As I approach adulthood at an increasing pace, I find myself earnestly pondering the matters close to my heart and worth sweating for. Recently, my partner who is an active volunteer with the FoodBank, an organization driven by the laudable mission to fill the rice bowls of the less fortunate with the excess from F&B sources, rallied me to find a purpose that would ignite this fire in my belly. Her words captioned alongside a post on Instagram were particularly emotion grabbing. It focused my thoughts and provided it a rather unusual clarity. It had the effect of rousing my relative latency in the area of community service, which befitted the desperate nature of her pleas for action from her fellow Millennial. It made sense to analyze why Community service matters.
I am certainly no stranger to community service, in part due to the ceaseless list of such initiatives in schools. I recount being brought to the homes of the aged to offer them company they sorely wished their family could adequately provide. Immersed in the ignorance of youth, I thought little of the good we were doing in the lives of the elderly we visited. I believed that our short sessions interacting amounted to nothing but a dipping of our soul into their lives. Can we truly make a difference and effect positive change in such a brief encounter? The younger me often mused. Perhaps I was cynical and had a low opinion of the direct impact I was doing. Maybe I felt that the government was attempting too hard to push community service onto the palms of youths by making it mandatory through Community Involvement Program (CIP) and later Values in Action (VIA). Growing up matures people and I was no different. As I partook in festive hamper distributions to lower-income households, I began to appreciate that the little we did produces ripples through society. Our efforts today affords the youths of tomorrow opportunities to experience a better Singapore, where community-centered children are raised to create further opportunities for others.
My generation does hold much promise where community service is concerned, many seek out volunteer organizations like YOUTH CORPS and commit plenty of time in them. It must be cautioned however, that our intentions are sometimes mired in doubt. Are we solely interested in its portfolio-boosting properties or do we genuinely care about the people we serve? Do the ends justify our reasons? Well, the outcome will still be the same if we are driven by self-serving goals or societal betterment. But if our actions of service to others are merely a road to a destination where the ultimate beneficiaries are ourselves, then have we so casually discarded the meaning and sincerity of it all? Before we step up as volunteers, it might be worthwhile to honestly reflect on where our motives lie and never simply trivialize the importance of the right intentions.
The past week was rather significant as I plunged myself into a Meet the people session in the capacity of a volunteer. I had cold feet and very unsure of how I might be of help but it turns out all it required of me was a willing heart and a listening ear. And listen I did, I was treated to the real circumstances and concerns of several residents. Their problems ranged from topics of housing woes to financial difficulties. I am fortunately not so detached from the realities of society and not so oblivious to entertain the notions that these issues were just fiction. However, it was one thing to recognize it exists and another entirely to have it confirmed by the tales of despair I had the privilege of hearing. In order to really see changes made, we have to take the community as it is, not as we want it to be. There is no room for idealism, we must be willing to put our hearts on the ground and be aware of the current realities plaguing society’s forgotten, if we should harbor any hope of improving lives.
I am, by most measures, not a seasoned volunteer. I have much more to contribute and do but I am definitely in a more optimistic position towards community service today than a decade ago. We are all blessed with unique gifts and talents, I will like to think it was meant for something greater than serving our self-interests. Society can be elevated if we only stop complaining about the problems and do our part to make Singapore a happier place to live in. I conclude with a quote from former US president John F. Kennedy in his inauguration address back in 1961. “ Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” ❄