A team of 18 young Singaporeans spent an extraordinary three weeks out of their comfort zones by building a library, and cleaning, refurbishing and painting a school in a village in India.

The participants were part of Project Khwaish XII, YSA’s community service project from 6 to 26 December 2012. The word “Khwaish” means “Hope” or “Aspiration” in Punjabi. The participants embarked on a journey of selfless and charitable service to aid underprivileged school children in Punjab, India. In recognition for their selfless contributions, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, and Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, presented certificates to these participants in a ceremony organised by the Association on 12 July 2013.

The participants, consisting of Sikhs as well as non-Sikhs, which is in line with the Association efforts to be inclusive and to reach out to young Singaporeans from all walks of lives, spent time developing a library of 3,000 books in the school and purchased chairs and relevant furniture for the classrooms. Comprising mostly undergraduates, the team also benefited of having a National Institute of Education-trained teacher and a dentist proved to be beneficial as they conducted teacher-training workshops and personal hygiene classes with the children. The group also distributed toys and clothes to the children and the needy in the local community.

The co-leader of the project, Mr Jaspal Singh Grewal, stated, “I first participated in the Association’s project in 2007. We lived in a village for about 18 days and the experience of being involved in the project had an impact on the participants. We were reminded of the luxuries we had back home. The kids were not well-off but they were warm and had smiles on the faces all the time. They were very happy to share what little they had with us. The kids, their disposition, their smile and warmth are the reasons I have participated in Khwaish for another three years.”

One of the participants, Ms Smita Kaur D/O Sukdave Singh, stated that, “Nothing could have prepared me for the first sight of the school – it was dilapidated and I could not imagine anyone being able to study without proper facilities, tables and chairs. So I was pretty baffled seeing young kids without any tables or chairs to sit on while studying. The classrooms were dirty, dusty and there were no proper windows and ventilation for the children. The rooms were dark and gloomy. Their drinking water was also contaminated. The cold weather did not make things any better. However at the end of it all, this trip was an educational and humbling experience. It taught me great value of the privileges I have here which children in other less developed countries lack.”

Another participant, Ms Sharanjit Kaur, added, “I have learnt from the project experience that I am really no different from the kids and families I met in the village and from that school. I could have been one of the girls studying in the school had circumstances been different for my dad who moved from Punjab to Singapore as a child. The only difference that stands in their way is opportunity – the opportunity to dream, to believe that anything is possible and the opportunity to work hard and reap the fruits of what they sow. I started this journey seeking for an opportunity to give, and I returned home having received so much more than I ever expected.”

Mr Malminderjit Singh, President of the Association, stated, “In choosing projects in Punjab, we have also made a conscious decision to develop libraries in village schools, as these would benefit not just the students and the teachers in the village school but also the students from neighbouring schools and villages. They would benefit a larger group of people. At the same, the library would be a tangible reflection of the Singapore contribution in Punjab.”

The project was supported by the Youth Expedition Project at the National Youth Council, the Lee Foundation, TriStar Electronics, Thakral, and individual donors and well-wishers.

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