a duty to serve
Marcel Bandur
Research Associate
Asia Research Institute

A duty to serve

How far would you go to help a stranger? For Marcel Bandur, who has crossed borders and learnt new languages just so he could help others, the answer is likely: never far enough.

Marcel, who hails from Slovakia, is a passionate volunteer. He has championed a variety of causes in his colourful life around the world, whether in Thailand, Poland, the UK or Singapore, where he has been based the past eight years since he first came to do his Master in Political Science at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

 “I’ve always wondered: none of us chose the lives that we are born into, so how can we help each other?” Guided by that thought, Marcel begun volunteering at a young age. His first volunteering trip took place when, as an International Baccalaureate student in Thailand, he was involved in building a playground for a local village in Mae Hong Son province. During his undergraduate studies in the UK, he raised funds for HIV-positive children in Thailand, as well as communities in Africa. A gap year fully dedicated to volunteering brought Marcel to Armenia, where he championed women’s rights; and Poland, where he campaigned against drunk driving and supported families affected by alcoholism – all while learning Polish so that he could get to know the families better.

In the past five years, Marcel has been a tireless volunteer and advocate for migrant workers in Singapore. He recalled what started him on this cause – a campaign that featured a construction worker’s typical meal, which, he was shocked to find, only consisted of plain rice and watered down dhal. “I was thinking – why are they treated so badly? Singapore was built on their efforts and without them, it wouldn’t be where it is now. I feel that they deserve a lot more support; in fact, they should be celebrated.” 

Working with Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), Marcel helps migrant workers who have been cheated, abused or unable to work because of injury – whether through helping with case work, providing counselling and support, or organising weekly outings for the men. The nature of the duties and challenges is ever-changing, and the learning curve was especially steep at the start, shared Marcel, who learnt Hindi so he could better communicate with the workers.

“There is a specific chemistry you need to have to work with migrant workers, as you do for any group. You need to understand their cultural background, the way they think, what makes them laugh, how to keep a conversation going. It’s really good cultural learning, but it takes time, and it’s a challenge", said Marcel. He shared that it’s in listening and learning more about people that he finds the best ways to help them.

That was the story of Parthiban, a worker from South India who suffered an injury and could not work to provide for himself. One day, while chatting with Marcel, Parthiban casually showed him some sketches he had made – often done under the poor lighting on the street, or illuminated only with his phone. Struck by the latent talent in these sketches, Marcel approached art schools and asked if anyone would be willing to teach Parthiban. An art teacher volunteered to give him regular classes for free, and by the time Parthiban returned home, he was able to find a job as an art teacher. For Parthiban, who had till then followed in the footsteps of his father – also previously a construction worker in Singapore – there was now a new, viable path, and more possibilities for his future.

a duty to serve 2 Marcel and Parthiban in India in 2017, at the art school that Parthiban was teaching. The duo remain in touch till today.  

To Marcel, knowing that he can make a huge, transformative difference in someone’s life is the most meaningful part of being a volunteer. “I really felt that someone’s life was made significantly better because of my contribution. That’s a story I really like telling,” he said.

As he looks to the future, Marcel hopes to scale up his volunteering efforts through avenues like social enterprise or corporate social responsibility. He is doing his Master of Business Administration (MBA) at NUS Business School, where he is also president of the diversity and inclusion club. “The idea of doing the MBA is to get the skills – that kind of management, business, strategic thinking – about how to take volunteering up a notch.”  

Whatever form it takes, volunteering looks set to be a fixture in Marcel’s life. “I have always felt that volunteering is something of a duty, rather than an option. It has been and will always be ingrained in my life.”


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