Kevin Wee, 26, once overheard one of his brother’s friends, a usually bubbly and happy boy, say after receiving his PSLE grades: “My life is over”. He remembered thinking that no 12-year-old should feel this way.
Unfortunately, Kevin faced a similar experience during his ‘A’ levels. During his maths paper, Kevin experienced a mental block and ended up handing in a blank paper. After this, he continued to struggle through the rest of his papers, which triggered the start of his depression. After his exams in December 2012, Kevin was hospitalised as he could no longer control his suicidal thoughts.
After recovering with the help of medication and support from family and friends, Kevin wanted to fill the space that his depression had left and was inclined to find opportunities to help others experiencing the same struggles.
“That shifted my whole paradigm of life,” says Kevin.
With zero experience and nothing but a passion and willingness to learn, Kevin became a freelance trainer, starting out as a facilitator for programmes where he helped out main trainers and then progressed to become a lead trainer.
During his freelance work when he was 20, Kevin’s mentor encouraged him to write his dreams in a journal. His love for training prompted him to make a goal of starting a training company by 27. In April 2019, at just 24, he achieved his dream.
In November 2018, Kevin Wee and his group mates came up with the campaign, Rebound With Resilience, for their Final Year Project in NTU, aiming to build the resilience of students in schools.
It was only after graduating that Kevin decided to continue this venture alone, officially setting up the social enterprise in April 2019.
Aims to improve mental health
Whilst conducting training sessions, Kevin had noticed the lack of follow up, as most of these programmes tend to be one-off sessions. He also noticed a lack in niche programmes in resilience and mental wellness.
“No one talks about failure unfortunately, that’s sad because failure is the birthplace of creativity, of innovation.”
“We stigmatise it, we punish failure. So, I wanted to create a company dedicated to (changing that mindset towards failure),” says Kevin.
Kevin now has three programmes, focusing on building resilience and awareness of mental health, particularly in students. Resilience Retold is an assembly talk utilising storytelling to encourage attitude changes.
Rise with Resilience, a class-based programme, aims to raise students’ understanding of resilience and help them to create a more resilient mindset as well as habits such as journaling and learning to respond, and not react to stressors.
Lastly, Resilient Bonds, a three-part workshop, aims to have students become more aware of mental health and how they can help to support their peers, for example, through strategies to resolve conflicts and reserving judgement.
Working with people with disabilities
Rebound with Resilience does not only advocate for mental health but also people with disabilities.
Kevin had met up with a friend who founded the training company Glow in the Dark, which offers enrichment workshops and talks fully and independently conducted by Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). However, due to certain factors, his friend was unable to run it as frequently, and Kevin started to take over the role.
Kevin says: “He was very kind. His priority wasn’t himself, he wanted all the value to go to the speakers. So when I asked if I could work with them, there was no hesitation on his part. I am grateful for that”.
“I got in touch with the speakers individually and they were open to doing training for Rebound with Resilience,” Kevin adds.
One of his speakers is 34-year-old Zahier Bin Samad. At 19, Zahier underwent retinal displacement, which caused him to lose majority of his sight. He now mainly only sees light.
He explained that due to stereotypes surrounding people with disabilities in the workplace, most people end up working as masseurs, in telemarketing or busking. He also noticed that people with different disabilities tend to work as cleaners, waiters or in phone customer service.
“We can do computer work but sometimes the software developer doesn’t want to change the software to adapt to (the software) we use, which is Screenreader, so we are unable to do that job, just because someone is unwilling to change”.
His journey as a trainer only began in 2014.
“I heard about Glow in the Dark through SAVH. I joined because I needed a job, not expecting it would help me become a speaker today!” shares Zahier.
As a husband and a father of a 2-year-old, Zahier continues to inspire others, sharing his passion for playing guitar both before and after he lost his eyesight, which has brought him to where he is today.
And his open sharing has been appreciated by many.
Zahier said that he was shocked when two students from Hua Yi secondary school came up to him after his speech.
“They were crying,” he says. “They were thanking me for sharing my story and said it motivated them. I never got that kind of response before, even now I don’t get that response.”
Most rewarding moment
Kevin also shares that one of his most memorable moments during his training was when a student handed him a note which read, “Thank you Mr Kevin, because of you, months of emotions I was bottling up was finally released.”
She added, “Thanks to you, I decided to seek help and I know that there are people around, friends that support me”.
He also shared another incident where a young teenage student, who used to have suicidal thoughts and is on a journey of recovery had thanked him and said, “Because of you, I hope that I can continue this journey and be well.”
Kevin says that these moments are priceless and they “outweigh the biggest paycheck by far”.
When Covid-19 hit last year, Kevin and Zahier had to adapt their physical programmes to online Zoom sessions.
Zahir shares that the overall atmosphere of talking to students online was different.
“I don’t really feel the responses of the students online (because of a lack of) non-verbal cues. But I still try my best to connect with them and speak to them heart to heart,” Zahier says.
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“The podcast was a way for me to connect with the people beyond the programmes or rather be inspired beyond that because I can’t talk to everybody 24/7,” says Kevin.
He uploads episodes weekly, sharing personal experiences, tips for mental health as well as invites a variety of guests sharing either their expertise or their experiences on their journey of mental health.
One of his guests was Dr Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, who shared about his family, mental health and education.
In the future, Kevin hopes to hire more trainers as well as start a media company that encourages Singaporeans to have more empathy and resilience.
He also believes that in order for Singapore to become a more inclusive community that is better informed with mental health, we must be kinder to one another.
“Mental health is not reserved for a select group of people, it’s not used to classify a certain group of people. Mental health is relevant to every single person, because it involves the health of your mind, and everybody has a mind, everybody goes through setbacks and failures and struggles”, says Kevin.
Kevin also stresses the importance of acknowledging that we’re not too different from the person next to us.
“We need to be more empathetic towards people’s struggles, to provide a listening ear, or a helping hand if needed”.