'Non-green' causes also need volunteers

There has been a green wave of volunteerism in Singapore, with more giving time and money to environmental causes - but there seems to be a problem in getting volunteers for other causes, such as helping the mentally or terminally ill.

Over the past two years, volunteers supporting efforts such as gardening, environment protection, recycling and haze relief have doubled, a study by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) has found. The proportion grew from 7 per cent of survey respondents in 2014 - when the last survey was done - to 14 per cent last year.

When anti-haze volunteer group PM.Haze (People's Movement to Stop Haze) was founded in 2014 to get people to buy sustainable palm oil or pulp and paper products, it had five volunteers. Now it has 40, its co-founder Tan Yi Han said.

Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said there is also increasing support for animal welfare movements.

However, NVPC said there is a dearth of volunteers in other sectors, such as caring for the terminally or mentally ill. This gap can be plugged, with individuals passionate about the various causes taking the lead to work with organisations such as NVPC, said the centre's chief executive Melissa Kwee. She added: "If an individual can step forward to lead the cause, people will step up... Singapore is seeing a greater informal and peer-to-peer action with the rise of ground-up movements, social enterprises and purpose-led businesses."

Ms Saleemah Ismail, 48, in 2013 started a movement that supports the children of incarcerated mothers. This has now grown into a charity, with volunteers visiting the children to read to them.

Volunteers also visit the women in prison to record them reading books that will later be played back for their children. Said Ms Saleemah: "We came together as a group of friends trying to find a solution as we hoped to address the gap."

Audrey Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline ''Non-green' causes also need volunteers'. Print Edition | Subscribe