I’ve never volunteered to volunteer before. The only time I have participated in such activities were during compulsory beach clean-up sessions back in secondary school.

Burning under the hot sun, dragging my feet as I looked around me, I didn’t know where to start. 

The moment I picked up some rubbish, a crashing wave would just send more onto the shore. It was like trying to fill up the sea with pebbles- insignificant and impossible. What was the point? It frustrated me to no end. 

Then I watched this video.

OGS is a digital publisher dedicated to uncovering timeless and overlooked stories across Southeast Asia, and Hidden Hustle is a video series where hosts step into the shoes of and learn more from people in lesser known or misunderstood occupations. (Image Source: OGS- Youtube)

There had been a disclaimer at the start, but nothing could have prepared me for the true extent of disrepair Mr Koh’s house was in. 

Mr Koh’s brother’s room before the clean-up. (Image Source: OGS- Youtube)

There were bed bugs all over, both dead and alive, their eggs literally piled up everywhere! The 20 years of belongings Mr Koh’s brother had accumulated covered almost all the free space of the house haphazardly, very likely the source of the serious infestation. 

I nearly clicked off the video right there, the screen of my laptop not enough of a shield between me and these pests. I genuinely expected to see the same reaction from the volunteers.

However, when the Habitat for Humanity volunteers arrived, led by Yao Xuan, the volunteer leader, they were already in work mode. They were nothing but kind to Mr Koh, explaining the whole process to him without even a hint of judgment.

They gathered their cleaning supplies and efficiently divided the tasks, throwing away all the unnecessary items, wiping down everything, and even installing new furniture.

Seeing that, I felt awed by their dedication and professionalism. The bugs were no match for their single-minded goal to improve the living conditions of Mr Koh and his brother.

Mr Koh’s emotional face as he sees the difference made by the volunteers. (Image Source: OGS- Youtube)

However, what affected me the most was towards the end of the session, when you can see Mr Koh looking around in disbelief at the amount of garbage thrown away. Like a burden of many years had been lifted off his shoulders. 

Ah. I was wrong. Volunteering was futile? How could it be, when I was seeing the effect before my very eyes? Clearly I had been under a false impression. I had to know more. 

Therefore, I had a follow up interview with the Volunteer Leader, Yao Xuan!  

A Pet Lovers event Yao Xuan planned with her youth network! (Image Source: Yao Xuan)

Yao Xuan, 20, has been volunteering since mid 2022 as part of Project Homerun, a group of three undergraduates under Youth Corps Singapore’s Youth Corps Leaders Program, who are partnering with Habitat for Humanity. Beyond that, she has also been volunteering with her youth network since 2019.

She purposely chose to do this type of volunteer work because she wants to serve on the ground and see the direct impact her work has on the occupants. 

When she sees the transformation of the houses and the homeowners themselves, who are so often grateful and happy afterwards, it is fulfilling and affirming that she is doing the right thing.

Moments of kindness also shine through the people around the homeworkers. In the case of Mr Koh, his social worker is willing to step up to provide additional support. 

In other cases, the neighbors of the homeowners would come over, curious as to what’s happening. Sometimes, they actually thank the volunteers, bring drinks over, or even join in themselves! 

Hearing that, I was really surprised by their initiative, and I thought back to what Yao Xuan said in the video. “Trust the process.” 

Even if she wasn’t there to see the end result of Mr Koh’s home, she has full confidence in Habitat for Humanity’s system as she knows that there is a steady stream of volunteers ready to do their part. It will all add up in the end.

Yao Xuan and her friend from Project Homerun during their first session with Habitat! (Image Source: Yao Xuan)

This reminded me of my first analogy and I realized- even if the sea carried in more waste to replace the one that I picked up, at least there would be one less piece of waste on the beach. 

My ‘insignificant’ action did make a difference. 

When asked whether she has any final words for people who are thinking about volunteering, Yao Xuan said “Just go for it, let go of any prejudices, any biases, just go for it and try your best. I think that if you do things out of the goodness of your heart, it will turn out well.”

“Be the change you want to see. Instead of waiting around and thinking – more people should do this, why not step up and do it instead?”

It was as if she was speaking straight to me. Now that I understand that I, too, have the ability to make a change, that it is my turn to do my part. There is no time like the present.

Check out all the ways you can volunteer with Habitat for Humanity here!

Support In Other Ways | Habitat for Humanity Singapore


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