Although the majority of people here (and even abroad) now seem to understand the beauty and magic of the Youth Olympics, there might still be others who do not understand or miss the point of Singapore hosting the Games.

But rather than me attempting to explain, I thought it would be better if someone else did it. Particularly someone who sees the benefits first hand. This is an email I received recently, which is fairly lengthy, but fully worth reading.

After a year of  preparation 22 youths from more than 250 finally made it to the Youth Olympic Village as Community Project Facilitators in-charge of Circus Arts.

Dressed in an official purple polo tee and smart khaki pants, these youths conducted themselves respectably as Singapore’s ambassadors to their peers from the rest of the world. We could not help feeling really proud of them as they stretched out their hands to introduce themselves followed by “Where are you from and what’s your sport?” They mingled confidently with the crowd and not for a moment would anyone realize  that they are youths-at-risk who had once gotten into trouble of sorts.

Over the last year, we have been offering  students and youths from residential settings the opportunity to serve as a Community Project Facilitator for the Youth Olympics. Eventually, these 22 gathered from a couple of schools, the Bukit Ho Swee neighbourhood and the Muhammadiyah Welfare Home stuck to the regular training where they reached a level of competency that enables them to instruct others. At the village, they  showed the athletes how to juggle, spin a plate, throw a diablo, lift  devil sticks and swing a poi. In the process they were to reinforce the Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship.

PM tries it out

It wasn't just athletes that the volunteers taught! 🙂

The idea of reinforcing the Olympic values sounds real nice but can it really be done?

Here are a couple of exchanges between the athletes and our youths and you decide if the idea succeeded:

A  16 year old Israeli basketball player got our youths thinking what it means to persevere for excellence when he shared that he had lived through 2 wars. When asked how he did it, this 16 year old simply shrugged his shoulders and said that he just focused on what he had control over and that was basketball. Our Muslim youths listened respectfully while encouraging him as he fiddled with the diablo. The basketball player was definitely comfortable in the company of our youths and soon they were laughing and gently teasing each other like a bunch of teenagers hanging out.

Another athlete from Yemen could not speak a word of English but she enthusiastically wanted to try out every skill we were imparting. While enthusiastic she was rather self-conscious about her inability to verbally communicate with our youths but she eased up immediately when one of our youths greeted her with the traditional Muslim greeting  Assalamu Alilkum or may god’s peace, mercy and blessings be with you.  Somehow, despite the differences, our youths found a way to find something similar to reach out to these athletes from different lands. Amidst the falling plates and juggling balls rolling all over the place, excellence, respect and friendship stood their ground.

Perhaps being in the company of champions brought out the champion in our youths. Working alongside them, greeting and speaking with the athletes was Yumilka Ruiz Luaces, a 4 time Olympian who has won 2 gold medals and 1 bronze as the Captain of the Cuban women’s volleyball team. Whatever it was, The Youth Olympics has won over these 22 youths whom a year ago could not imagine playing a role in an international event. They are now glad that they hung on and are now eagerly looking forward to their final round of duty this Sunday.

Three cheers to excellence, respect and friendship!

Thank you Gerard, and kudos to your 22 volunteers for making this all worth it.