Volunteers' pay may send wrong message

When I signed up to be a Pioneer Generation Ambassador (PGA) this year, I learnt that I would be paid for my time, which is termed as "out of pocket expenses".

PGAs work in pairs and each PGA is given $10. Their duties are to inform pioneers about the benefits of the Pioneer Generation Package, and to undertake data entry with the information gathered on each pioneer.

PGAs who are not able to spare the time for data entry, but are dedicated in engaging the pioneers, are taken out from the programme even if they have opted not to receive any reimbursement.

While this method is probably cost- and time-efficient, it sends the wrong message if PGAs are called volunteers in all the programme materials.

It could also attract the wrong type of people and discourage those who genuinely wish to reach out to pioneers.

It is also wrong to use the term "volunteer" on anyone who is clearly paid to deliver a fixed amount of work. If we can call PGAs "volunteers" and pay them, then we should also pay our grassroots leaders and perhaps pay them more handsomely.

The spirit of volunteering is about giving from the heart. Volunteering is about helping, not hiring; giving, not taking; contributing, not calculating. Volunteers are ordinary people who carry out extraordinary acts in big or small ways. These acts, given freely, are what bind the community together.

If you put a price tag on volunteering, then volunteers should be called employees, and organisations who pay volunteers, such as the PG office, should probably hire them instead.

Quek May Ling (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'Volunteers' pay may send wrong message'. Print Edition | Subscribe