By Tan Jun Xiang (14S06C), Lakshmanan Lakshmi (14S06B), Vanathi Rajarajan (14S05B)
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Raffles Interact, a CCA with an illustrious history of community service involvement. In this article, we take a closer look at one of the largest CCAs in RI (Y5-6) by speaking with Eugene Lim, the immediate past chairman of Raffles Interact and his father Mr Lim Seng Hock, the first chairperson of RJC Interact.
Eugene Lim (left) and his father, Mr Lim Seng Hock
Charles Dickens once wrote that ‘no one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another’. Raffles Interact, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is a CCA founded on this fundamental tenet of giving back to society. It is the first Interact club to be founded in Singapore, and this year marks a key milestone in the history of a CCA that has devoted itself selflessly to those in need.
Raffles Interact first started out in 1963 as a youth service club with links to Rotary International, a global organisation that works to ‘advance global understanding, good-will and peace’. From a small club with barely 20 members, it has now evolved into a highly respected CCA with over 300 applicants every year that organises many meaningful initiatives such as Youth Got Heart  and Dine in the Dark. In a school often stereotyped as being overly focused on studies and grades, it is indeed heartening to witness the empathy and passion many students have for the less fortunate in our society.
It’s a huge difference from how it was in 1982, the first year of the re-created RJC Interact (following the separation of RI and RJC). For one, they lacked access to much of the resources and funding that Raffles Interact has today. Mr Lim remarks, ‘From what I’ve heard from Eugene, it’s very different today [as compared to in the past]. We had a lot less funding, and we had to source funding from our own activities.’ Fundraising activities at the time ranged from the more typical activities, like selling merchandise and food, to the more outlandish, such as ‘painting houses for money’.
Partly due to the lack of resources and technology at the time, many of the projects conducted by the old RJC Interact were on a smaller scale as well. Mr Lim fondly recalls the service sessions he went for, along with projects such as a ‘Mooncake festival’, where the interactors actually brought old folks to RI itself to take part in the festivities. Apart from reaching out to the community, RJC Interact also worked to forge alliances with Interact Clubs from other schools, with Mr Lim recalling organizing a miniconference attended by Interact Clubs from the entire region.
However, the guiding ethos of the Interact Club has never differed across the years. As Mr Lim puts it, ‘Service above self is the motto of Interact. That has not changed over the years. Now the activities are better, bigger, and more varied. But I think the aim for those who are in the Interact Club remains the same, and that is the desire to serve and to help the community.’
In fact, the Interact club, as part of its celebration of its 50th Anniversary, has designed a new logo with the goal of emphasising these core guiding values. Eugene Lim (13A01C) explained that ‘[Interact] hopes to reaffirm our values like direct service and reaching out to make sure that our service is a lifelong service.’ While the Interact movement already has a logo of its own, the club wanted to create a logo specific to Raffles itself. As Eugene explains it, the logo contains a gryphon, an ‘I’ and four circles representing the four core Rafflesian values of Fortitude, Integrity, Respect and Enterprise. Everything however is still contained within a heart. It’s easy to see how this logo uniquely reflects the core ethos of the Raffles Interact Club, starting from the individual (represented by the ‘I’) within Raffles (represented by the gryphon and the four circles) possessing a larger heart for service to the wider community.
Even while it celebrates its 50th Anniversary, Raffles Interact is not resting on its laurels. Eugene explains that ‘[Interact is] heading towards much bigger projects. We’re looking towards the public now, not just within the school. Interact is not just a movement in RI, there are more than 33,000 clubs worldwide in more than 100 countries. Together as one movement, we can do very big things.’ As of now, Raffles Interact is also looking to work with the Rotary Club of Singapore to plan new projects, given that this coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the global Interact movement. This is no doubt good news for the many beneficiaries out there which the Club is committed to helping. Indeed, it’s not just the wider community that benefits from Raffles Interact. For many Interactors, Interact represents a truly unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Kenny Goh (4R), the current chairperson of the Interact Club in RI Year 1–4, affirms this. ‘Interact is not merely a CCA for me. [It is] a platform for me to learn and understand about the world outside. Interact allowed me to see that in this world today, there are always many things more important than academic results, material wealth and luxury.’
Despite everything, it is worth noting that being in Interact is not all fun and games. The commitment and workload can be intensely high, especially during key events like Youth Got Heart which has thousands of attendees. In addition to general meetings, Interactors take part in weekly service sessions where they help out at a chosen Voluntary Welfare Organisation (VWO). On such days, Interactors may reach home at 10pm or even later. Certainly, this is not a commitment for the faint-hearted.
Not everything within the CCA has been smooth sailing so far either. Raffles Interact has faced its fair share of criticism, with cynics questioning the motives of some Rafflesians who join Interact. Indeed, there have been allegations of students joining the CCA to ‘pad’ their resumes and fulfil certain Raffles Diploma requirements. In response to this, Eugene acknowledged that there are certainly people who do this. However, he viewed service to be a transformative experience.
Whatever their initial motives, by doing service for the community, these people would still end up discovering the larger meaning behind their work in the end.
Looking back on his Interact experience, Eugene summed up his Interact experience with a quote from the CEO of Mercy Relief: ‘sometimes it’s good to feel bad.’ For him, ‘we are not supposed to feel great or feel that we changed the world. I think a lot of us like to change the world. But actually the world changes us more than we change it. After we do service we realise that there is still a lot more that is yet to be done and that is why we don’t feel satisfied. We do the little bits that we can. It’s not when times are good and things are easy that we do service, but it’s about really serving where there is the need for it.’
1. An annual event where Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) from across Singapore set up booths to advertise their respective causes, attracting youths who go there looking for a cause to serve in.