Families who volunteer at Make-A-Wish Singapore

Families who volunteer together say it not only helps them to bond, but also learn empathy

Volunteering is a family affair for the Liaos, who help out regularly with charity Make-A-Wish Foundation Singapore.

The global organisation started a branch in Singapore in 2002, with the mission of granting wishes to children with critical illnesses.

Mr Stanley Liao, 56, began as a donor with Make-A-Wish here eight years ago.

Last year, his wife Abegail felt it would be meaningful for them and their daughters to do charity work together as a family.

"We felt that working with Make-A-Wish would help our children develop important values such as empathy and the ability to care for others. As a family, we want to feel for families in need and do our best to help people around us. Volunteering together also allows us to bond as a family," says Mr Liao, a director in an information technology company.

He, his wife and his elder daughter Andrea, 24, volunteer as wish granters, while younger daughter Lauren, 14, helps them behind the scenes with wish-granting preparation work.

Wish granters help to fulfil the wishes of these children, from going on a staycation and hugging a koala to getting a room makeover and becoming a princess for a day.

Mr Liao's wife is head of communications at the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices, Andrea runs rhythmic gymnastics academy Rhythm and Groove and Lauren is a student.

Make-A-Wish Singapore's board chairman Keith Goh says the wish experience is indeed one that "draws families together and strengthens bonds between families and communities".

As a co-founder who has also been involved in the charity in various roles, he has witnessed how its mission has brought people together - not only the families of the beneficiaries, but also those of the volunteers.

His own immediate and extended family members also support the charity as donors, wish adopters and participants of its fund-raising events.

"It's all about community," says Dr Goh.

The charity, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary in Singapore, has granted 1,299 wishes to date and has about 250 volunteers.

While many volunteer as individuals, there are also families such as the Liaos, who volunteer together.

Mr Liao says volunteering as a family has been rewarding as they learnt they each have something different to offer.

"For me, it is my expertise in IT. For my wife, it is her creativity and love for children. For Andrea, it is her ability to interact well with the wish kids and plan exciting itineraries for the wish journey.

"With our combined efforts, we can put more smiles on children's faces."

Wish kid Terry and his sister Joey, five (both in foreground), with wish granters (back row, from left) Suzanne Liu, Felicia Lee and Jackson Zhong. PHOTO: SUZANNE LIU

Mother-daughter duo Suzanne Liu, 53, and Felicia Lee, 22, have been volunteering together since last year as wish granters with Make-A-Wish Singapore.

Ms Liu became a wish granter in 2013 and she encouraged her daughter to join her last year.

"I want my daughter to see life from another perspective and to give back to society," says Ms Liu, a housewife.

Mother and daughter have since worked together on two wish-granting projects.

One of these involves granting the wish of eight-year-old Terry, who suffers from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. He wanted a blue, Lego-themed room makeover complete with a Wii play area.

When the wish was granted, Ms Lee says she was moved by how happy he was, especially because she had previously witnessed his resentment towards his condition. "Through this experience, I saw the value in making children like him happy," says Ms Lee, a student.

Another mother-daughter duo with Make-A-Wish are Ms Lim Choy Yoke, 50, and Low Wan Yi, 20. As was the case with Ms Liu and her daughter, Ms Lim was also the one who urged her daughter Wan Yi to volunteer with Make-A-Wish.

"I think it's more meaningful than nua-ing (Hokkien for lazing around) at home or swiping away on her mobile phone," says Ms Lim, a customer service executive with a shipping company.

"I also want her to learn to bring happiness into others' lives. It doesn't take much. All you need is to have the passion and willingness to help."

What Ms Lim may not have expected is that although her daughter started volunteering only last month, one child has already impacted Wan Yi by setting her thinking about her life purpose.

Wan Yi, a student, says she has been impressed by the positivity and drive of wish kid Madan, who has a complex genetic condition.

She says: "He's 17 years old, is a top-scoring student and has a great outlook on life. He makes me ask myself, 'What have I been doing with my life?'"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline Families who volunteer at Make-A-Wish Singapore. Subscribe