I have been volunteering since my early teens and the introduction to volunteerism was a turning point in my life.
Before the world was hit by the Covid-19 wave, I was involved in all kinds of volunteer work, which included promoting and executing events, and helping with food distribution.
One of the most memorable moments was at Sunlove Home, a nursing facility, where I met an adorable Malay makcik (auntie). Weeks prior to the visit to the nursing home, volunteers were encouraged to learn some phrases beyond our mother tongue to be able to engage with the elderly. I spent two weeks learning and memorising Malay phrases.
That helped me strike a decent conversation with the Malay auntie, despite it being what some would describe as ‘broken Malay’. My efforts paid off — I felt she understood my sincerity. She also probably had a good laugh at my struggles to put words together and make sense.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SINCERITY
The humour aside, that experience made me realise how important sincerity was in the field of volunteerism.
And that knowledge has often left me with disappointment when I hear accounts of students volunteering merely to stack up their portfolio for future university applications and employment.
One student I spoke with described that her journey into volunteerism began with the desire to enhance her portfolio. However, her love for volunteer work grew as she got more involved.
“I get like a short burst of serotonin after volunteering,” she said.
While it is noteworthy that a love for volunteering is gained through its introduction, it would be more laudable if inflating one’s portfolio is not the main reason to kickstart the process.
I feel that youths should be encouraged — not compelled — to volunteer. That way it comes from the heart and is sincere.
However, like in the case of my friend, she volunteered to build her portfolio but ended up enjoying it. Perhaps a sign of maturity and a deeper altruistic need have been fulfilled.
I cannot stress how important it is that when educators ask students to volunteer, they have to stress the importance of sincerity and caring. With sincerity imbibed at an early age, we can then look forward to a more resilient and compassionate society as generations go by.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that those two virtues are quintessential for our survival.
Students need to feel the need to carry on the good work they have done and not just use it as an accomplishment to pursue more material goals in life.
CAN WE DO MORE?
Beyond the realm of requirements, more can be done to encourage youths to volunteer.
Could there be more awareness on the opportunities to do so for students? Or perhaps even more emphasis on the importance of helping those in need in whatever way we can?
Life stories are often shared during these encounters, which enable students to understand diverse perspectives. We get a better understanding of the dynamics in society as a result and this in turn makes us wiser and society stronger.
It’s in the field of volunteerism that we also find some of the future leaders of society.
Admittedly, volunteering can be tiring, especially with the demands of academics and other aspects of life.
But volunteers, when sincere, are rewarded with so much more in return. The skills and experiences volunteers gain are as priceless as time itself.
This commentary was first published in AsiaOne as part of a collaboration between the digital news website and Republic Polytechnic’s School of Management & Communication.