Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Giving back

For many years, the word "volunteer" would make me shudder. Strange? This was because when I was working in the arts industry, part of my job was managing volunteers and I will outrightly say that this was one of the tasks I disliked the most.

It was the hypocrisy that grated, most of all. Although I can't generalise this to all, many of the volunteers were expat wives or tai tais with egos to match the size of their bling. Their primary motivation for volunteering was far from altruistic - it was to be seen and their activities evolved around getting the most public recognition for themselves. Instead of helping, they often created more unnecessary work for already loaded admin staff and the bitching.. oh, the bitching! It was so traumatic for me it almost made volunteerism a bad word in my books.

In recent years however, I had to acknowledge that my experience was not a valid reason for not volunteering. Giving back to society is an intrinsic part of being human. It reinforces the notion that we are obliged to help our fellow human beings or contribute to a larger cause like education, the arts or the environment. It keeps us from being self-centred - something we're already inclined to be in this greedy, material world - and in the process of serving, hopefully it makes us better people. I wanted my kids to learn this and so I needed to set the example myself.

Volunteerism involves some form of giving. But I think some people mistake this to mean sacrifice. I don't really buy that. Ok, when you see someone in need, you should respond if you can, even if you don't really like it. But in general, volunteerism comes in many forms - if you don't enjoy being around kids, you don't have to volunteer to help out at an orphanage, for example. No one is asking you to be a martyr. To me, the best way to volunteer is to give of what you enjoy doing, that might help someone. This idea is upheld in the bible:

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." - 2 Cor 9:7

So when I made a conscious decision to volunteer last year, I checked out the National Volunteer & Philanthropic Centre online e-match service. It's very useful - you can choose to volunteer by cause, activity, beneficiaries and even location, so you can work around your interests and schedule. I wanted to work for youths as I like kids and it turned out that one of the youth organisations needed a writer for their newsletters and website. Hey, I can do that! So that's how I got started.

I also practise Corporate Social Responsibility under my business. Not much admittedly, but when I get requests for writing by non-profit organisations, I usually do them at discounted rates. One such organisation was the National Parks Board and I wrote a brochure for their Plant-A-Tree Programme which I'm taking the opportunity to highlight here. If you're looking for a volunteering opportunity that you can do with your kids, this is a very worthwhile venture. For just a mere $200, your whole family can plant a tree at one of the local parks. You are sending a direct message on the importance of preserving the environment and the act of planting the tree, not just giving money, makes you an active participant in caring for nature.

Some people mistakenly believe that they need special talent to be a volunteer or that giving has to be in a big way. Not at all. Last Sunday's sermon at church was a timely reminder of the widow's gift of two mites (Luke 21:1-4). She gave quietly and generously. Because of that, her simple gift was more appreciated and blessed than the fancy donations flaunted by the Pharisees. No need for flashy gestures. As long as they're sincere and from the heart, even the simplest gift or service will count.

The talented George Michael released Praying For Time in 1990 - a poignant song which laments social apathy and injustice. Carrie Underwood, one of the past American Idol winners, gave a powerfully moving and gut-wrenching performance on the show last year as part of Idol Gives Back. Funny, I didn't like Carrie when she was a contestant but after she'd won, she really came into her own and wowed me as a singer. How far this farmer girl has come!

Anyway, I'm posting this video in the hope that it will further inspire you to give back in your own way. Do listen to the song, it's beautiful. The lyrics are posted below.

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers
This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we'll take our chances
Cos God's stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all God's children
Crept out the back door

And it's hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

This is the year of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year
These are the days of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say "what's mine is mine and not yours"
I may have too much but I'll take my chances
Cos God's stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you
That he can't come back
Cos he has no children to come back for

And it's hard to love when there's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time.


Anonymous said...

I feel that I have been blessed all my life so doing volunteer work is a way to share this blessing with others. I have started since last year in a more regular way and it is satisfying work to share the joy of living and learning.


Anonymous said...

Another great post, Monica! Btw, I am the anonymous person who wrote about Kumon a few posts back.

I have a question to ask you since you always have such good insights into education. I am reading 'The Leader in Me' by Stephen R. Covey at the moment and though I have only read a few chapters, the book has already wowed me away. I am not sure if you've read it but it's a book about how schools and parents around the world are inspiring greatness, one child at a time by teaching kids The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in school. So far, many schools have adopted this approach, including a primary school in Singapore! It's Chua Chu Kang Primary School. Would appreacite it much if you could share about this, if you have heard anything about it. Thanks!


monlim said...

Penny: I haven't read the book but I did attend a 7 Habits course yonks ago and thought it was pretty good. Personally, I think many of these management gurus have great theories but unfortunately, people attend their courses or read their books and it ends there. It's all about application - if they can get the kids to apply even some of the theories regularly, I'm sure it will make a difference. Is your kid in CCK Pri School? If so, do share - I'd be interested to know what they do!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mon, I agree with you. The principles are actually very simple but it's hard to apply them consistently in our daily lives.

No, my kid is not in CCKPS. I am from Malaysia actually. You can visit the website to find out more.





eunice said...

I know of many parents in Sin who volunteer in school just to get a place for their children. I don't judge them but often wonder if the school is right cos by doing that, the 'heart' is not in the task but just a means to an end.

It takes a certain type of person to volunteer and really admire people who can do it long term.

Hey, the plant-a-tree prog is big here. Most of the international schools are into it.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...