“I’ve been working with at-risk youths as a senior case worker at Trybe for the past couple of years. I first started at the Singapore Boys’ Hostel which Trybe is the managing agent of.
I was asked if I could run the operations and thought it was a natural fit for me. Currently, I’m in the Community and Youth Services Division of Trybe where we work with community youths.
Prior to working at Trybe, I was actually a submarine independent duty corpsman with the Singapore Navy, but even before that, I was always helping out youths as an active volunteer with the Singapore Boys’ Brigade.
When I went to Myanmar, Cambodia and East Timor for medical mission trips, I also had a lot of interactions with young patients. I’d play soccer with them and give them vitamin sweets, and the feedback I got was that I was great with kids.
What attracted me to Trybe in the first place was the idea of rehabilitation and helping out youths. That was somewhat similar to the work I did with the Boys’ Brigade and the Navy where I subsequently trained to be an emergency medical officer.
The aspect of the job that I wasn’t too familiar with was investigation. I had to check up on the youths at the hostel, and they eventually called me ‘Batman’ as they knew they couldn’t hide anything from me. Many will identify with the phrase ‘the truth will set them free’, haha.
Somewhere down the road, I decided to check up on the youths after they left the hostel, just to see if they were doing okay. That was when I realised that they were not doing too well with the transitions.
They were reintegrated into old problems. Many of them were struggling with financial issues and went back to the world of crime. It’s like a holiday effect had worn off and they would start to feel all the irritants in life again.
It’s a very hard thing to explain – they’re really just sensitive children because of certain adverse childhood experiences they went through.
When they start to feel restless and unsettled, the biggest concern is that they’ll return to their old friends and old ways. It’s harder to catch them then as they’ve become smarter; more covert. Their network is also strengthened because of their institutionalised experience.
I felt very troubled and started talking to the Chief Executive of Trybe about the situation. He shared the same sentiment that something needed to be done. After the Chief Executive sought some funding support, Trybe started its own aftercare service.
Branded as ‘Growing Resilient Youth in Transition’ or GRYT; the service sought to provide stronger post-rehab care and support.
I wasn’t even prepared for the kind of work that was required of me initially. It was difficult as most of the youths had complicated family problems that led to other complex issues, many of which were related to severe mental health concerns.
Some had antisocial personalities – or a lack of belonging within the family – so they tend to gravitate towards gangs, while others were unable to overcome that state of perpetual poverty.
There’s also the problem of addiction which is a whole other beast. That’s usually rooted in severe family detachment problems.
One of the youths I managed to help through GRYT had a tough journey leaving the world of gangs and drugs. He had a lot of negative thoughts and went through a lot of emotional difficulties. I actually saved him from committing suicide.
I had this unexplainable feeling, this hunch, that something was wrong one afternoon – you can call it my ‘Batman sense’. He was already at the ledge when he saw his girlfriend and I approaching him from afar. He quickly when back into his house.
That day, he told me that he had a vision of three angels just before he was about to jump. These angels were me, his girlfriend and another entity which he thought could be his mum. Perhaps it was divine intervention that saved him from taking his own life.
The youth is already grown up now and meaningfully engaged in work. He’s also a very good singer and joined an arts training center called 10 Square where he was able to showcase his musical talents. I’m very proud of him and happy for how far he’s come in life.
I’ve also had my downfalls in this line of work. One of my saddest moments was when a youth did take his own life. I ended up questioning myself a lot, then. Couldn’t I be there for him? Perhaps I failed at creating a safe environment for him to share what he was going through.
When a youth silently takes his own life, it means that there was no one out there to assure him that his life is worth living. Every youth needs someone to let him know that he matters, that it’s important he exists – everyone in this world does.
It’s hard to get over such an ordeal, but I think each and every youth I’ve come across has given me something valuable in life. They taught me to cherish the people I love and to be sure to tell them how much I cherish them through my words and actions.
And to the youth out there who feels uncherished and lost, there may be people in your life who are branding you a troublemaker or telling you that you’re hard to deal with. It might feel like everybody is being cold towards you and distancing themselves from you.
What those people don’t know is that you need love, too. And the truth of the matter is, you need someone who can really understand you. You’ll be able to find your own destiny and identity if you’re just take that brave step forward to seek help.
Here at Trybe, we believe that every youth is a success story and we are here for you. Don’t give up; reach out for help.” – Narash, 35
Interview by: Arman Shah