SMU Challenge is one of SMU’s signature community service projects. Every year, the team organises a walkathon finale in the city, to raise awareness for a meaningful cause and to deliver everyday essentials to beneficiaries in need. This year, SMU Challenge partnered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore, Singapore Association for the Deaf, and Peace Connect Neighbourhood Link, an elderly care centre on North Bridge Road.

Mayor Denise Phua flagged off this year’s walkathon and highlighted the importance of giving back to our friends and fellow residents with special needs. Projects like these are built on continuity and commitment, and it’s heartening to see many students who’d be part of Challenge in previous years, coming back to contribute.

We caught up with Alex Ng, Kathy Boey and Lim Lai Ho, from the SMU Challenge 2016 organising committee, for a short chat. What does it take to organise a major event like this? What motivated them to be return contributors to this cause?

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From Left: Kathy, Alex and Lai Ho, after a successful SMU Challenge 2016!

Alex: I’ve participated in SMU Challenge the last two years. Last year, I was one of the volunteers so I got to meet and interact with the beneficiaries we were helping. This is a really meaningful project so I thought: How could I translate my experiences as a volunteer to help grow the event? That’s why I came back this year as part of the organising ofmittee.

Lai Ho: You can really feel the difference. When you compare the experience as a volunteer and as an org comm member. As a volunteer, you help out for a day or two. As an org comm member, you’re involved from the very start. Everything you do can make an impact.

When I saw how many elderly came down for the event, I was quite surprised. It was a great feeling to be able to contribute in our own way. Wow!— Lai Ho

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Mayor Denise Phua speaking to the walkathon participants before flagging off the walk

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Three.. two.. one.. go!

Kathy: Drawing from our experiences last year, we tailored and improved this year’s activities to be more fun and better-suited for our beneficiaries. For example, last year, many of the beneficiaries with muscular dystrophy could not really participate in activities like prawning, as they couldn’t hold the rods on our own.

Alex: This year, we introduced ice cream making workshops, which were really fun. Everyone got to learn a new skill. It was less physically demanding. Everyone had a great time and of course, enjoyed their ice cream at the end of the day!

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Mayor Denise Phua (front row, second from left) with staff from the Office of Student Life and SMU students enjoying the walk on 31 July 2016, a designated Car-Free Sunday.

Alex: The most satisfying moment would be today— organising and executing the finale successfully. Planning an event of this scale was something new for us. None of us had operations experience before this. You realise that the small details, the nitty gritty really matter. Previously as an volunteer, you may not see the importance of keeping to the programme’s timings. This year, we know being on time is critical, so that everything, from the performances to the games, will run smoothly. These are the little things.

Lai Ho: For me, one really satisfying moment was when the emcee at Car-Free Sunday noticed us and gave us a shoutout! We had a big group of participants, all with purple umbrellas, walking along the Padang. They invited us to join the activities when we were done and invited us for brownies. Shopkeepers, passers-by asked us about the event as we walked past, along the way to Peace Connect Neighbourhood Link, an elderly care centre. It’s great that we’re building public awareness and growing our presence.

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With their purple umbrellas, the walkathon participants strolled by with cyclists at Car-Free Sunday

Kathy: Our biggest strength as a team, as an org comm, is that we’re very collaborative and committed. We have a large team so it’s challenging for all of us to meet all the time. We make sure that each team is autonomous and can make decisions independently. When we meet, we share only the most important updates.

Alex: When we started planning last year in 2015, we were not as disciplined or focused. Even though we had an agenda in place, we’ll run late and have meetings drag on late into the night. Now, we’re much more focused. We’ll spend our time discussing and making major decisions. We trust that everyone, every team will make the right call, when executing and figuring out the smaller details.

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Kathy: I would say that my biggest strength is being resourceful.

Alex: I have to agree on that. For one of our games, we had to get rice sacks, the ones large enough for people to fit in and jump around in. No one knew where to get these from. Kathy went out to the market, spoke to the stall owners, and found a stall owner who was willing to give her rice sacks for thirty cents each. She’s really resourceful!

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Giving out lunch bento boxes to our elderly guests, before the performances and games started.

Alex: I see myself as a facilitator, bringing everyone together.

Kathy: He’s a leader. When he makes a decision, everyone will take his lead and follow.

Alex: I do my best. I put myself in our team members’ shoes, to understand what problems they might be facing, what they’re feeling. If we have to do something, I’ll do it first before others. It’s about leading by example.

Lai Ho: For me, I see myself as someone who’s responsible.

Alex: I agree. Lai Ho’s really, really independent. He gets things done. If he says he’ll do something, he’ll deliver on it. You don’t have to do anything else. We can trust that he’ll get things done.

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Getting to know the beneficiaries better

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Enjoying the performances by SMU clubs Voix, Wushu and Chinese Orchestra

Kathy: Be different. For anyone who’s looking to organise their own community project, think about what you can do differently, for a bigger impact.

Alex: Expect the unexpected. Things will be tough. Things can go wrong. At the same time, we had some really unexpected successes as well. Celebrate the wins, big or small. Believe in yourself.

Lai Ho: Be willing to learn. If not, no one can teach you anything. Be humble and open-minded. Listen to advice and feedback. Keep going and learning along the way.

Alex: Looking forward, I honestly think SMU Challenge has huge potential for the future. We would really love to see what new surprises future SMU Challenge teams will bring. At the heart of things, it’s really about the beneficiaries. Whatever we do, we do it for them.

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The team preparing care packages for the residents and beneficiaries at Peace Connect.

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Giving out care packages to the residents, a simple way to give back and make a difference to their lives


Walking for Good: the organising committee for SMU Challenge 2016

The  SMU Challenge Finale walkathon started with a clear aim – to engage the public through walking for a good cause – and hence our “Walk for Good” motto was conceived in 2010. Like its predecessors, SMU Challenge Finale walkathon 2016 is an initiative that promotes the spirit of oneness and collaborative support for our beneficiaries from the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore (MDAS) and the Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf).

It is the team’s hope that this Walk for Good initiative will empower the beneficiaries that they are not alone in their life journeys. SMU Challenge hopes that every beneficiary, volunteer, and walkathon participant of SMU Challenge will complete the walkathon feeling good about themselves.

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