There are several defining characteristics of being an SMU kid and chief among them is dealing with the importance placed on class part, and the completion of a ten-week internship in order to graduate. Another crucial aspect of the SMU life would be the need to fulfill some 80 hours of community service – something that is often griped about by students. But fret not, freshies! There are plenty of ways that you can clear your CSP requirements, such as through CSP camps, overseas CSPs, or even local ones. I’ve had many friends who cleared their 80 hours even before school started by attending various CSP camps.
It’s easy to see this CSP requirement as a chore and thus lose sight of the true meaning of doing community service. When I first enrolled in SMU, I didn’t attend any CSP camps and my inertia to sign up for an OCSP was rather high.
At that time, an OCSP seemed to be the one of the coolest things you could be a part of during university life, and each time I saw people carrying out fundraisers around school for their OCSPs, I found myself chiding my not taking the plunge to go on an OCSP. Instead, I had chosen to sign for a local CSP with SMU’s BP Mentoring, in the hopes of clearing my hours as soon as possible.
Looking back, that decision turned out to be one of the best I have made thus far in my SMU journey. As part of the CSP, we had to go down to a Family Service Center once every week and teach tuition to underprivileged children. A few of us were assigned to a group of Primary 5 children, and we were to tutor them in Math and English.
The children we were mentoring certainly were not the easiest to handle, especially with their short attention spans. But as we planned activities for them in light of Children’s Day and saw them increasingly over the weeks, I felt a bond slowly forming between the children and us. I found myself coming out from the local CSP feeling humbled and more appreciative of what I had experienced. Most of the children came from underprivileged backgrounds, and they didn’t have much in the way of money. Despite that, they were cheerful and always ready to learn with a smile. Hanging out with them every week also helped many of us to take a breather from our hectic school life and relive the innocence of our childhood.
After my stint with BP Mentoring, I decided to join another local CSP, Passion for Compassion, organized by the School of Social Sciences. I took on this CSP not without hesitation and anticipation, because the beneficiary was the Institute of Mental Health (IMH). Most of us don’t come into contact with psychiatric patients, let alone be in a room with them. As volunteers, our task was to interact with the stable elderly patients and accompany them.
I vividly remember my very first session at the ward: I was completely overwhelmed by the experience and it didn’t help very much that the supervisor told us some volunteers broke down into tears after their first session. But as with all things, I slowly got used to it and came out of the ward surprising myself that I didn’t feel fear towards the people I was interacting with. From then on, we started to be able to have fun with the patients every week, playing Monopoly, coloring pictures, and sometimes playing ball with them. The patients enjoyed our company so much that they often asked when we would return to see them again, and some of them even expressed sadness during our last session.
The biggest takeaway I had from this CSP was how the patients were just as normal as any of us were – and that all they wanted was company and someone to talk to. It also was a learning point for me in that I realised that people with mental illnesses are often unfairly stigmatized by the general public, and most of us shun them and give them a wide berth if we come across them in public. Through my interactions with them, I realised that deep down, they desire to be like every other person, and have friends who won’t ostracise them for something they cannot help.
I'm in my final year now, and I don’t regret not signing up for an OCSP anymore. Yes, OCSPs provide a great opportunity to make new friends and help out underprivileged communities, but CSPs do exact same thing, and in this society too. Many sectors of society often fall through the cracks and are overlooked on a regular basis, so I’m extremely thankful that the two wonderful local CSPs that I was a part of taught me a lot. I have learned plenty about myself than I ever could have just sitting in a classroom, so don’t see the 80-hour CSP requirement as a chore! Embrace it and you will gain the most out of it.