It is usually in time of crisis that we see the human spirit shine ever brightly.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen initiatives springing up from the community, where help in different forms are being offered to the needy and vulnerable groups of our society.

From those as young as a Secondary 1 student who spoke up to encourage youths to take responsibility in ensuring the vulnerable groups are not left out, to our seniors who have demonstrated what active volunteerism means, it is heartwarming to see people stepping up to give back within their means.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, many struggle to make sense of a life well-lived or question how to find meaning in our everyday lives. We need to realise, now even more than ever, that volunteerism forms part of the equation of positive mental wellness.

Volunteering can bring surprising benefits to one’s mental health. For some, it may be a sense of self-esteem derived from being a positive contribution while for others, it may be the freedom experienced when we look beyond our own problems and challenges.

But how can we find time for this, you ask? You have bills to pay and families to feed, or even if not, why should you care about others when you have problems of your own?

Here’s a challenge: Don’t treat it as optional. As an experiment, treat it as part of your life. Just like holding a 9-to-5 job or having three meals a day, make volunteerism part of your daily routine.

Personally, I’m taking up that challenge too, to avoid getting stuck in my own negativity and questioning the purpose of my existence.

The Pride speaks to two individuals who have made volunteering a part of their lifestyle to find out what motivates them and how it impacted their lives.

She believes that volunteering helps her see how everyone is interconnected

Volunteer doing act activities
Left: Art activity with residents at Metta Home for the Disabled preparing thank-you cards for the volunteers/ Right: PAYM loves red pottery art event at Kampong Chai Chee CC. Image source: Ng Shi Jie

Ng Shi Jie, 22, a learning facilitator at Rainbow Centre, started volunteering on a regular basis two years ago. She is particularly interested in arts, special needs, children and seniors.

As a volunteer in a youth network at a community centre, she works closely with grassroots organisations to implement community development projects for residents in their respective constituencies.

One of her ongoing projects, called ‘Empowering Gen Z’, is a free tuition programme by student tutors from Raffles Institution for children from low-income families. Currently, the collaboration has about 15 tutors and half that number of students, although that number has dropped due to Covid-19.

More recently, she has also started volunteering for beach clean ups and learning more about the environment.

Having to balance her volunteering with her busy schedule as a full-time learning coordinator with special-needs children is a constant challenge for Shi Jie. She tells the Pride: “Being able to prioritise what I should attend to at that moment helps.

“As much as I enjoy meeting new people, it is also a challenge to me. As an introvert, I generally take longer to warm up to others. But over time, I get more comfortable interacting with new people.”

Actively looking out for volunteering opportunities based on her interests allows Shi Jie to find great joy in doing good in what she likes. She says: “I volunteer because I want to take action in my areas of interests and things that I believe in. I want to equip myself with skills needed to purposefully and impactfully serve the community.”

Shi Jie believes in living a life not just for herself but also for the happiness of others. And she has met with many like-minded people that makes her volunteering journey fun.

She says: “I feel recharged after each volunteer session because I gain a lot from the experience, either learning something new or connecting with a new person.

“Being able to interact with people from different walks of lives and learning more about them keeps me going. The friends I make through this journey is also my support and motivation to continue doing what I do.”

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To Shi Jie, making volunteering a way of life goes beyond just volunteering for programmes and activities. It is a mindset of gratitude.

“I feel that when people see volunteering as a way of life, they will be more happy. We begin to appreciate each other’s efforts more and create a more empathetic environment.

In doing so, Shi Jie believes that our efforts in helping another person or doing our part for a sustainable environment are all related. They will create a ripple of effects.

“It doesn’t have to be something every big or super impactful, we just have to give our best. Every little effort matters and it is the heart that is most important.”

He believes that every individual should look beyond themselves

Volunteering for students in Singapore
Image source: Daryl Lim

Daryl Lim, 33, started volunteering after he completed his part-time studies in mechanical engineering. He wanted to give back to the community with the extra spare time he had.

With his interest in helping youths, Daryl started his volunteering journey in 2014 with SHINE Children and Youth Services as a tutor for a weekly night study programme to help needy students with their assignments.

Daryl, who is working as an engineer, tells the Pride: “After all these years of volunteering at SHINE, my main motivation is to foster a seeking spirit in the students. I want to hone their curiosity to learn… that goes beyond how well they know the subjects.”

Recounting a session where he had a good laugh with a student when discussing the highest returns from bank interest rates, Daryl shares the importance of bringing in real-life examples to make learning more interesting.

“Seeing my students engaged in the subject motivates me to think of new interesting ways to engage them,” he recalls with a smile.

Nonetheless, having to think of different methods to interact with the students after a long day of work was a challenge. “Students who are less motivated to study may not be very cooperative and there are times when I do get disappointed when I feel like I was not able to connect well with these students,” he says.

Nevertheless, it is recognising the boundless potential that youths have in them that motivates and keeps Daryl going. And many of his students do return to update him on their progress.

He says: “It is great to meet these students again after they graduate and return to visit the centre to share with me how they are doing in their course of their interest.”

When asked for his advice for someone who has not volunteered before, Daryl says enthusiastically: “Start by finding something you enjoy doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small or big act. If you find yourself not enjoying it after some time, try something else.

“When you finally found your own unique way to contribute, challenge yourself to commit to doing it consistently. Take breaks if you need… we can all contribute in different ways, just start doing something!”

Daryl constantly encourages the youths that he works with to dream big and that life is a journey. He says: “Besides pursuing our own endeavours in life, we should participate in some activities that can help another. We never know, we may be the one in need of help in another stage of our lives.”

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Top Image: Ng Shi Jie (left), and Daryl Lim (right)