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A Special Getaway to Choose the Right Path
Welcome to Camp ACE (All Can Escape), a unique programme organised by the SPF that helps at-risk youths turn away from crime and gang violence.

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GRAPHIC: Home Team News

It’s a camp experience unlike any other, where at-risk youths, with the support of facilitators from the Singapore Police Force (SPF), can reflect on their choices, and change their lives for the better. 

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PHOTOS: Peggy Tan

Our journey began on a cloudy Wednesday morning in November when we boarded a bumboat at Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Our destination? The National Police Cadet Corps campsite on Pulau Ubin, home for two days to a group of at-risk youths. 

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The youths were attending Camp ACE (All Can Escape), an annual residential camp organised by the SPF’s Secret Societies Branch. Now in its 11th edition, this unique getaway is part of a multi-faceted effort to steer youths away from gang-related activities. 

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It took us 10 minutes by mini-bus to travel from Pulau Ubin Jetty to the campsite, down a twisty road bound on either side by secondary forest. 

Why Ubin? With its lush greenery, it’s certainly a world away from the usual haunts of the youths. And with little in the way of distraction (no mobile phones, computers or TVs), Camp ACE allows the youths to really reflect on the paths before them, and to choose the right one. 

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This year, 19 youths aged between 14 and 18 attended Camp ACE. Dressed in sky-blue polo shirts, they took part in a range of team-based activities and self-reflection sessions. With the support of a team of SPF facilitators, the youths confronted their fears, learnt the consequences of their actions and picked up strategies to bolster their confidence and sense of self-awareness. 

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PHOTO: SPF

There was fun and comradeship too. One highlight for the youths was the flying fox exercise. Climbing a five-storey tower and launching down a 160m cable to the ground, they learnt a simple, heartfelt lesson in courage. 

“From the bottom looking up, the tower didn’t look that scary,” said Jiren (not his real name), 18. With horn-rimmed glasses and a ready smile, he had an easy-going confidence that the other youths gravitated to. “But once I got to the top, I started to shake a bit!” 

“I felt a sense of belonging with the other youths,” said Yusri (not his real name), a tall and cheerful boy of 14. “We come from different backgrounds, but we bonded with one another, shared our stories and faced our fears.” 

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Another highlight was the sharing session with two guest speakers who’d successfully escaped lives of crime and gang violence. As a teenager, Mr Michael Teoh faced a murder charge for a robbery gone wrong. Spared a capital sentence, he vowed to change his life, working hard to start a family and counsel others who are as lost as he was. Now a professional swimming coach, Mr Teoh is also an avid volunteer at prisons, halfway houses and schools. 

“Whatever you’ve gone through, I have too,” he said to the youths. “I know your struggles. But take my word for it – we’re not born to be gang members. We’re born with our own gifts and talents. We only have one life, and must make the right choice – to do good. If you don’t, you’ll lose your freedom, your family and your future.” 

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For Mr Andyn Kadir, the stakes were just as high, but what pulled him through his darkest days was a determination to choose the right path. Now a professional fitness coach who volunteers with at-risk youths, he shared how he’d joined a gang as a teenager and served time in prison. 

“But I came to a point when I finally stopped playing the victim,” he said. “We can’t blame others for our own failures; we have to make something of ourselves. I know you want to change, because you’re here today. Every day is still a challenge for me, but if I can change, you can too.” 

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Youth crime is a multi-faceted challenge that requires close collaboration between the Police, parents, schools and public agencies. For many youths, it’s all too easy to follow their peers and join a gang, out of loneliness or a misplaced sense of friendship.

And that’s where intervention programmes like Camp ACE come in, by helping youths understand the bitter reality of gang-related activities, and offering strategies for change. Here, every youth is valued, and escape – from a life of crime and violence – is possible. Over the years, almost 300 youths have taken part in and benefited from Camp ACE. 

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For the youths, the camp ended all too soon, with a quick bit of area cleaning, a final group photo – and a quiet resolve to apply the lessons they’d learnt over their two days at Ubin. 

“It really made me think,” said Jiren. “I value my life, and I don’t want to waste it anymore. I don’t want to get ‘chopped’, or even killed. I can decide what I want for myself.”

This conviction was echoed by his camp-mate Yusri. “After listening to the speakers, I understand now that I have the potential to change, and that it’s not too late for me,” he said. “I only have one life; I can make it a fruitful one.”

  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 11 December 2018
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