Volunteers who help even when it hurts during a pandemic

(Clockwise from left) Financial adviser Siti Nur Indra Jalil, Mr Daniel Wee and his sponsored child in Cambodia, and Mr Tines Anbarasan and his business partner.
(Clockwise from left) Financial adviser Siti Nur Indra Jalil, Mr Daniel Wee and his sponsored child in Cambodia, and Mr Tines Anbarasan and his business partner.PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG, WORLD VISION SINGAPORE, COURTESY OF TINES ANBARASAN

SINGAPORE - In March last year, financial adviser Siti Nur Indra Jalil tested positive for Covid-19 and was warded at Mount Alvernia Hospital for 49 days.

For the first 10 days in hospital, she had a fever of between 39 and 40 deg C, was immobile from sore muscles and joint pains, was breathless and could not taste or smell anything.

Yet, she continued mentoring youth from her hospital bed as she encouraged them online to study hard and pursue a higher education.

She was one of three people The Straits Times spoke to who had been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic - and still helped others.

The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) said its online donation platform, Giving.sg, received $102 million in donations for the financial year from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

This is more than 2½ times the $39.5 million raised in the last financial year and the highest it had ever collected. NVPC credited Singaporeans' generosity for this.

For some like Ms Indra, 26, they contributed in other ways.

She said: "What was more painful was the isolation. Initially, I thought my hospital stay was only going to be two weeks. By the fourth week, I was depressed and mentally exhausted from waiting for my turn to go home."

Ms Indra is a volunteer at M3 @ Jurong. M3 is an alliance of three Malay/Muslim organisations - Mendaki, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and the People's Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council.

From her hospital bed, she mentored youth on how to seek better opportunities in life. After recovery, she volunteered at other agencies and visited seniors at home.

She said: "I think volunteering made me feel less pain because I wasn't so preoccupied with it and the negativity involved. I believe that's how I survived Covid-19."

Not giving up

Another donor is Mr Daniel Wee, 65, who was retrenched last October. He was a training coordinator for technicians who service and maintain aircraft, and had been in the aviation industry for about 40 years

But Mr Wee, who is single, continues to sponsor children for non-profit group World Vision Singapore, which helps underprivileged children and families globally. He has been a sponsor since 2012.

He now sponsors one child in Mongolia, aged seven, and another in Cambodia, aged 16. He donates $45 for each child monthly.



Mr Daniel Wee (left) and his sponsored child in Cambodia in January last year. PHOTO: WORLD VISION SINGAPORE

Mr Wee said: "It was a bit of a struggle but I don't want to give it up. To me, a child's development is very important. I shouldn't stop just because I'm down with financial difficulties."

The money goes into providing education, healthcare, food and clean water for the sponsored children. During the pandemic, World Vision Singapore also delivered cash and food to those in isolation and distributed soap and surgical masks.

Mr Wee, who is looking for a job, now goes out less frequently with his friends and eats at home.

A spokesman for World Vision Singapore said it now has about 14,000 sponsors and 8,000 children waiting to be sponsored across 14 countries, but the number of sponsored children has decreased since the pandemic.

Mr Cai Chengji, who is in charge of its child sponsorship programme, said: "We are definitely very thankful for sponsors like Daniel who have carried on despite the difficulties."

Mr Wee said: "Hopefully, if I get a part-time job, I can take on a new sponsored child."

Doing good important for society

The pandemic is also a tough time for Mr Tines Anbarasan, 35, managing director and co-founder of outdoor adventure social enterprise, serendipET, an outdoor adventure company that does school and corporate experiential activities such as kayaking and camping.

He said business was virtually non-existent when outdoor activities were banned in early February last year, to curb the spread of Covid-19.

But from March to May last year, he and his business partner delivered supplies like toiletries and instant noodles to migrant worker dormitories such as Kranji Dormitory and Tuas South View Dormitory.


Mr Tines Anbarasan (left) and his business partner cycling at Coney Island. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TINES ANBARASAN

He said: "The dormitories are cramped and crowded with no means of social distancing. I cannot imagine my family there. It was truly heartbreaking to witness that."

Along with his family and staff, they helped to prepare about 2,400 National Day Parade care packs for migrant workers from July to September. Titled SG Gratitude Pack, it included items like snacks, hand sanitiser and soap.

Mr Tines also volunteered at rental flats in Kebun Baru from March last year by helping to get baby clothes donated, assisting with transporting furniture to residents, and checking if residents were aware of the free mask distributions.

He said: "There are a lot of gaps in society. It is my obligation as a human being to do what I can to help fill up the gaps."