From caring for her sister to creating a caring society, Charmaine Ong, a Year 2 Business Student at NTU is combining her interest in business analytics with her passion for social work.
Caring for a loved one living with a mental health issue can be challenging. However, for 21-year old Charmaine Ong Chen Hui, it gave her purpose, clarity and has led to her wanting to improve the lives of others in similar situations.
When her sister was diagnosed with depression and anxiety a few years ago, Charmaine took on caregiving duties at home. Their mother was working full-time, and their father worked overseas.
Back then, Charmaine was pursuing a Diploma in Business Administration at Singapore Polytechnic (SP). She had to balance the rigours of her studies along with the constant worry for her sister’s well-being.
Solidifying personal and career goals
Charmaine says that she has always wanted to help and do more for others. “It is hard to explain the feeling, but it makes me happy to see others happy,” she says.
Having a keen interest in Mathematics and problem solving since young, Charmaine decided to pursue a degree in Business, with an intention to specialise in Operations. Now a Year 2 Business student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), she hopes to combine her interest in business analytics – which she developed in her polytechnic days, with her innate passion for helping others.
“I was intrigued with the whole notion of generating solutions using data, and how data can be processed in a meaningful way to generate useful conclusions, Charmaine says. “I thought to myself, are there ways in which I can contribute to the society through my analytical capabilities?”
Back in SP, Charmaine had taken up an additional certification in Applied Psychology, through the Diploma-Plus Certificate Programme. A self-professed introvert, she wanted to step out of her comfort zone and pick up skills that would be useful in the social service sector. “I wanted to learn how to be a better listener, and how can I respond meaningfully and help those in distress to navigate any challenging episodes.”
Along the way, Charmaine met several teachers and mentors who cemented her resolve to pursue a career in the social service sector. One of them was Ms Kelly Kan, her lecturer for one of the Psychology modules Charmaine enrolled in at SP.
Charmaine reached out to Ms Kan for advice on how to support her sister, and saw how Ms Kan readily offered a helping hand by researching coping strategies to adopt.
“It was not her job, but she was always on ‘standby’ and replied my texts, even at odd timings. She was very willing to help out, and that really showed her empathy and commitment,” Charmaine says. “This is the kind of person I want to be, a person who will help anyone in need.”
Embracing new beginnings
In 2021, Charmaine applied for, and was offered the Singapore-Industry Scholarship (SgIS), a multi-industry scholarship offered by over 70 sponsoring organisations across a wide range of industries.
“As an undergraduate who is keen on a career in the social service sector, I felt that the SgIS would bring me one step closer through the internships, mentorship and peer interactions that I will get to experience,” says Charmaine. She received the scholarship from National Council of Social Service (NCSS).
Charmaine (middle row, extreme right) meeting with her fellow SgIS scholars during a virtual orientation session.
SgIS scholars have the opportunity to participate in at least one internship programme with the sponsoring organisation, which Charmaine is particularly looking forward to.
“In school, we focus on the theoretical approach of how businesses are run, but there are skills like adaptability and effective communication that can only be gained from actual work experience,” says Charmaine, who is particularly interested in the areas of mental health, family support services, and supporting people with hearing loss. “I would definitely want to acquire experience on the ground before I am confident enough to propose solutions for the community.”
Recently, for a university project, Charmaine’s group decided to develop a machine-learning algorithm to generate insights from data collected from Myanmar’s healthcare system. This would potentially help non-profit organisations to better utilise and direct their resources and efforts.
“It has definitely given me a clearer picture on the various ways I can combine my business knowledge and my passion to do something good,” she says.
Creating impact beyond her circle
Beyond her career aspirations, Charmaine sees her family members as role models who have shaped her beliefs and ideals.
She says that her sense of responsibility and discipline comes from her father, who has been working overseas to make ends meet for the last 20 years. She saw how strong and resilient her mother was in raising two children while holding a full-time job. Most of all, she admired her sister’s tenacity as she stayed on the journey of recovery to get better for her loved ones.
“It has never been easy, but they really inspire me to want to be a better person,” she says.
Charmaine’s volunteering experiences in school has also made her more aware of the different needs of communities in Singapore. At NTU, she is a member of Camp Outreach, a volunteer group that organise events and activities overseas for youths with hearing impairment. Even with the constraints of COVID-19, the group still organised a camp for the beneficiaries to grow a stronger identity within the community.
Charmaine (extreme right) pictured with her activity group at an event organized by Camp Outreach, a student initiative from NTU that engages the local Deaf community.
“Mindsets can change through experiences,” she says. “It really opened up my eyes to how our society can be more inclusive, and it starts from each and every individual to be more empathetic and understanding towards each other.
As she embarks on this life-changing journey, she constantly reminds herself about her mission, “to be part of a legacy and spread positive impact beyond my family to the wider community.”
To Charmaine, her life experiences and education journey to date has opened her eyes – not only to real-world issues that others are facing, but also the importance of applying your knowledge and skills to benefit your community.
For more stories about individuals using their knowledge and skills to make a difference, check out:
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