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Volunteering: A Millennial Reflects on the Act of Giving

By Nicholas Lee

What is volunteering all about? Simply put, it refers to activities done outside of your household at your own free will, without the expectation of financial compensation. In a money and achievement driven society like Singapore, what is it that drives people to do volunteer work? If you asked the youths of today, you are likely to be greeted with these simple and straightforward replies:

  1. To help others (But Why?)
  2. To meet mandatory Community Involvement Programme (CIP) requirements
  3. To have an edge in university admissions and job applications

Indeed, according to a study by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), the frequency of volunteer work drops significantly between the age range of 19-24. This coincides with the ages when most people study, graduate and begin their careers.

Seems like an awfully utilitarian perspective on volunteering, doesn’t it?

But wait, aren’t we missing out on the bigger picture? Despite its connotation, the benefits of giving back to society are never that of a oneway street. In fact, its positive effects are far reaching:touching the lives of you, me and the community at large.

The Experience
My own volunteering journey began during National Service. Blessed with a stay-out posting, I found myself with a deluge of free time but a drought of money. I was not fond of idleness, and I signed myself up as a volunteer at a local welfare organisation.

As I helped to clean the homes of elderly folks living alone in 1 room rental apartments, I chatted with them and noticed my conversational Mandarin and Hokkien proficiency improving over time. Cleaning was just part of the work; having meaningful, lively conversations and providing company gave this otherwise simple volunteering activity great joy to both the resident and I. On top of this, welfare organisations benefited by becoming more efficient with food donations to the residents. As volunteers, we realized that some of the residents received canned food that are unsuitable for their consumption which we gave feedback to the organisations accordingly.

Despite the drop in figures, volunteering holds a greater purpose after one has entered the workforce. Think about it this way: You’ve managed to clinch a job but it is far from your dream career.

It’s ok.

You dive headlong into your job and before you know it, years have passed and your thoughts drift back to the dream career you’ve fantasised about. As young working adults, it is natural to sometimes wonder if we are in the right industry or job. Tempered by the experiences of working life however, you are aware that your dream job may not be all it’s cracked up to be. But how else would you know unless you take a leap of faith and switch jobs?

By doing volunteer work of course!

Volunteer work helps you take a little step in that direction, giving you a taste of what the industry is like without affecting your career progression. Volunteer at the neighbourhood community centre if people-centric jobs pique your interest. Help out with a local welfare organisation to find out if the social service sector is for you. Write for your local charity if you have dreams of a writing career. Just like that, you’ve just made that crucial step in figuring out what you want to do in life. And therein lies your biggest gift to society: Becoming a happier person filled with purpose and positivity.

To volunteer is to give, by being a volunteer we also receive. Monetary donations, contributing your time to a good cause or simply finding your purpose in life. Whatever the act, it is an amazing experience that brings positive change to everyone involved, making society that little bit better. Volunteering benefits all and I hope you will too.

Start volunteering today!

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