What Does It Mean To Volunteer?
The concept of “volunteerism” has been repeated to us over and over during Values In Action lessons (VIA) in school, so much so that its true meaning may have gotten lost in many of our minds. Despite our common perception of it, volunteerism comprises much more than just accumulating community involvement hours so as to meet arbitrary institutional requirements.
Volunteerism is an enthralling, deeply humbling way to leave the world a better place than it was when you found it.
When various individuals who care about specific issues in their communities come together to find ways to resolve them, all their resources are pooled together to ideate new, innovative ways to work for the benefit of those around them. All of these volunteers’ compassion and empathy are combined in service of shared goals, with egos being set neatly aside. While we might not think this true, our history shows that Singaporeans do care and act. Right from the time of our forefathers, who set up ethnic associations, built schools and hospitals to serve the community, a culture of giving is inherent to our heritage and culture. As we progress, we must take deliberate efforts to continue giving our best to others and become a City of Good.
Wonderful results stem from such collective action, examples of which are plenty. Just think back to this past year, wherein it has proven to be our finest hour in the City of Good where volunteers from all walks of life came together to help vulnerable communities in Singapore.
These include individual volunteers like PVPA 2020 winner Omar Faruque Shipon, who translated information about Covid-19 to Bengali so Bangladeshi foreigners in Singapore could be relieved of their anxieties amidst the onset of the pandemic. He even manned a helpline all by himself! Other organisations, such as The Food Bank Singapore Ltd, sought to provide free hot meals for the needy in this time of crisis.
Such examples seek to prove how volunteerism has helped our communities through one of Singapore’s darkest times in a truly remarkable way.
People around the world choose to volunteer for a great variety of causes; from helping to eradicate poverty, to improving existing health and educational conditions of their communities, to tackling societal discrimination of marginalised communities. In Singapore, you may volunteer for a wide variety of causes, such as arts and heritage, youths, sports, people with disabilities, and more. On Giving.sg, there are more than 100 volunteer opportunities for you to explore!
Most people are driven to volunteer for causes they themselves have grappled with in some shape or form in their lives, as these experiences may have alerted them of the need to take action. In lieu of all the different options, one has, volunteering might seem intimidating, or even an activity only the noblest members of society take on. These are common misconceptions regarding volunteerism that put off many people from volunteering.
When it comes to deciding which cause to volunteer for, though the choices seem endless and causes may all seem equally important, it is crucial to reflect upon ourselves to really find out if there are any causes that especially resonate with our interests and values. Sometimes, you may be inspired by what you observed in your surroundings.
Suppose your interactions with your elderly grandparents being cut off during Covid-19 exposed you to the isolation that the elderly face in Singapore. Or hearing your peers say hurtful things about migrant workers has alerted you that we still have a long way to go to treat our migrant workers with the respect they deserve. Is there something you have been exposed to that has opened your eyes to an issue that needs more of our time and attention? Oftentimes, because we have seen these issues play out in real life and affect our daily lives, going beyond merely reading about them on screens, these are the causes that we might feel most strongly about. Moreover, our exposure to these issues puts us in an excellent position to contribute to resolving them.
As friends share their volunteering experiences, our minds might instinctively shift to think about how noble it is of them to lend their time volunteering for a cause they believe in. And while it does hold that volunteering is a noble act, it is not quite as unusual as we might think.
In fact, the principles guiding the concept of volunteerism aren’t far-fetched. Volunteerism stems from people’s need to participate in our societies, as well as to feel that we matter as part of our communities.
Think of the little acts of giving for your nearest and dearest, such as your friends and family. Volunteering can be seen as an extension of this. See volunteering as an innate human tendency, rather than an extraordinary altruistic practice. It is for anyone to engage in.
Small Ways Of Giving Back
If you are intimidated or still unsure if formal volunteering is for you, then it is best to first break it down to acts in micro-giving. You can express care and concern to those around you through the littlest of ways. Afterall, though it might seem cliched, small acts of kindness can truly go a long way in making a difference to those around you!
- Notice when people need help. Can you carry someone’s bags for them? Open a door? Pick up milk for them when you shop?
- If there is litter on the ground, could you pick it up? Could you reduce the use of plastic packaging when you shop?
- Might you offer someone emotional support? Perhaps call up a friend to ask them how they are really doing or visit an elderly neighbour who may be feeling lonely.
