TL;DR: Cho strongly believes in mentoring and hopes his personal testimony can help youths find their purpose in life.
31-year-old Cho Ming Xiu strikes me as a cheerful and deep thinker but there’s something special about this person.
He has a heart for social service but the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) undergrad is not contented being just a social worker.
Cho, together with a few volunteers from Institute of Mental Health (IMH), founded Campus PSY (Peer Support for Youths), a non-profit organisation to equip youths and young adults with basic mental health literacy and peer helping skills.
The youths will be trained by professionals from partner mental health organizations.
This group now has 50 trained youth volunteers who are ready to act as the bridge between friends with mental disorders and professional counsellors in the tertiary institutions and workplaces.
These volunteers will keep their ear to the ground and detect early signs of mental disorders.
Little did Cho know that his passion to serve youth at risks, which he describes as “rational and purpose-driven”, can be traced back to age 17.
His passion was waiting to be discovered.
Where it all started
Cho’s junior college classmate was the last person he would have associated with a serious mental disorder.
His friend was an all-rounder.
He excelled in studies, shone as a student leader and was a sportsman. The kind that would be the envy of everyone, including the guys.
Well, let’s call this person, John (not his real name), for easy reference.
John suddenly stopped attending classes and cut off all contact with his friends.
Cho then later found out from their school tutor that John withdrawn from school due to major depressive disorder.
“I didn’t know what that was, neither did my friends know….we were 17. We visited him at his place and to the shock of our lives, we saw a different side of him.”
John looked dishevelled.
He looked nothing like the person Cho knew from school.
“We found it difficult to communicate with him. He didn’t know how to share what he was experiencing, he just kept quiet. I think his family encouraged him to seek help. We did some research and found out that support from family and close friends is very important.”
Cho and his friends visited him at his place to keep him accompany. Then, things slowly started to look up.
“He became better. We didn’t know that what we were doing was called “peer support”.
Cho believes that his friend is doing well now.
I asked Cho what we can we do as a friend when our loved ones are battling with mental health issues. Some of them refuse to seek help due to “face” issues.
“I’ll ask them to drop me a text if they need someone to talk to. Sometimes they just need assurance. Active listening is also important – don’t just listen to what they’re saying, also listen to what they’re not saying.”
Connecting the dots
Cho thought he had it all figured out in his early part of life – attending a local junior college, advancing to a local university and then settling in a cushy job.
But life didn’t quite turn out like what he expected.
Cho was in his second year of university when he volunteered to teach in Muhammadiyah, a Muslim boys’ home in Singapore.
It was his first time working with youths at risks.
Cho realised that many of these youths had family problems and it affected their studies. So if he really wanted to help them, he knew he had to be their mentors first.
They eventually opened up about their struggles and later on took an interest in their studies.
“The youths did well enough to get into the courses they want at ITE. When they received their results and thanked me, I was overwhelmed with joy. Money couldn’t buy the happiness I was experiencing. I felt like a proud parent!”
Driven by his passion to help youths at risk, Cho quit his linguistic studies in a local university to focus his energy on helping others find their footing in life.
He then worked in a Voluntary Welfare Organisation (VWO) that helps young probationers integrate back into the community without picking up vices again.
At this point in time, Cho’s life directions became clearer.
His then employer encouraged him to further his studies in social work as that’s where his interest lies. It would also help support his passion towards youth work.
The 31-year-old is currently pursuing his degree in social work under the SUSS scholarship. While it may seem like he made detours in life, it eventually led him to where he was meant to be.
Taking the road less travelled
I asked Cho if he has any regrets taking the road less travelled as it wasn’t the first time he withdrew from school.
He did the same thing when he couldn’t see a future in his second year of junior college.
I was surprised to learn that his then principal asked him if he wanted to pursue a new course in Chinese Studies in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
“I went to JC because it offered the quickest route to university but I hated what I was studying. School life was great though, I enjoyed it!”
Cho was much happier studying in the polytechnic. He did what he always wanted and did well in academics.
“I pursued my passion, served as President for Ngee Ann Polytechnic School of Humanities (Society) and spearheaded many new projects. I also had the opportunity to teach English, Arts and Craft and all in Yunnan, China. That really opened my eyes to social work.”
Despite journeying on a long winding road, Cho doesn’t really regret the decisions he made.
“If I could have found my calling earlier, it would have been great but I’m grateful for having met the people whom I connected with throughout this journey”.
Tips for youths who want to pursue their passion
I asked Cho if he has any advice for youths who want to drop out of school to pursue their passion. Like him.
“I’d say check with your family. That’s very important. Speak to a mentor, friend and lecturers or professors. Never drop out of school unless you have a plan.”
Cho is actually more practical than he appears to be.
“It’ll help if you can get a basic diploma or degree that is relevant to your work. If you don’t know what you want to do in life, finish up your studies, get your diploma then go out to volunteer or take up internships.”
Cho wished he embraced the value of networking at an earlier age.
“Get to know the people who can bring you into the industry. Talk to industry leaders and hear from their personal experiences. Some of them might have made career switches so ask them if there are other important qualities and qualifications that are needed to do well in the sector, apart from passion.”
Get up close and personal
If you’re keen to find out more about this amazing person and the work he do, you can approach him at the Young NTUC LIT Learning Series: Youth Career Network Mentorship Programme on 25th July.
Cho has also signed up as a career mentor under the Young NTUC Youth Career Network mentorship Programme so do seize the opportunity to ask for tips if you’re interested to join the social service sector!