Nurturing eco champions

CIVIL engineer How Kwang Yi plays an important role in the Water Reclamation Network (WRN) Department at national water agency PUB. He helps to treat and recycle one of Singapore’s most precious resources — used water. “The aim is to safeguard public health and our water resources, and ensure every drop of used water is collected and fit for recycling,” he says. While studying environmental management and water technology at Singapore Polytechnic from 2009 to 2012, Mr How developed an interest in the environmental sector, in particular how engineering concepts and ideas could be applied in the industry. He attended events organised by PUB, such as the biennial Singapore International Water Week, which gave him an insight into the water industry, and helped him to understand the functions and operations in PUB better. Over time, he began to consider a career related to this field. In 2010, the 26-year-old did a six-week internship with the organisation’s catchment and waterways department at the Marina Barrage.

It was one of the requirements that came with the PUB diploma sponsorship, which he had received the year before. Mr How recalls: “It was an eye-opening and fruitful experience. Through the operations and surveillance work at the Marina Catchment, I came to have a better understanding of what PUB does.” After graduating with a Diploma in Environmental Management and Water Technology, he applied for the National Environment and Water (NEW) Scholarship as he hoped to pursue a career in the water sector, which he was passionate about. Applicable at local and overseas universities, the scholarship covers tuition fees, accommodation and travel expenses, as well as maintenance, book and computer allowances. NEW scholars can choose to pursue their preferred fields in engineering, science, applied sciences, economics or other courses relevant for a career in either PUB or the National Environment Agency (NEA). Upon graduation, they need to serve a bond period of four to six years.

Innovation meets theory

Mr How graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering) degree from the National University of Singapore last year. He is currently serving a four-year bond in PUB. He leads two units at PUB — operational needs and logistics, as well as the surveillance and enforcement of the private sewerage system. Private sewers transport the used water from sanitary facilities in any premises to the public sewers. What is most interesting is when he experiences engineering in its fusion form, between the development of theoretical analysis and monitoring of data using innovation and technology. “We constantly seek ideas and leverage technology to improve our work,” he says. New methods of construction and rehabilitation are being utilised to protect sewers. For instance, a smart network with islandwide sensors is being used to improve efficiency. But he concedes that engineers can only do so much. Households, food establishments, commercial buildings and industries estates have to do their part to adopt good practices to help protect and maintain Singapore’s sewerage catchment and sewer system. Only when everyone is committed to stepping up their ecofriendly efforts can the vision of a cleaner and greener nation be achieved.

Aligned mission

For Ms Natasha Saw Ann Lei, NEA’s mission of ensuring a clean and sustainable environment aligns with her passions. Ms Saw, who is also a recipient of the NEW Scholarship, graduated with a degree in Microbiology from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom in 2016. The 23-year-old is now serving a six-year bond as a senior executive at 3P Partnerships at NEA’s Central Regional Office. Part of her job involves working closely with grassroots leaders in the Whampoa and Toa Payoh Central constituencies on environmental projects and issues. Recently, she had the opportunity to be part of the organising committee for the Clean & Green Singapore carnival, an experience that she found both meaningful and enriching.

“The carnival was a national level multi-agency event that was successfully launched last November. I liaised with potential sponsors and helped to develop exhibition content for it,” she says. Ms Saw was also involved in the conceptualisation of EcoKnight SG, a new project with the Central Singapore Community District Council (CDC), which aims to encourage the community to lead a zero-waste lifestyle. Under this programme, individuals who have made outstanding contributions towards a zero-waste Singapore are recognised as leaders in this area. The programme uses various social media platforms to share tips on how to lead a zero-waste lifestyle.

Be guided by passion

Looking back, Ms Saw says she was pleasantly surprised and excited to have been awarded the scholarship. She has reaped many benefits from it and appreciates the opportunities that she received as a scholar. “The scholarship meant that someone had seen my potential. This helped me to boost my confidence and believe in my abilities,” she adds. While the benefits of a scholarship are many, those who wish to apply for one should first secure an internship, advises Ms Saw. “An internship with either NEA or PUB will help them to find out more and get a taste of what it is like to work at the agencies,” she says. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to whether one has the passion for environmental work, like Mr How and Ms Saw — who wear the eco-warrior badge of honour with pride.