Understanding how your small yet kind actions can powerfully impact your friends, family, and strangers alike is the first step to gaining more confidence and becoming more comfortable with volunteering. These small acts help your own surroundings, and even people who might not have any bearing on your life. Helping these people without having anything to gain in return brings you an incommensurate sense of satisfaction. When you recognize the significance of what you do for others, not only will your self-worth and enthusiasm grow, but you might even inspire others in your sphere to follow suit!
Such small acts of kindness not only go far in helping those around you, but volunteerism actually brings well-established benefits for the volunteer.
Volunteerism is often construed as something that takes a substantial amount of investment, but this is not necessarily true. While this can hold depending on the kind of work one takes on, there is research that shows that those who volunteer actually possess a greater sense of work-life balance. Instead of spending time on one’s self, spending time on others actually boosts one’s sense of time affluence. Time affluence as a concept relates to the feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are meaningful – this is a feeling that many of us may feel starved of, as we spend most of our busy days racing against time, never feeling like we have enough of it to do all the things we want. As busy people, it becomes even more crucial that we set aside some time for volunteering to slow down our pace of life, to ground ourselves in reflection and understand that what really counts is that we have – and make time for meaningful things in our lives. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media, maybe you can express your gratitude and meaningfully interact with a friend through social media platforms. Instead of rewatching the same show on the television for the umpteenth time, maybe we can talk to our family members about how they are doing. Instead of going shopping when we are bored during a weekend, maybe we can lend our time to someone who might really need it.
Even though volunteerism does not yield any material profit for the volunteer, the emotional profit is immeasurable. Though it might only seem like you are contributing, for instance, two hours per week to volunteering towards a specific cause, those two hours can make a huge difference for someone’s entire week. Some children at children’s centres nationwide might actually feel the safest they are ever able to feel within those two hours. Not only do you grow in your humility when you realise that there are people who need you to show up for them, but you also learn to withhold judgement and grow tenfold in the empathy you have for people around you. This kind of growth is extremely rare to come by, but it is all the same so incredibly important to build a society that truly cares about its people. It may take time to experience this kind of growth within yourself, but it would definitely be a worthy investment in your self-growth!
When you engage your compassion whilst volunteering, the little acts of goodness we carry out reinforce to us what truly matters. They let us know that we can make a difference. At times, we may feel overwhelmed thinking of the many challenges we face in the world today: a still-looming health crisis, climate change, social unrest are among the challenges that may come to mind. It becomes easy to picture ourselves as helpless against such problems that are truly too huge for us to grapple with by ourselves. But when we call ourselves to action and hold ourselves accountable for playing a part in making the world better, our small changes can accumulate, causing a ripple effect that can make a huge difference. Our actions influence how other people – even if not our entire communities, but maybe just a friend, or a family member – might behave and feel towards specific issues. Whilst we might not see immediate results after volunteering, the sense of purpose and peace that one feels from giving one’s best to make the world a better place is a feeling that is unmatched.
Different Types Of Volunteering
While volunteering might only seem like something the extraordinarily compassionate members of society can do, the truth is that anyone can volunteer. Besides the different personalities a volunteer may exhibit in their volunteering practises, regardless of whether you are an introvert, extrovert, people lover or prefer to work alone. Though these aspects of your personality might steer you to pick certain types of volunteering over others, volunteerism as a broader practice has enough wiggle room for people to explore and see which specific type of volunteer work suits them best.
This also holds true for any cause that you wish to volunteer for, all of which require different aspects of planning to come together in service of the cause. For instance, you might be put off from volunteering at a food bank because you do not prefer to work with people, but in actuality, organising food banks also entails a lot of background work such as working out logistical details, marketing the event, and so on, which are duties that might be better catered to your preference as a volunteer!
If you are unsure of which type of volunteer you are, what better way to find out than to try your hand at different experiences? You are free to explore different forms of causes you might be interested in, different capacities in which you lend your support to them, and eventually figure out which you are best suited to by considering which cause you feel most driven towards, which type of volunteering you think helps you grow most as a person whilst letting you give back to society to your desired potential.
When we think about volunteering, we likely think of face-to-face interactions with the individuals we are trying to help support and other physical activities. As the world changes and we adapt to our new normal, virtual volunteering has become a viable alternative to physical volunteering. More and more organisations are now offering virtual volunteering opportunities. This way, we can give back while keeping safe and healthy in our homes, and help those who need our support to receive it no matter the situation.
