By Lynn Hong (18A13A)
Photos courtesy of the various CCAs and CE01s featured
Raffles Press brings you an interview with the student leaders in community service to find out more about the heads of the our four service CCAs: Community Advocates, Interact, One Earth and Red Cross, and members of two CE01 projects: The Golden Page (TGP) and Silver Communities.
The representatives of the CCAs and CE01s are as follows:
Community Advocates: Chelsia Low (18S06C)
Interact: Claire Goh (18S03K)
One Earth: Sharmayne Lim (18S03F)
Red Cross: Sarah Lee (18S03D)
The Golden Page: Jared Ong (18A13A)
Silver Communities: Alicia Tan (18S03F)
A lot of people say that service is “meaningful” when you ask them why they serve. What do you think “meaningful” service really means?
Claire: In Interact, our focus is on direct service, which is interacting with the person on site. And I think it’s meaningful because throughout the year of volunteering, you form a connection with them.
You find that it’s not just about you helping them, but they also teach you a lot of things. Like sometimes you go for tutoring with the mindset that you are going to teach this kid, but then you come out and realise that “oh! The kid taught me!” It’s meaningful because in JC it’s very easy to lose focus of what’s important. Service is about remembering that there are people, who not say need help, but who we should care about. It’s not so much about me helping you, but more like “let’s move forward and progress together”.
Chelsia: It’s also the sense that you are able to make an impact. Because sometimes the idea of being a student within the education system makes us lose sight of the fact that we can do something tangible, even as a “child”. It helped me see that I can be useful in my own way, and that I don’t need to be very affluent or have a specialised skill set to do my own part.
Jared: Personally I think this works on two levels. I think a lot of people have this very weird mindset that I’m doing service because I’m a very good person, and I want to spread goodness across the world. But let’s face it. Part of the reason why we do service is to allay our own conscience, to say that we are doing our part. A lot of us in RI come from privileged backgrounds so service allows us to grapple with the privilege you’re born with.
Secondly, there are many useful things you can learn out there. You learn about about situations people face out there, and their life stories. And in the future when we are in positions where we have more power to change their situations and lives, I think it will help us help them more.
Alicia: Also, everyone gets their own unique experience doing service, so that’s meaningful because everyone can create their own memories. It’s also really eye-opening to these see parts of Singapore you don’t usually see. Interacting with elderly and children made me realise that I am super privileged. And it’s just a daily reminder to be grateful for you have.
Sarah: I think it’s about helping people who are less privileged. We remember that we have so much and we have so much to give. So that’s why we give.
Sharmayne: For one earth’s projects, service is meaningful in the sense that although our efforts may seem insignificant in making a difference to the environment, at least we are striving to play our part and to influence others. One person can’t really make a difference, but when one influences a few others, there’s a ripple effect and over time, that can have a greater impact.
What do you consider an effective service? How would you know that your project has been effective in helping your beneficiary?
Sarah: I’ll give a specific example based off what I’m doing now. Before we started tutoring the kids, they were very noisy and wouldn’t want to do work. But because you keep going, they start to take things seriously. And that’s when you know that you’ve made a difference. You can’t go there for two hours and never see them again, and think you’ve made a change. It’s about committing to that relationship that you have with that person, and after a while you start to see the differences you make to their life.
Chelsia: It’s hard to say how service has been successful, because there’s no “key performance indicator” for service, especially in the work we do with IMH. We work with long term patients who have stayed there for more than 5 years. It’s not easy to detect a behavioural change when they have been in that situation for a longer time. But I think service is meaningful if you learn from the service, and if the beneficiary has something to take away. We would say that our service at IMH at least has makes a contribution to the community, because the people there look forward to seeing us. So small things like their enjoyment would be a marker that our service is successful.
Claire: I agree with Chelsia. In a personal capacity I volunteer at a children’s home. Some of them come from really troubled backgrounds. To give you an example of the kinds of things we encounter, sometimes there will be chairs threatened to be thrown or random markers or scissors sometimes being flung. But when you tell them to stop, they kind of do listen to you. I think it’s because we form a bond with them and then they value and respect you as a person, and look forward to seeing us.
Jared: Personally, I think that one of the problems with engagement service events, is that we always say as long as they had fun, then it’s a success. Or as long as no one slipped and fell, or something like that. But I think the issue that TGP or other CE01s grapple with is, can we actually tell if they are having fun? Because sometimes they might just be going through the motions but not enjoying it. We don’t know what attitudes some volunteers are bring so they may be treating the elderly like little children because that’s a common tendency.
