“Not only are they energetic and determined, but Singapore’s youth volunteers are also brimming with new ideas on how to galvanise others to help those in need” (Youths Rally Round Charitable Causes, Miss Eunice Ng).
In the article, “Youths Rally Round Charitable Causes” (January 16, 2010), Miss Eunice Ng paints a reportedly rosy and positive picture of the youth volunteerism scene in Singapore.
Statistically, the number of projects and initiatives has steadily risen: the numbers are up, the donations are up, and the hours are up. But what does this corresponding increase in quantity truly entail? From my comprehension, volunteers committed in a multitude of activities – from fund-raising to awareness-building to direct involvement – have genuine motivations and empathy for their counterparts and beneficiaries.
Unfortunately, it seems apparent that many students have lost touch with the real objectives of volunteerism and community service. While it is true that the six hours of community involvement programme is no longer mandatory in Institutes of Higher Learning, the element of “service learning” is a strong prerequisite for scholarship and college applications. As a result, many have chosen to devote their time and effort for the mere sake of their portfolios and curriculum vitae. Having recently graduated from a junior college, the plethora of past anecdotal experiences of the aforementioned leads me to doubt the true intentions of the new entrants and volunteers. Do they really understand what volunteerism is all about?
Sustainability is also a notable issue. With community service seen as a means to an end, projects and initiatives are speedily discarded and abandoned when students leave their respective institutions. One feasible proposition would be for seniors to remain as mentors to guide their juniors through the activities over the years. Through this, improvements and enhancements can also be made possible.
Of course, generalisations are unavoidable; and it is undeniable and respectable that many youths and individuals have genuinely committed valuable time and effort to volunteerism and various charitable causes. Lessons can be learnt from their perseverance and dedication, and changes can be effected with considerable magnitude from these students and groups. Ultimately, improvements to the respective community engagement programmes should come from two frontiers: encouraging new people to be involved, and – most importantly – changing the mindsets of existing members gradually from one of self-serving pragmatism to genuine altruism.
Regardless, I believe the proposed NVPC programme would be an exciting endeavour for the public and academic institutions to look forward to. Finally, NVPC could also consider gathering feedback from members of the public through consultative exercises and sharing sessions to plot the future route of volunteerism in Singapore.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.