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Announcing the first batch of Kaya Toast writers!

Last month, I announced the Kaya Toast Mini-Mentorship Initiative. (To find out more about the thought process behind this initiative, read this!) Applications closed on 21 June.

I received about 30 applications—more than I'd expected! Lots of great issues and ideas were proposed, which made the process of selection a more challenging task for me. I don't think anyone who knows me will be surprised to find that, although I said I'd only choose two, I've ended up with more. 😅

Introducing our writers!

I've selected six applicants to form the first batch of Kaya Toast writers. 🎉 There's a range of writing experience; while some have done newsy/journalistic pieces before, others have mainly only done writing for school/academic work. There'll be three essays, and three reported features.

Here are the Kaya Toast writers, and brief descriptions of what they'll be working on:

P. Shambhavi will be writing about encountering racism and xenophobia as a young naturalised Singaporean, and how it affects one's sense of self and belonging.

Nez will be writing about the implications for one's identity, when race and religion is intertwined for Malay-Muslims in Singapore. What happens if a young Malay does not believe in the religion that has been determined for them? What are the personal and legal consequences?

Jesie Randhawa will be writing about the challenges that women face when reporting sexual assault in Singapore, and how Singapore's system to deal with such cases compares to other jurisdictions.

Samira Hassan will be writing about racism in Singaporean educational institutions, specifically looking at structural issues that create hostile environments for minority students.

Natasha will be writing about international adoption, displacement and identity in Singapore, from her perspective as someone who was adopted from China at the age of three.

Emily Na, a full-time musician, will be writing about the struggles of those working in Singapore's live music and performing arts scene during Covid-19, and what it's like to fight for one's livelihood while being deemed "non-essential".

We've agreed on a three-month timeline, so all these pieces have to be completed by the end of September (although some are aiming to be done before then). We'll decide then if they'll be published via We, The Citizens... I don't know about you, but personally I'm hoping that all of them will be! 🤩

What were the applications like?

Honestly, I was very tempted to pick up even more applications. I had to be strict with myself because I know I have the tendency to pile work on myself without really thinking through how big a commitment I'm making when I say "yes" to things.

In designing the application form, I had to keep in mind that applicants would likely not be familiar with the pitching process that journalists go through. I worked off the assumption that applicants would not know how to pitch, so I tried to break things down into smaller questions that would help people communicate what they had in mind.

Across the applications received, the main problem was usually one of detail and specificity. People would give me the general topic/subject of interest (eg. "I would like to write about racism and inequality in Singapore") but it still wouldn't be specific enough for me to get an idea of what, exactly, it was that their proposed piece would be like.

People brought up issues and topics, but not their angles. This made it harder for me to picture what a final piece would potentially be like. A lot of the time, my reaction to an application would be along the lines of: Yes, mental health is an important issue, but what about mental health would you like to write about? About the lack of insurance coverage in Singapore for mental health issues? About prejudices in society? About mental health advocates and their work?

I'll have to think a little more about how to edit the application form so I'm prompting people to go into this level of detail... 🤔

Developing the initiative as I go

This is the first time I'm doing something like this. It's really exciting, but it's also a big learning journey for me and there'll likely be many kinks to iron out as I go.

For instance, when I first announced the initiative, I didn't really have a timeframe in mind. What happened, then, was that I received some applications that suggested deadlines that went all the way to December or January, which would be stretching it out for too long. Moving forward, I'll be specifying that each round of the initiative will go for three months.

In this first round, I don't have a fixed curriculum or anything like that when it comes to mentoring people with their writing; it's mostly about what each person needs. Some might want more help with conceptualising the piece and planning it out, others are more comfortable with going straight into a rough draft and then working on it. I've also got some Zoom calls scheduled, whereas others might be happy going back-and-forth via email.

I'm hoping that this first round, an experiment, will give me a better idea of what would be most helpful to people, and how I can run this better in the future. It would be nice to have this become a regular, sustainable thing, that could perhaps be expanded with more spaces, opportunities, mentors, etc.

Supporting mini-mentorships

Since I announced this initiative, some of you have reached out to me to sponsor/pledge to sponsor these mini-mentorships, by covering the honorarium should these pieces get picked up by We, The Citizens. Thank you so much!

If you'd like to support this initiative and this newsletter more generally—basically, by keeping me free and independent so I can devote as much time as possible to running this—it would be super cool if you become a Milo Peng Funder! 🙏🏼