With virtual volunteering, you can continue to make a difference while still keeping safe and healthy. A great alternative to physical volunteering, continuing giving your heart and spreading love to communities that need it even from the comfort of your own home.
Virtual volunteering can come in the form of befriending the elderly over online meeting platforms such as Zoom, , calling families in need to check in on their wellbeing, or even giving your talent (whether it is social media, graphic design, etc).
Now, you can easily filter between virtual and physical volunteering opportunities on Giving.sg.
Not sure what to look out for? Here are the main types of volunteering activities to help you narrow it down.
4 Types Of Volunteering
There are three main types of volunteering recognised by the National Council of Social Service, which prospective volunteers might consider when thinking about lending their time to any meaningful cause, based on their schedules, personalities, and general preferences.
1. Service-Based Volunteerism
Service-based volunteering provides manpower resources to a social service agency to complement the practitioners. Some examples include befriending and mentoring, Seniors’ Activity Centres and for programmes for youths-at-risk, and caregiver support.
- Read about Ms Eleanor Yap’s initiative, Project BUDDY, that aimed to provide a listening ear and engage with seniors who were struggling with anxiety and loneliness during the circuit breaker period.
2. Skills-Based Volunteering
Skills-based volunteering is where professionals use their talents, experiences and resources to strengthen the capabilities of social service agencies. Social service agencies may not have access to resources or expertise to manage corporate functions such as communications, website design and fundraising. Yet, these functions are instrumental in helping them operate more efficiently and effectively.
- TalentTrust is a charity that works with businesses to galvanise skills-based volunteers together, those who specialise in IT and web development, to help out communities in need.
- Another such example is Aidha, a non-profit that aims to empower migrant domestic workers through providing opportunities for volunteers to share their financial know-how with them.
3. Events-Based Volunteering
Volunteering at one-time activities such as Flag Days, fundraising events, or bringing service users for an outing are examples of events-based volunteering.
- An example of this is the YMCA Silver Fiesta, which is an annual event jointly organised by YMCA of Singapore since 2012. The event engages youth volunteers from various schools and institutions in the promotion of intergenerational bonding and active-ageing lifestyle amongst elderly through Arts & Cultural based programmes.
4. Family Volunteering
You might even consider volunteering with your family members as opposed to spending the day watching television This is an excellent way to spend time on something meaningful rather than just passing time, and instills deeply values of compassion and empathy which can be extremely helpful to families who wish to raise their young children into future leaders that recognise their privilege and understand the importance of giving back. Consider the story of Carol Loi, who raised her family with these values of giving the same way her parents had raised her, and the difference it made to her family to have done so.
Donna Cheng, a parenting strategist wrote about how volunteering with her sons has become an annual affair in her family, and fostered a great amount of empathy in her children who have since better understood the importance of resilience, gratitude, and service in life.
An alternative to family volunteering is also group volunteering, through which you can make a difference to the causes you care about by volunteering for them with your friends and other loved ones. In our own circles, by starting the practice of volunteering with our friends, we are able to not only deepen our existing friendships, but also forge new ones in the communities we wish to give back to.
It is noteworthy that for these various forms of volunteering, as well as across organisations you might be looking to volunteer with, commitment periods and volunteering requirements vary! It is useful to do some research to find an organisation that suits your schedule and your skillset to this end. If concerned about your busy schedule that may inhibit you from committing to volunteering, you can consider shorter forms of volunteering, which include include:
A one-off trial to participate in different volunteer activities (e.g., befriending or manning a helpline).
Recruiting a large group (such as a class or cohort of students) to work on a big task (e.g., clearing beach debris at East Coast Park).
A group of 6 to 10 young people working together over a day or weekend (e.g., to paint a wall mural).
A chance to observe other volunteers at their work and assess their own interest in the work (e.g., tutoring or conducting home visits).
How To Volunteer Amidst COVID-19
Community-related charities, often responsible for addressing the holistic needs of their beneficiaries, rely on volunteers to befriend beneficiaries or share their skills to address their needs. Before circuit breaker, it was all too easy for anyone to spare a day or two in a year distributing food to the hungry, or spending an afternoon with the elderly in a home. Volunteerism was easy come, easy go.
