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Gen Y Speaks: People question my decision to volunteer, but it is richly rewarding

I was never an active volunteer. During my school days, I was busy chasing after paper qualifications. When I started working, I thought I would have time for volunteering. But I was wrong — my incessant pursuit of career excellence had enslaved me in a world of busyness.

Gen Y Speaks: People question my decision to volunteer, but it is richly rewarding

The author (extreme right) with other volunteers from the Nanyang Technological University Alumni Club at Jewel Changi Airport in January 2020 when they took a group of seniors there to tour the Canopy Park.

I was never an active volunteer.

During my school days, I was busy chasing after paper qualifications. When I started working, I thought I would have time for volunteering. But I was wrong — my incessant pursuit of career excellence had enslaved me in a world of busyness.

Sometime in 2018, I caught up with Ola, a friend of mine who is an active volunteer. Over lunch, she shared that she had recently volunteered as an interpreter during a large-scale event.

“The audience loved it. It was one of my most memorable volunteering encounters of the year!” she said.

It was nearing the end of 2018. That afternoon, I reflected on some of the meaningful things that I had done for the year, but I struggled to recall any.

About a week later, I happened to chance upon a post on Nanyang Technological University Alumni Club’s Facebook page, seeking volunteers to help out at a Christmas event, in collaboration with Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre and North West Community Development Council.

Wanting to do something meaningful, I immediately signed up.

On the day of the event, the volunteers gathered early to pack the goodie bags for our beneficiaries.

Together with 20 senior citizens, we then set off to the Gardens by the Bay, where we spent the entire morning at the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.

That morning, not only did I derive much laughter from the conversations with the elderly; I also felt touched from their little gestures of appreciation, such as a simple word of "thanks", or telling me how much they enjoyed my company.

It was a relaxing experience which I had not had for a long time.

After the event, I realised that I enjoyed volunteering so much that I decided to become a regular volunteer with the club.

That same year, I also started to volunteer as a mentor and career speaker with several educational institutions.

Over time, my passion to serve the community grew. 

In June this year, I was given an opportunity by Kelvin Kong, founder of mentoring platform Voices of Asia, to lead a nationwide programme to help undergraduates find their career purpose and inclination. 

To date, we have successfully held three virtual events.

While people around me are generally supportive, not everyone understands why I volunteer.

I frequently get asked: “Why volunteer when you don’t get paid?”

Truth is, not everything can be assigned a price tag.

So, whenever people tell me this, I’d share an encounter that I had last year.

That day, we had spent the entire afternoon at the S.E.A. Aquarium with some senior citizens. Being the youngest volunteer, I was assigned to take care of Uncle Leong, who had to rely on a wheelchair to get around.

During the tour, he kept saying in Mandarin: “Thank you for pushing me around, but if you feel tired, we can skip some of the tour sections.”

And my consistent answer to him was: “Don’t worry, I am still young and fit!”

At the end of the tour, he suddenly asked for my name after thanking me for spending time with him.

“SK,” I said.

He then took out a pen and a piece of paper.

Despite having difficulty moving his limbs, he struggled through to pen my name down so that he would not forget me.

That moment tugged at my heartstrings. The appreciation I had received was not something that money could buy, and that is what makes volunteering worthwhile.

Uncle Leong writing the author's name down. The author says he captured the moment to remind himself to do more good and help more people. Photo courtesy of Ong Shen Kwang

At times, people say that “you’re just too free”.

It is easy for people to assume that volunteers are people with too much free time. 

The truth is, just like anyone else, many of us hold a full-time job and have our personal commitments to attend to.

For me, I spend an average of 20 hours a month on my volunteering activities.

It certainly helps to plan ahead. 

By locking volunteering events into my calendar, I am able to work my other priorities around these dates.

Hence, making time to volunteer is actually not as difficult as it seems.

Some others tell me not to waste time because I am not going to make a huge impact anyway.

I always believe that the spirit of volunteering is about making a lasting difference to others’ lives — it does not matter if it is a big or small act.

Some time back, I volunteered to mentor an undergraduate who was facing difficulties finding his career inclination.

We then had a few mentoring sessions, where I helped him to identify his roadblocks, gain greater clarity of his career purpose, and explore the various employment possibilities.

Just last week, he called to tell me that he had received a job offer! 

He thanked me for instilling an open mindset in him. Otherwise, he explained, he would not have ventured out of his comfort zone to even apply for the job that he had landed.

Sometimes, people would advise me to do less volunteering to avoid additional stress.

I’d tell them: “In all my volunteering involvements so far, I have never felt stressful.”

In fact, it is all fun.

At every volunteering event, I get to do meaningful things that will leave a smile on the faces of the beneficiaries. 

I also get to mingle with the other volunteers to learn how to be more engaging to make the session more fruitful.

And in the process of doing so, it allows me to unwind from my usual hectic lifestyle.

Some people feel that for every act of giving, we should receive an act of reciprocity of an equal, or greater, value. 

But truly, if we look deeper into volunteerism, it is about going beyond the call of duty to provide value to the beneficiaries.

Not everything in life is about giving and taking.

Being able to give may just be one of life’s greatest gifts.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ong Shen Kwang works as a senior project manager in a financial technology firm.

Related topics

volunteerism volunteer social change

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