by The Pride on

In celebration of Kindness Day SG on 20 May 2016, The Pride takes a look at the groups that have made a positive difference in the community.

This week, we feature the perspectives of Li Woon Churdboonchart, founder of The Volunteer Switchboard.

For a team that’s always thinking of ways to impact the community, our journey in volunteer work began in an unlikely location – the office.

A transformative volunteering initiative we kick-started at the firm we were working at was left in limbo upon our departure, and our colleagues lamenting that they now didn’t know where and how to volunteer soon got us thinking.

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Volunteers came together to distribute care packages to underprivileged households around Jalan Kukoh in May. Image Source: The Volunteer Switchboard

Their perspectives were typical of many aspiring do-gooders in Singapore who live in a time-scarce society. It’s easy to be daunted when volunteering opportunities call for long-term commitment, especially for those who lead busy lives and aren’t familiar with the type of causes that suit them.

On the other hand, one-off volunteering opportunities lack sustainability and can be too transactional in nature. For today’s sophisticated and selective volunteer, such an approach does not allow them to make a difference in the community as meaningfully as they would like.

It was with this insight that we decided to share this transformative experience with people outside our circle of friends and colleagues by starting The Volunteer Switchboard (VSB). From then on, we saw ourselves as designers who develop bite-sized yet purposeful programs where volunteers themselves go on a learning journey – sharing skills, mentoring, befriending and giving their time to beneficiaries from various voluntary welfare organisations.

There are currently three programs under our belt. Project Home Sweet Home reaches out to the residents of rental flats in Jalan Kukoh, Silver Moments reaches out to Senior Citizens, +Venture caters to children, youth and individuals with special needs.

Project Home Sweet Home was one of our first projects. When we started out in 2013, we provided food packages for 75 underprivileged families living in the Jalan Kukoh neighbourhood. Today, the number has grown to 200. But more important than the number of beneficiaries is that the residents themselves are now coming together to help out. While initially resistant, many now help with the monthly distribution and even rope in their friends and children for the initiative.

Over time, it has evolved into a programme driven by both public and resident volunteers, and the community spirit it has helped to foster is very visible. It is moving to see elderly residents return items that they do not need to the volunteers so that these items can bless other families who need them more.

For our core team comprising full-time working professionals, the biggest challenge is in finding time and funding to sustain the initiatives. It warms our hearts to see our growing pool of regular program volunteers taking up more responsibilities and their enthusiasm keeps us going. Generous sponsors, corporates and partners have also been miraculously appearing when we need them most.

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VSB’s Silver Moments programme encourages its volunteers to build friendships with elderly folks. Image Source: The Volunteer Switchboard

Despite the challenges we face, seeing the beautiful relationships created in the wake of volunteer work makes all the effort worthwhile. One of my favourite moments was witnessing the children from Beyond Social Services showing the greatest compassion and maturity towards the elderly at Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home during the Silver Moments program. They overcame their initial fears and performed a song and dance item that brought great joy to the elderly folks.

The event not only helped to instill self-confidence in the children, but also shaped their mindset towards being of service to others. A year later, they requested to come back to volunteer on this program, and even organised a flea market to raise funds for the home.

At VSB, we hope to continue to learn, grow and stay relevant in our journey of service and if possible, share our experiences with our volunteers to inspire them to start their own community projects. By leveraging our professional skillsets and with creative use of technology, we hope to transform the volunteer landscape and provoke a stronger sense of volunteerism in Singapore.

Li Woon Churdboonchart is the founder of The Volunteer Switchboard, a social enterprise which designs bite-size yet purposeful volunteering programs to create sustainable impacts for children, youth, seniors, special needs groups and the underprivileged.

Get Involved

The Volunteer Switchboard welcomes volunteers and sponsors for all their programs. To sponsor or volunteer, visit their website.