Take even a cursory look at Amanda Chong’s resume, and we are willing to bet that most people would use the word “impressive” to describe her achievements. A graduate of the University of Cambridge and Harvard University, the 29-year-old was the top candidate at the Singapore Bar in 2013, served as an expert at the United Nations Expert Group on the International Legal Definition of Trafficking in Persons in 2016, and currently practices public international law. And she has many more pursuits outside of being a legal eagle.
She’s a poet, whose 2016 poetry collection Professions was shortlisted for the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize. Last year, she received the Singapore Youth Award, the nation’s highest accolade for young people, for co-founding ReadAble, a non-profit that runs English literacy classes for children from low-income families in a Chinatown neighbourhood. When we met for this interview in May, she had just returned from representing Singapore at the Youth 20 Summit, an official engagement group of the G20 Summit for youth leaders.
About 15 minutes into this interview though, we observe something quite interesting in the way she talks about herself—the word “privilege” keeps popping up in her answers.
Ask her about the impetus behind ReadAble, for example, and she replies: “I was born into a middle-class family, and I never lacked anything. So I feel I have a lot of privilege, because the education system is designed for someone like me to thrive in it. Children who come from less materially privileged households don’t have the luxury of just being able to focus on their education, and I don’t think that’s fair. I just wanted to be part of the solution.”