No matter how busy we are, we still want to carve out family time together.
And one way families can spend quality time with one another is to volunteer together, like the Ng family.
Parents Eunice, a civil servant, and Alvin, a secondary school teacher, have made community service a priority, so much so that it has become a way of life for the rest of their family – eight-year-old Hannah and Timothy, 6.
“The children see it as part of play. So, there’s no line between running an errand to help someone out or going out to play,” says Alvin, 38.
For example, during Mother’s Day this year, the Ng’s hearts went out to the foreign domestic workers here.
“I really felt for them during the circuit breaker because they were stuck looking after someone else’s kids. They had their own kids at home and couldn’t see them. We wrote cards and bought Mother’s Day gifts to remind them they’re loved and that their children appreciate all the things they were doing here,” says Eunice, 39.
With their helper’s assistance, the Ngs got the addresses of eight other FDWs and made surprise visits to deliver the gifts. Some of them were moved to tears, Eunice recalls.
This urge for philanthropy has been the driving force behind the Ngs even before their children came about.
Alvin recalls a time while they were still dating – Eunice had read a news story about a cleaner who had lost her savings. She contacted the journalist, and next thing Alvin knew, the couple were on the way to the cleaner’s – a complete stranger – flat to give her some money.
“It was then that I knew Eunice would feel moved to do such things,” Alvin tells The Pride.
When Hannah was 18 months old and with Timothy on the way, the family helped to distribute bread at rental flats with Yong-en Care Centre, a charity arm of their church.
“Some flats had elderly living alone, some had very large families – but the elderly were very happy to see the little children. We did that once a month, until we moved on to other programmes,” Alvin says.
So it was a natural progression for the kids to get more involved in their parents’ volunteer work.
The true meaning of Christmas
Now, reaching out during the festive period has become a Christmas tradition for the Ngs.
In 2015, The New Paper published a story on two orphan boys who struggled to find joy during the festive season. Eunice tells The Pride: “They were estranged from their extended family and shared how it would get very lonely during the time of year. My heart really went out to them.”
That was why Eunice and Alvin decided to invite the orphans to join them for Christmas that year. It was the first time anyone had reached out to the boys, and they accepted the Ngs’ invitation as they were curious to see who would be so kind.
Though having strangers in the house felt awkward at first, they ended up sharing a lovely Christmas meal together. It was just something she felt she had to do, says Eunice.
Once, the family helped at their church’s Christmas outreach programme where volunteers organised small parties in homes at Chinatown.
“We would ask residents if they would open up their homes and we would provide everything for the party. These are the homes that the church regularly reached out to, so we already knew them because they see us once a month,” explains Alvin.
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One party was held in a cramped two-room flat that housed a very large family. Joining the Ngs were other families with young children from their cell group.
One of the tougher moments, Eunice admits, was when Hannah, then 4, started crying. It was stuffy and noisy, and she was tired and just wanted to leave. After the family got home, Eunice took the opportunity to impart important values to her daughter.
“We’ve been quite blessed. So, we make it a point to remind our children that Christmas is not just about presents, but to seek out opportunities that take us out of our comfort zone. Who wouldn’t like a cosy party at home with loved ones, right? But I think there’s more to Christmas,” Eunice shares.
Nurturing children with empathy
Eunice tells The Pride how her son Timothy has a heart for the invisible – he notices people and things that others normally overlook. One of his favourite activities is greeting and befriending anyone and everyone – from estate cleaners to people washing their cars.
A couple of years ago, he befriended a cleaner at their estate, and invited him to his 4th birthday party. The cleaner, Uncle Sabuj, dressed up for the occasion and even brought a gift for the boy. In return, Uncle Sabuj invited the Ngs to where he lived, a large flat nearby shared by 14 tenants.
That same year, they packed goodie bags with snacks and toiletries and handed them out to the cleaners on Christmas morning.
“The kids are aware that these things we do are very small and won’t shake the foundation of society. But it still makes a difference to somebody,” says Alvin. “I don’t want the kids to grow up thinking that it’s such a big problem and they can’t do anything about it.”
And the young siblings understand it well.
“We like helping because it encourages other people to help others too. It makes me happy,” says Timothy.
“Helping others has made me more generous. And also helped me exercise my talents, like sewing and drawing,” Hannah adds.
Currently, Hannah sews stuffed toys in support of Yong-en Care Centre. Paired with an endearing handwritten note, each of Hannah’s handicrafts can be purchased with a minimum donation of $25.
Alvin posts her creations on his Facebook and when people ask to buy them, he directs them to the donation site so the Ngs don’t handle any money directly. So far, Hannah has raised $560 for the centre.
Volunteering brings the family closer
There are many benefits to helping others as a family.
Not only do the little ones get to develop values like compassion and selflessness, it also helps them grow an interest in learning and moral responsibility.
Reaching out to others has also strengthened the relationship between Hannah and Timothy, says Eunice. The parents have noticed that they have an easier time resolving their children’s quarrels, because from a young age, the kids are already used to seeing things from each other’s perspective and caring about each other.
Eunice says: “They know intrinsically what is right and wrong, because they are exposed to these situations. It strengthens their sense of justice. So, when they run into issues, it’s easier to appeal to that sense of morality. When you talk to them, you can see in their eyes that they already know.”
And it’s not just a one-way street either. Eunice and Alvin say that their children’s pure-heartedness helps them to reflect on themselves.
“I sometimes ask myself why can Timmy befriend someone else so easily, whereas it’s not the same for us. Why do we have so many barriers that prevent us from reaching out and have a conversation with someone from a different culture? That thought challenges me and makes me step out of my comfort zone,” Eunice shares.
Start early, start small
Alvin and Eunice encourage parents to get their children acquainted with volunteering early, before they get too influenced by their peers.
“Children are naturally self-centred. Since Singapore is so affluent, there’s a tendency for us to feel entitled to things. Everything is at our fingertips,” Eunice explains.
“It’s one thing to talk about it, and another thing to show them that other people do struggle. This way, we can teach them that we are not meant to keep our good circumstances only to benefit ourselves, but that we are blessed to be a blessing.
“It’s important that they learn that from a young age.”
It is important for children to see their parents model the life lessons – such as doing community service – that they are trying to teach, so that it gets normalised. But Eunice also cautions against being too aggressive about it.
She advises: “Don’t push them too much and put them off. We’ve got to manage the opportunities. When they see there’s a skill to be learnt or there’s an element of play involved, they are happy to try something.”
Look out for ways to help those around you
So are there many opportunities for families to volunteer together, even during Covid? Definitely, the couple agree.
“If we open our eyes, we see so many needs just right outside our door. Take a walk around the neighbourhood, or go to the rental blocks. It’s not just about giving money, but rather developing friendships,” says Eunice.
“As we grow as a society, we become more insular. We can give as much as we want, but at the end of the day, there are people who receive these gifts, but not have their emotional needs met. Little children are really good at satisfying these emotional bonds, more than adults are.”
“The challenge is not so much finding needy people, but to overcome the notion that we should mind our own business. The tough part is normalising that altruistic behaviour,” adds Alvin.
“It’s important for our kids to not feel that what they’re doing is unusual or exceptional. We don’t want them to grow up thinking that they are special just because they help people.
“But perhaps if they grow up understanding that helping others is the norm – that it’s normal to see a need and feel moved to fill it – and to encourage their friends to do the same – then we would have done our jobs as parents.”