Maybe we can reorient our definition of success from whether we think they enjoyed it, to whether there was meaningful engagement between the elderly and the volunteers, like learning something more about the senior they have been interacting with.
What do you think is the hardest part of your service projects?
Sarah: To link it to the previous question, I think the hardest thing is when we serve and we don’t succeed. We serve because we want to make a difference in someone’s life. And the hardest part, though it sounds very selfish, is when at the end of the two hours you feel so drained, but the person didn’t seem to gain anything. For example for the NKF group, there are days when they just don’t want to talk. It’s not your fault, but we second-guess ourselves. I think that’s the hardest part because it’s very hard to remember that the reason I am doing service.
But we need to remember that service is not a one day or one month thing, but actually a lifelong thing. A year may sound really long, but it’s not! Because the people you are serving are human beings who will be around for 80 plus years. I think the hardest part is to keep holding onto the hope that something good will come out of your service, even if it is small.
Claire: I had a senior who volunteered at MINDS. She went down for service every week for one and a half years. The people in the class have very severe intellectual disabilities, so she sees them every week, but they don’t even recognise her after one and a half years. For her that’s the hardest part, because you give so much of your heart but every week it just resets, and they don’t even know that you’re there. But if you are making a difference and she found the will to continue serving, so I think that’s very admirable.
Jared: I’ll talk about some practical concerns that CE01s face. I think the largest problem we face is the general lack of enthusiasm for service opportunities within RI. We are quite lucky because we have some social media presence and a pretty stable pool of volunteers. But there are CE01s out there who face trouble getting volunteers. Because people are either so apathetic or stressed, or they don’t even think about doing service.
This question is specifically for the CE01 projects. Do you have a long term vision for your project?
Jared: I think something we can strive to do better is succession, in getting juniors to join the core team the next year. I think this is quite a common problem. To my knowledge the current system is that you get in by knowing the seniors. But this excludes people who have the passion but don’t have the connections, so we are trying to think of a better system to get the best juniors possible.
Alicia: This also a problem for us. Now we are trying to source for main committee members from the pool of volunteers that join us for our events, not based off who we know.
With respect to RI’s current community service culture, what would your ideal community service look like?
Sarah: I think it would really just be being able to have a conversation about service without mentioning the RD. (loud screaming and yells of agreement) I think it’s the wrong emphasis in service to do something just to get an RD merit, and you get really jaded as well. Just now we had the discussion about how we know whether its successful. You don’t. So how do you keep yourself motivated? People end up thinking of the tangible rewards, like an RD merit.
Jared: I completely agree. I think the most ideal situation would be that when we introduce volunteers or service opportunities, we shouldn’t have to say “VIA hours will be awarded”.
Sarah: But its very hard as well! You know that we are pragmatic people. It’s very hard to find that balance between wanting to help others and you wanting to get something out of it.
Chelsia: Most people are not like that, but there is a proportion of the population who sees service as something they need to check off before they graduate. (loud agreement again) It’s not something they take part in out of intrinsic motivation.
Claire: But there are also people in RI who are really genuine about service. Like no matter how busy they are they will always try to carve out time to volunteer for that one to two hours a week, because they know it’s important to them. So I think that’s also something that we should acknowledge.
How can we get to that ideal culture?
Jared: It’s tough.
Claire: I think it’s very difficult to tell someone to do service if they are already unwilling in the first place. And it might not be because they don’t want to serve, but because they don’t feel confident in their ability to serve. So they might say “oh I’m bad at talking to people” or “I’m horrible at human interaction”. I think there should be something done to tell people that it’s not about whether you’re good or not at it, but it’s the thought behind it that matters. If you are there with an open heart to reach out to people, they will feel it. Ok, feeling like someone is there genuinely caring about you, it’s not all that matters, but it’s a very big part of what matters.
Alicia: It’s the same with other things, the more you practise the better you get at it. So maybe the class can organise more VIAs for the students to try it out, because you won’t know until you try. There will be people who are naturally more inclined towards service. But for a majority of people, you go and experience it for yourself and then if you find it meaningful, you’ll want to go for it again.
Jared: I think we must face the fact that there are definitely people who don’t really care or don’t have the time for service. But one suggestion I think could work would be if we could start making use of our assembly slot to expose us to the many different kinds of service and causes. I thought the assembly when Community Advocates got Mr Cai Yinzhou to come down and share was pretty insightful. Or maybe if they did screenings of documentaries about social causes in Singapore, like Don’t Call Us Poor. I think having this visceral element would go a long way in genuinely sparking some interest.