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Chase the dream: Aaron Chia

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Once so underprivileged that he had to study at void decks, Aaron Chia now helps youths at risk at void decks.

He used to be the kid who had to study at the void deck below his flat because his single mother could not pay the electrical bills. Today, he returns to the same spot regularly, but this time, to help youths at risk.

Youth.SG met Aaron Chia, 23, two weeks ago after he finished work at Care Corner Family Service Centre (CCFSC) in Woodlands. It was a hazy evening and the buff young man welcomed us into the void deck office that had special significance for him.

He recalled: "My mother [used to] receive assistance from a family service centre. To be exact, it's this particular one that I’m working at."

"I think the lowest point… was when my mum had to work two part time jobs in order to hold up the family. And at the same time, we were having problems with paying off the utilities. We would have to study using the light that is from the public, and also in the void decks," he added with a smile.

Aaron's cheerful demeanour contrasts starkly against the painful times he endured while growing up. The younger of two children, his woes began when his parents divorced during his PSLE year. His mother became the sole-caregiver to him and his sister – who had to sit for her 'O' levels the following year.

AARON AT A VOID DECK LIKE THE ONE HE USED TO STUDY AT.

Besides studying at the void deck to save on electrical bills, Aaron and his sister had to survive on eating discarded scraps of bread that their mother brought home from the canteen she worked at.

In their darkest hour, a social worker rendered timely assistance to the family. The social worker provided emotional support to Aaron’s mother, helped with some of the children’s education cost with a school pocket money fund, and helped the family apply for financial aid.

"That really [helped] my family take a turn for the better," Aaron said. 

That social worker inspired Aaron to become one himself. 

Aaron has been working as a social work associate for the past year, helping to process new cases that CCFSC receives and engaging at-risk youths.

He said: "I guess for me it's how the assistance was rendered – at the primary level – that really struck me. Because it was a social worker from an FSC that provided assistance to my family, that’s why in turn I feel that a social worker from a FSC is one that can really go down to the level of the community and render the assistance that is required."

But that dream had its challenges. Having experienced the hardship associated with poverty, Aaron felt pressured to pursue a diploma with better financial prospects. 

He obtained a diploma in International Supply Chain Management, hoping to earn a better salary. However, after graduating and completing his National Service, he had a change of heart and applied for a job at CCFSC.

 
AARON AT THE CCFSC OFFICE IN WOODLANDS.

Aaron explained: "I guess the change really took place when I realised that financial resources [cannot] really sustain and provide the fulfillment in life. It's more about the passion and about helping people."

Things are looking better at home now. With both children in the workforce (his sister works in an events company), their mother, who still works as a canteen helper, does not need to hold two jobs.

Aaron spends three nights a week studying for a part-time degree in social work at UniSIM. While it is a challenge for him to juggle work, studies, family and church activities, he looks forward to the day he becomes a full-fledged social worker.

When asked about his dreams of the future, Aaron said: "[I want] to continue working with the youths… to prevent them from dropping into delinquency, gathering into gangs, and other things that really lead them astray from the community and society."