Volunteer leave for civil servants can create long-term impact: Charity leaders

Many may return to do more and be more sensitive to causes

The move to give all civil servants a day off to volunteer at registered charities can have a strategic, long-term impact, leaders in the charity sector said.

For one thing, if properly engaged, many in this group could return and even become long-term volunteers.

Such close encounters with charities could also see more of them becoming sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate, they added.

In addition, charities can run more activities and reach out to more people under the new scheme offered to 82,000 civil servants from next year, they said.

But "the scheme is only as good as the extent to which volunteers are properly matched in terms of what they can contribute to what the charities and their beneficiaries truly need and appreciate", said Ms Denise Phua, Mayor of Central Singapore District who co-founded Pathlight School for autistic children.

MORE EMPATHY

A lot of requests - for subsidies, flexibility - go to the civil service. If civil servants can understand the extent of some disabilities, they will be more sympathetic and sensitive to issues these people face.

MR DENNIS LIM, chief executive of the Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled

Agreeing, Mr Willie Cheng, who sits on the boards of several non- profit groups, said: "Don't see them as free labour."

Deploy them "intelligently" and they are likely to return and even become long-term volunteers, he added. Also, volunteers tend to donate more to the organisation they volunteer for, compared with non-volunteers, noted Mr Cheng, who is chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

For Mr Dennis Lim, chief executive of the Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled, the scheme's major benefit is greater awareness being created among more civil servants about the plight of the less fortunate.

"Without interacting with these people, you won't understand the difficulties they go through in trying to live normal lives," he said.

"A lot of requests - for subsidies, flexibility - go to the civil service. If civil servants can understand the extent of some disabilities, they will be more sympathetic and sensitive to issues these people face."

While a single day may seem little, charities say every extra pair of hands is welcome, especially for large-scale events.

 

"If we organise a charity carnival, for example, we may need volunteers to man the booth and help sell merchandise," said Ms Tan Bee Heong, general manager of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. The fund relied on about 600 volunteers this year for its Flag Day in May and other activities that make sure that about 14,000 needy students get cash for their school expenses.

Mr David Chan, executive director of Care Community Services Society (CCSS), was likewise cheered by the scheme.

"When I heard about the volunteer leave, the first thing I wanted to do was to e-mail all the ministries and agencies to let them know of the different programmes we have," he said.

CCSS runs programmes for children, seniors and youth from low- income families, as well as former prison inmates.

Some civil servants are already doing their bit for charity.

Since 2013, some officers from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth have been reading weekly to children from the Stamford CareHut student care centre to foster a love of reading in them.

Over two days this year, the ministry's officers also spruced up the flat of a child from the programme, painting walls and installing new furniture.

The public service hopes that the extra day of leave will encourage more civil servants to take part in such projects.

Some help may not come in the form of just being there physically, said Ms Phua. She cited how a former National Parks Board officer introduced an orchid gardener to a charity to provide training and jobs to special-needs adults.

What about volunteers not liking the tasks they are given? Observers say this tends not to be a big issue, as charities also try to find a good fit.

Said Mr Chan: "If people really have the passion to volunteer, depending on their skills and what they're good in, we'll know where to deploy them. It'll come naturally to them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2015, with the headline 'Day off for civil servants can create long-term impact: Charity leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe