could take on adequately,” said Zhou.

Zhou, Tang Zhong Hui, both Chinese nationals, and Rebecca Koh, a Singaporean, came to be friends through the Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF) Singapore-China Young Business Ambassadors (YBA) Programme.

At the SIF Connects! Shanghai networking event in May 2013, Zhou met Lydia Ang, a Singaporean working at the CapitaLand Hope Foundation (CHF), who was invited to the event by SIF to meet with and get to know the Foundation’s Friends of Singapore community in Shanghai. It was she who introduced Zhou and his friends to the Foundation’s volunteer expedition to help rebuild homes affected by the Szechuan earthquake.

Zhou Ji (right) hard at work helping villagers to build their temporary shelters.

The volunteers made a two and a half-hour journey from Chengdu to Tiantaishan town, located five kilometers from Lushan county, which was the epicenter of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that affected hundreds of thousands in the province. The volunteers dug trenches, helped villagers with building and relocation to temporary shelters among other tasks.

The shared experience by the three YBAs made their friendship even stronger. “The three of us have forged stronger bonds and strengthened our understanding of each other... Together with other volunteers, all three of us ate, worked and rested in unison, all striving towards the common goal of finishing what we need to do. Through this experience, I realized the impact of teamwork and strength in numbers,” said Zhou.

Ultimately, they found that the trip was about far more than rebuilding efforts. “Not only did we help the villagers with building temporary shelters and kick-start the work of rebuilding their homes, we also interacted with them, gave them care and support, and helped boost their confidence. At the deeper and more intrinsic level, this collaboration among YBA alumni demonstrates the potential and possibilities of harnessing friendships to build a better world.”

Singapore 2013 YBA Rebecca Koh (centre), enjoying a light moment while digging trenches with fellow volunteers.

The expedition provided a valuable opportunity for Koh, one of the five Singaporean YBAs, doing a business exchange programme in Shanghai , to experience first hand the aftermath of a major disaster and the lives that had been affected by it.

Besides the manual work, Koh also cherished the opportunity to interact with the villagers, recounting a session where she and other volunteers transported hundreds of kilograms of grain for an old lady to her temporary shelter.  “Although the villagers had very little to eat themselves, they were very hospitable and gave whatever they had to us and were more than generous.”

Koh also shared that the trip has inspired her to make volunteerism a bigger part of her life.  “The experience made me think about what else I can contribute to society as an individual. It made me really cherish what I have and has inspired me to do more of such work in the future.”

Nurturing Young Business Leaders

The Young Business Ambassadors (YBA) Programme is a flagship SIF programme in which outstanding young professionals experience a work-life immersion in countries such as China and Australia with the aim to develop global perspectives, build international business links, and gain an understanding of foreign business environments.

The Singapore-China YBA Programme, which began in 2004, is organised in partnership with the Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and Shanghai Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. Since 2000, a total of 107 YBAs from more than 60 companies have participated in the YBA Programme in Shanghai, Melbourne or Sydney.

PHOTO CREDIT: All pictures are provided by Zhou Ji, Tang Zhong Hui and Rebecca Koh


Helping villagers move tiles from damaged homes to their temporary shelters.
Volunteers on site at Tiantaishan town, five kilometres from Lushan country, the epicenter of the Szechuan earthquake.


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