August 5, 2020
Photos by: Bryan van der Beek | Words by: Serene Goh
(Photo above) Mr David Choo, 30, champions REACH Rock Steady, a year-long programme that uses music to build confidence for youths through practice and performance.
They’d like to be jammin’. But with face-to-face sessions getting the now too-familiar Covid-19 road block, low-income and community youths who usually access the REACH Rock Steady music platform have had to take a break from “live” sessions.
Mr David Choo, 30, who champions the year-long programme, said music has been a way for clients between 10 to 20 years old struggling with confidence and esteem to blossom, as they perform onstage.
As assistant senior youth worker at REACH Youth Services, he has helmed the programme for the last four years. It attracts an equal split of girls and boys, who range from primary to secondary schoolers, including tertiary or even those in National Service, as well as older ones who return to help or mentor.
“When they come to our programme, they usually take some time to warm up. Using music is a great way to talk about their interests, so it’s a great tool,” he notes.
“This platform is a safe space to learn at their own pace, and not be pressured to perform. Through this learning, we look out for the strengths that they have, and we affirm them. With encouragement and a supportive environment, they start to build a bit of confidence, from someone who’s shy, to someone who picks it up and starts to gain confidence.”
Among them is a 17-year-old lad, who wants only to be known as “Rafiq”, who grew into a stronger, more resilient, and confident individual through the REACH Youth’s Rock Steady (music) programme.
He was clinically diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression that required him to be on psychiatric medication.
“We look out for the strengths that they have, and we affirm them. With encouragement and a supportive environment, they start to build a bit of confidence, from someone who’s shy, to someone who picks it up and starts to gain confidence.”
David Choo, assistant senior youth worker, REACH Youth Services
Then he started to play music and sing, to get away from the things he was struggling with, and found a way to better cope. Music became his way of rebuilding his confidence, as he received counselling support. He has since learnt to better manage his symptoms — his anxiety levels have dropped remarkably, and his mood has also improved significantly.
Serving with the first batch of members of REACH Youth Service’s ExCo, he contributed in planning, leading and deliberating ways to keep Youth Service relevant. “Counselling at REACH Youth Service has really helped me to work through my anxiety and depressive issues that I had in the past. I’m surprised by how far I’ve come and am glad that there’s such a service that really helps people like myself (youths with mental health issues).”
Coaching Kids Seeking Meaning Through Music
Even as the pandemic has necessitated scaling down, Rock Steady still has minimally 10 in its current programme, with about another seven involved in mentoring and informal roles. The programme has had to go digital, carrying out sessions over teleconferencing and trying new ways of collaboration.
These innovations are driven by Mr Choo, who is himself a long-time fan of music, picking up the guitar on his own when he was 13.
“It was something that I wanted to learn because it was fun and meaningful, and it helped me better process and express many of my thoughts and emotions through songs” he said, then carried on learning from friends and online channels. He names his favourite singer/songwriter artists Jason Mraz and Ed Sheeran and listens to genres like Rock, Pop, Blues and R&B. He later picked up the skill of playing with bands, and taught guitar in a private school, before deciding to help shape the programme for Rock Steady.
He’d interned with REACH, specifically with the youth programmes, during his university days. And after graduating with a psychology degree from Nanyang Technological University, decided to continue with the organisation.
“It’s my first full-time job,” he said. “Music has always been my personal passion, and as this program was still in its formative stage, I felt it was right and timely for me to contribute to its development. It was reaching out to connect with them, and I would be able to teach them positive things about music, which would impact them in positive ways, and build a community in which they can feel safe.”
Today, the programme accounts for about 30% of what he does, in addition to training volunteers to mentor youths, working with different schools and institutions, and supporting other community engagement platforms in the sports and the arts.
“The big picture is to use music to build a positive and healthy community,” he said. Now, he adds, he is utilising a combination of Zoom sessions and on-site sessions where needed to link up the Rock Steady community. “We just started trying it, we’re still figuring out things. We’re being enthusiastic about learning something even in this period of reduced social interaction… especially for those we haven’t met for a while.”
(Above) Mr Das, 55, does double duty at REACH Youth Service, managing maintenance at REACH Youth Powerhouse and teaching youth how to play the drums.
Delays May Lead to Worsening of Issues Later On
A drop in funding of between 50 and 70 percent is largely due to reduced donations and the safe-distancing restrictions which makes fundraising campaigns non-executable. It has meant that the organisation has had to cut back on programming and expenses to conserve cash.
Some needs will not be met unless other sources of funding become available to sustain the programmes. The situation is likely to linger, and worsen, before it can get better as businesses and donors continue to face challenges in a weak economy.
“It will normally take a lot more resources to intervene and salvage a case that is ‘too-broken’, or left unattended for a long time. Early intervention typically leads to better outcomes.”
Ho Siew Cheong, chief executive, REACH Community Services
As it scales back, chief executive of REACH Community Services, Mr Ho Siew Cheong, is concerned that urgent needs may not get the immediate attention they deserve.
“It will normally take a lot more resources to intervene and salvage a case that is ‘too-broken’, or left unattended for a long time. Early intervention typically leads to better outcomes,” he said.
“Nobody knows for sure how long this Covid-19 pandemic is going to last, and how soon and to what extent the economy around the world (and particularly in Singapore) can recover. It is important to make resources available now and slow down the impact (‘flatten the curve’), and to avoid too much a slide up the scale of risk and vulnerability for the least, the lost, and the lonely in our community.”
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