While safety measures today have forced charities to cancel or rethink their volunteer engagement activities, the reality is that community care is not about one-off projects that can be done in a day and checked off a to-do list. It requires the sustained efforts of full-time social workers in collaboration with committed volunteers who are dedicated to learn about a charity, its ways of working and how best to give of themselves to address the needs of those in their care. Learn more about how you can volunteer during COVID-19 from our volunteer guide at this link.
Not all volunteerism requires great learning or skill-sharing. One of the biggest psychosocial needs that still must be addressed is isolation and loneliness.
Prior to the Circuit Breaker, volunteers at Singapore Red Cross would visit vulnerable seniors bi-weekly and now resort to weekly phone calls. However, as we all have an inherent need for social interaction, “there were instances of seniors who would call our volunteers to express their loneliness,” said Mr Benjamin William, CEO/Secretary-General, Singapore Red Cross. “Even though our volunteer befrienders’ hands were tied, they were able to leverage technology to circumvent the restrictions,” says Mr William. “One senior with a history of depression was particularly affected during this period. Our volunteers went to install Zoom for the seniors so they could video call. They also celebrated another senior’s 100th birthday via Zoom since they could not visit in person.” RSVP Singapore, dedicated to developing senior volunteers, has been exploring new ways of conducting volunteering activities that will meet social distancing requirements, said Tang Hui Qi, corporate partnership and fund development associate. Since the Circuit Breaker, RSVP have been conducting “tele-befriending” via Telegram and Zoom, allowing volunteers to continue engaging and mentoring the at-risk school children for their Mentoring programme.
Though COVID-19 has ultimately shifted what types of volunteering are going to be feasible in the coming months to follow, what we can learn from these organisations is that there are still a lot of ways of volunteering that we can innovate and develop further. These efforts require the brains and knacks of many individuals to come together and think about how best they can serve their respective communities in order to meet their different needs. These may take on the form of any of the three above forms of volunteering, or even hybrid and new types of volunteering one may find more efficient during this pandemic, such as remote volunteering.
Moving Forward To The Future Of Volunteering
From geopolitical shifts to digital disruption, we live in a world of constant change. These forces aren’t just shaking up how we live, work and play — they’re also changing how we give. As information becomes more readily available to us, NVPC’s Futures Of Giving Project found that tomorrow’s volunteers are going to be more discerning about the causes they give to.Rather than viewing charity as just an emotional endeavour of the heart, more of us are asking hard questions with our heads: How effective are programmes? How are charities measuring impact? What evidence can they share of the ‘needs’ on the ground? NVPC’s studies found that 62% of people in Singapore prefer to engage a community directly to understand the cause before they volunteer or donate, according to a 2016 NVPC-Toluna survey.
As Singaporeans are becoming more cognizant and empowered as members of society, they are also becoming more proactive and driven to help. This is evident in the rise of crowdfunding campaigns and community initiatives – think good Samaritans giving out free masks during the 2015 haze, or the many ordinary citizens who have stepped up for us amidst the current pandemic. Technology has also made it easier to mobilise cash and people toward self-initiated do-good campaigns — which will continue to see a rise in the near future.
Besides locally contributing, between 2014 to 2016, there was more than a two-fold increase in donations to causes outside of Singapore, from $125 million to $317 million, according to NVPC’s Individual Giving Survey (2016). While this may have been due to a series of high-profile natural disasters and humanitarian crises, our sources find that it might also be because social media has made the world a lot smaller. Local causes can quickly go global (and viral!), and like-minded individuals can easily band together across national boundaries. Just look at the Rohingya crisis and #metoo movement.
Regardless of where in the world we choose to focus our energy, the spirit of giving remains and should continue to foster! The future of volunteering will require all of us to first come together to understand its importance, only then can we pursue it to fruition and affect positive, tangible changes in society. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Though you might not think it, your actions today will have a ripple effect on the future — only you have the power to decide what kind of acts you want to be remembered by.
How Can I Start?
Now that you are motivated to start, you must be wondering, “how can I start?”, “how can I help?” – these are excellent questions, the answers to which are readily available. There are plenty of resources available for you to explore causes that you believe in or would like to explore volunteering for at Giving.sg. Thank you for stepping up; let us all contribute to continue to make Singapore a City of Good – a people that does its best to reach out to those overlooked.
Contributed By: City of Good
Volunteering in Singapore to Make a Difference by Health Promotion Board, 30 March 2021, www.cityofgood.sg