People's Association
Feature | People's Association

Staying United in Adversity

People's Association scholars Divya Sethupathi and Lee Xuan foster bonds and promote community spirit in their work bringing Singaporeans together.
PA - Divya and Lee Xuan

Left: Divya Sethupathi is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Social Sciences at National University of Singapore under the People's Association Scholarship (Local).

Right: Lee Xuan is currently pursuing Bachelor of Arts at University of California, Berkeley under the People's Association Scholarship (Overseas).

Even when we are (socially) distanced, our hearts stay close and warm.

Such sentiments have been floating around cyberspace since the pandemic forced many of us to study and work from home. Singapore's relative success in containing Covid-19 can be attributed to each and every one of our people, who accepted inconveniences like wearing masks and maintaining social distance while supporting and encouraging each other using digital means.

These bonds did not form overnight – they are the fruits of the People's Association's (PA) unstinting labour bridging communities and building connections in Singapore. 2020 marked 60 years of community building with people from all walks of life, and our united response to Covid-19 owes much to the foundation of collaboration and support PA has laid.

Divya Sethupathi and Lee Xuan are PA Scholars, chosen to continue PA's path towards a harmonious and tolerant Singapore. They have begun their journey studying in the National University of Singapore and University of California respectively, and are full of hope for the future.

Out of all the scholarships that you've applied for, why did you choose to join People's Association?

Divya: I chose to join People's Association because of their mission and vision. People's Association has a people-centric approach; it deals with the society, the needs of the people. Although my outreach as an individual may be limited, PA will and can equip me with the necessary skills and guidance to ensure that my efforts will be effective in connecting people to people and people to government for many generations to come.

Lee Xuan: It was a cause I really resonated with. Towards the end of my pre-university education, I had been thinking about what I wanted to do with my life and what my markers of success were going to be; that's something we all have to decide at some point.

I decided that I hoped to make a difference in people's lives and I want to help somebody in some way. I think the PA is perfect for making an impact.

Divya Sethupathi

Divya Sethupathi

Divya, you are currently studying in NUS. How has the experience been so far?

Divya: Pursuing an undergraduate degree in NUS has been an enriching experience. While I went in with the mindset that I would be taking modules mainly related to my area of discipline, there were many modules pertaining to other fields such as engineering and computing offered to us. In addition, NUS has a healthy competitive spirit which always motivates me and pushes me to strive for the best.

And Lee Xuan, we understand you are on an overseas scholarship. Has Covid-19 affected your studies in any way?

Lee Xuan: Yes, it has, as I am currently attending lessons remotely in Singapore. I'm sixteen hours ahead of Pacific Time, so that means I haven't been able to attend live lectures because they happen in the middle of the night and it was pretty difficult to stay awake and focused and engaged in class.

However, I learn from this experience that college — and life in general — is really just what you make of it. Circumstances aren't always ideal, but seizing opportunities where they arise can make any experience better. For instance, I've requested for consultations outside of standard office hours, and gone out of my way to connect with classmates on social media.

“At People' Association, your job will never be mundane, you will always feel enthusiastic and motivated as the opportunities are ever-increasing, and you are given the liberty to express your ideas freely empowering you with an innovative spirit.” Divya Sethupathi

How do both of you anticipate putting your learning to good use at PA?

Divya: Through my Social Science degree, I learnt how to analyse demographics, which will be very useful when analysing population changes and trends using statistics to better understand the needs of the population. Moreover, development studies, human geography and environment planning address a range of social and economic issues, hence training me to analyse and pinpoint broader issues affecting Singapore.

Cross-disciplinary modules involving business and finance also help me to understand how individuals interact within social structures, which I look forward to applying the knowledge in my job as strategic and operational management.

Lee Xuan: I'm looking to major in political science or political economy, both of which I think will be helpful in most public service positions. I also have to take breadth classes like a US history course and a course about religion and the secular, both of which I've been studying this fall. These classes, though not immediately related to public service, have also been useful in fostering a better understanding of human nature and human society in me. They've prompted me to think about the foundations of Singaporean society and the things that underpin Singaporean life. I think that will be helpful in understanding the people and the communities I will work with in PA.

Lee Xuan

Lee Xuan: "Me and my fellow international student at UC Berkeley Diya Sinha after our interview. She was my very first interviewee for a piece I wrote for the Daily Californian, our school newspaper."

Speaking of working at PA, you completed an internship with the organisation, Divya. Could you tell us about it?

Divya: My main takeaway during my internship was “to expect the unexpected”. During the planning stage, what seems optimal may not necessarily be the best option when implemented. As such, there was always communication and discussion when things did not turn out as expected. Instead of feeling frustrated or unhappy, everyone was motivated, calm and composed when handling any situation.

Also, my “beginner fears” of the internship were swiftly laid to rest because the supervisors always took off time to explain things to us and ensured that we were involved in all the meetings. The consistent guidance made my working experience in PA unique one.

“I think the People's Association is perfect for making an impact.” Lee Xuan

Finally, why should aspiring scholars join PA?

Divya: At PA, your job will never be mundane, you will always feel enthusiastic and motivated as the opportunities are ever-increasing, and you are given the liberty to express your ideas freely empowering you with an innovative spirit. There is always an environment of healthy competition and challenges which maximise your potentials and to succeed in your personal achievements with PA.

If you are a person who aspires to make a difference to society, then PA is the best place for you. You will definitely enjoy your job as there is constant interaction with residents. The satisfaction you gain from a career with PA is immeasurable, when you see the residents' happy and joyful faces as you work with them.

Lee Xuan: If you want to join PA, do it because you really want to. Do it because you really want to do a job that enables you to give back.

During my interview process, I was told that it's passion that keeps people going in this organisation. I think the desire to be there is what helps us through hard times, and makes any job truly meaningful.