When I was asked to speak at the first National Primary Young Leaders’ Day 2005, I wondered…

…if the participants – students from Primary 4 to 6 – were too young to learn about leadership.

The seminar held last week at Kallang Theatre was organised by the Young Leaders Foundation Singapore and the North East Community Development Council (CDC). I was honoured to share the same platform with four other speakers, including Project Superstar winner Kelvin Tan Wei Lian.

I talked about my challenges and triumphs and wove in a few learning points and principles of success. And I came away convinced the young students were ready for it.

As guest of honour Mr Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Defence, said: “It is time to believe in the vast potential of these young people.”

The participants certainly showed a lot of potential. They demonstrated their ability to understand and appreciate what the speakers said by responding with correct answers and asking intelligent questions.

I loved the spirit of the seminar as it recognises that one is never too young to develop leadership qualities or to be leaders.

In his opening speech, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Mayor of North East CDC, displayed one half of a huge stone. On one side, it looked like an ordinary rock. But on the other side, which revealed the inside, you could see beautiful crystals.

He explained to the students that the stone represented them. Although they may not see it, they have a lot of potential in them.

Yes, there are gems in all children that are waiting to be mined. Challenge them and they will surprise you with what they can do.

My buddy, Tan Wee Han, is a shining example of a child leader. When we were in primary school, his mother was stricken with cancer.

As the dreadful and debilitating disease took its toll on her, he took the responsibility of nursing her while his father was at work. He sacrificed all the fun time that he could have had with his friends to be home with his mother.

I admire him because he decided to take charge of the situation without having to be told by his parents to do so.

He is not alone. There are many other young people who will not hesitate to do their part for the good of others.

In an email to me, Mr Tan Yap Kin, the Head of Department (Humanities) of Pei Hwa Secondary School, wrote: “You might wish to know that 48 of our (Secondary l) students recently volunteered at the Balestier Special School to be teacher assistants. The experience left them with such joyful and touching experiences that they have asked to go back to help out this December.

“I am mildly surprised at my students’ positive response to this voluntary stint at the school. It dispelled my original reservations about our students’ readiness to volunteer their time and effort amidst their busy schedule.

“I begin to think that some of our students are kind, generous, caring of others, and prepared to play their part in the community.”

I understand that about 1,400 pupils attended the National Primary Young Leaders’ Day 2005. A lot more pupils deserve similar opportunities to develop themselves. I also feel that there are many pupils who need the experience to change their life for the better, but are not given a chance.

Motivational and leadership programmes are worthwhile investments to nurture the potential in the young. After all, it is easier to build better boys and girls than to repair men and women.

(This article is published in TODAY of 17 November 2005)