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One of Us: Returning to Help Other Youths
Mr Royston Khoo knows first-hand what a difference positive intervention can make in a teenager’s life, having gotten himself into serious trouble as a gang member when he was 16.

Twelve years ago, Royston Khoo was on the slippery road to a life of crime, violence and alcohol. Growing up in a home that was often empty as both his parents had to work long hours, Royston found support through friends who eventually introduced him to a gang.

At barely 13 years of age, he became a gang member.

“Initially, we enjoyed the ‘brotherhood’ but the more I hung out with the gang, the more trouble I got myself into,” shared Royston, now 25.

His school attendance and conduct worsened as he spent more time with his gang, meeting and stirring up trouble at video arcades, billiard parlours, cafes and the neighbourhood markets.

The more bored he and his friends were, the more problems they would create.

“We had nothing to do, so we walked around and stared at people and got into fights. This went on from the time I was 13 till I turned 16.”

By then, 16-year-old Royston had been involved in numerous ferocious fights and continued to rise through the ranks in his gang until he was caught for rioting and referred to Youth Guidance Outreach Services (YGOS) by the Secret Societies Branch of the Singapore Police Force in 2003.

“I received a call from YGOS and found out that I had to go through the Streetwise Programme,” recalled Royston. The Streetwise Programme helps juvenile delinquents who are involved in gang activities.

“I was still active in the gang while undergoing the programme. The gang gave me a sense of belonging. We just did what we felt right and disregarded everything else, and everyone just followed. So, initially, when I was posted to YGOS, I just wanted to get over with the Streetwise Programme and live my own life with the gang and lifestyle I was familiar with,” he added.

The turning point for Royston came during a camp organised by YGOS, during which he and a group of other youths were brought to a cemetery and tasked to jot down the names of the deceased, their ages, as well as their dates of birth and death engraved on the tomb stones. To his horror, some of these deceased died very young; some at birth, while some at only 10 or 20 years of age. The tragic ends of these individuals jolted Royston’s memory of someone he knew from the gangs he interacted with.

“There was a gang leader I knew. He was about 30-plus in age. His drink had been spiked by someone in a club he patronised and he was beaten to death and thrown into the Singapore River.”

The brutal incident struck Royston who knew the man. “Just when I thought about him at the cemetery, a YGOS counsellor challenged me and asked me where I would go if it happened to me.”

At that very point, Royston realised that one wrong step in the gang and he could be the next one to be slashed in the streets.

“It wouldn’t matter how highly ranked one is in a gang then. That pursuit became meaningless to me all of a sudden. So, that was a turning point for me.”

In fact, it was the beginning of an inward transformation.

Royston shared how his new-found faith changed him. “It was a very personal encounter. Through God, I have a new beginning, and I realised I am already forgiven. I started attending church, and got the support I needed. There were many individuals, some same pattern as me, and so they understood and supported me.”

After completing the six-month programme, Royston resolved to leave the gangs.

“I decided that I had to make a choice. It was impossible for me to still want to be a gang member, having seen God’s love. Of course, it was difficult for me to leave the gangs given the position I held in my gang. So, I prayed for guidance. I prayed for a way out of the gang. Soon, a miracle happened and someone stepped in to help me out.”

After Royston severed all ties with the gangs and stopped his gang activities, he completed his N and O levels (national high school examinations), attained a diploma in management studies from the Singapore Institute of Management, served his National Service and is now a qualified social worker working with YGOS to help at-risk youths. He openly shares his own story with them, in the hope of helping them see that there are always options in their lives.

The proudest moment for the cheerful young man?

“Many!” he replied, while breaking into a spontaneous series of loud, contagious chuckles.

“To be where I am today is something totally unexpected of me in the past,” he went on to say.

“To be a graduate, a social worker, helping other young people, and being a national tchoukball coach…all these were not in my mind then. And now, they are happening. I get to make an impact and a difference in others’ lives.”

Snapshots of Youth Guidance Outreach Services' Woodlands Centre on an early, quiet morning. On a typical day, the centre is packed and abuzz with the laughter and chatter of teenagers. PHOTOS: Wilson Tan, YGOS; COLLAGE: Mabelle Yeo


Evidently, Royston’s past has helped him to reach out to other troubled youths better; He is better able to empathise with them, considering how he had gone through the same struggles and reacted in the same way.

When asked what advice his current self would give to his 13-year-old self, Royston was succinct, and, in a crisp, calm voice, said, “There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with friends but be wise with who you hang out with.”

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Mabelle Yeo
  2. 24 December 2012
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