Opinion

3 Ways Singaporeans Can Give Back to the Community That Doesn’t Involve Just Donating Money

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Joanne Poh

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One day, when you strike Toto, you’ll donate a ton of cash to charity and become a philanthropist. Since you’ll no longer have to work in your dead end job, you’ll be able to dedicate all your time to volunteer work. You’ll start, of course, by taking frequent trips overseas for the purpose of voluntourism, glamping in third world countries as you help to build houses and dig wells.

For now, though, you’re so burned out from the daily grind and having to work so hard to stay alive that you can’t bring yourself to be civil to your fellow commuters on the MRT, let alone do something good for the community.

You don’t have to wait till you’re a multi millionaire to improve your karma and do something good for the world around you. Here are some ways every Singaporean can make the world a slightly less miserable place, all without spending a single cent.

 

Volunteer locally

Volunteering doesn’t mean having to spend money to look after children in an orphanage in a third world country, or fight the ebola virus in Africa. There are so many Singaporeans who have gone on multiple voluntourism trips, but have never lifted a finger to volunteer in their own country.

Not saying that’s wrong or whatever, but if your focus is on doing something to help people rather than going on holiday, it makes a lot of sense to look for volunteer opportunities locally first and foremost.

A lot of people tend to think that volunteering in Singapore means giving private tuition to underprivileged kids. A handful still think poverty doesn’t exist in Singapore. Both are mistaken.

If giving free tuition really isn’t your thing, don’t worry, there‘s a wide range of other volunteer opportunities available to you. You might not be particularly interested in feeding the poor or visiting old folks, but what say you about looking after homeless cats or conducting tours at a museum? Here are some organisations where you can find free volunteer opportunities in line with your interests.

  • Cat Welfare Society – Instead of spending money at cat cafes, become a caregiver with the Cat Welfare Society. These volunteers regularly feed community cats and make sure they’re sterilised.
  • Transient Workers Count Too – Stand up against the mistreatment of foreign workers by volunteering with this organisation. Help aggrieved workers to settle salary disputes with unscrupulous employers, conduct research for the organisation or participate in outreach sessions designed to let workers know where they can seek help.
  • Willing Hearts – Singapore’s most famous soup kitchen. Volunteers prepare food, pack it and distribute it to beneficiaries.
  • Centre for Seniors – Prefer old people to screaming kids? Get involved in organising events for elderly people at the Centre for Seniors.
  • AG Home – Even if you don’t like the idea of giving tuition to kids, there are other ways you can work with youths. At AG Home, which is aimed at teenage girls and their families, you can conduct workshops in anything from baking to painting, offer counselling and guidance or organise sports and recreational activities in addition to giving tuition.
  • Society for the Physical Disabled – This organisation aims to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. Volunteers can choose from a range of activities such as driving disabled clients to and from home, interacting with and befriending them, helping with household chores and teaching computer skills.
  • National Heritage Board – If you’re an ardent fan of museums, sign up as a docent or museum volunteer. The cool thing is that you get to attend a course that will school you in topics like Asian history and Peranakan culture, depending on which museum you’re attached to.

 

Help someone who’s not in your immediate social circle

Here in Singapore, we’re used to keeping our heads down and ignoring everyone who isn’t part of our immediate circle of friends and family.

When people lament the loss of kampung spirit or the general unfriendliness of the city, they’re not wrong. You have only to see kiasu parents exhorting their kids to grab MRT seats or witness the kind of backstabbing that goes on the typical Singaporean SME office (in a 2014 survey, 51.6% of Singaporeans said they would consider sacrificing friendship with a colleague in order to get a promotion) to see that we have a very adversarial relationship with the people around us.

This can leave us feeling alienated from the community at large. Turn the tables by doing something nice for someone who’s not in your immediate circle. It could be a colleague at work whom you haven’t talked with much, your neighbour or a random person you meet on the streets. Here are some ways you can lend a hand unbidden.

  • Volunteer to mentor a younger colleague who’s recently joined the company and is a bit lost.
  • Offer to pick up some groceries for your neighbour en route to the neighbourhood FairPrice.
  • If you’re a baking hobbyist, bring your colleagues some goodies from your latest kitchen explorations.
  • Give your annoying auntie’s son an impromptu math lesson when he complains he’s having trouble understanding how to do long division.

It doesn’t take a lot of money, just a bit of time. And hey, you might even emerge from the experience feeling less nihilistic.

 

Strive to be the best version of yourself

I want to believe that deep down, Singaporeans aren’t bad people. We’re just a bit surly because of the pressure cooker environment and lack of sleep.

That customer service rep didn’t mean to snarl at you, she was just tired after years of working 12-hour days in a stressful environment. That kid who stole the MRT seat from under your butt didn’t know any better, he’s been stuck in tuition classes for 20 hours a week and hasn’t had the chance to see much of the world. That troll on the internet who spends all his time after work posting misogynistic comments online clearly has some deep dissatisfaction in his own life.

Most of our excuses for not being kinder involve some combination of “no time” and “too stressed”.

We owe it to ourselves as well as to the people around us to take care of our health, both physical and mental, so that we can stop being so surly at home, at work and in public.

Singaporeans are some of the world’s most sleep deprived people, many of us have poor diets from eating at hawker centres every day, extreme stress and burnout at work are becoming increasingly common and most of us aren’t getting enough exercise. All of this has a profound effect on our physical and mental wellbeing, and as a result we take out our unhappiness on others.

It’s a lot harder to be kind to others when we’re not kind to ourselves. If you have anger management issues or find yourself struggling to hold things together every day, it night be time to take a step and rethink your life and habits.

What are the ways in which you contribute to society? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.