More turn to ground-up volunteer projects

Infant-care teacher Priscilla Ong and her son, Zechariah (above), 16, deliver groceries to a needy household in Yishun. Ms Ong's outreach to children at her centre has turned into a full-fledged community effort called Project Love Lunch, which distr
Infant-care teacher Priscilla Ong and her son, Zechariah (above), 16, deliver groceries to a needy household in Yishun. Ms Ong's outreach to children at her centre has turned into a full-fledged community effort called Project Love Lunch, which distributes items to more than 70 families.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Infant-care teacher Priscilla Ong and her son, Zechariah (above), 16, deliver groceries to a needy household in Yishun. Ms Ong's outreach to children at her centre has turned into a full-fledged community effort called Project Love Lunch, which distr
Infant-care teacher Priscilla Ong and her son, Zechariah (above), 16, deliver groceries to a needy household in Yishun. Ms Ong's outreach to children at her centre has turned into a full-fledged community effort called Project Love Lunch, which distributes items to more than 70 families.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

People are opting for informal charity causes instead of longer-term work with established organisations

There has been a surge in the number of people here who eschew traditional volunteering channels for ground-up efforts that tend to be more ad hoc and informal.

Infant-care teacher Priscilla Ong is one such example. In 2014, the 35-year-old learnt that many children at her centre lacked clothes and toys.

She started collecting and donating these items, and by June last year, she had expanded her reach in helping low-income families in Marsiling and Yishun.

Her small solo effort has turned into a community effort called Project Love Lunch. Besides clothes and toys, it now regularly distributes food and groceries to more than 70 households .

Ms Ong said that her experience at the infant-care centre showed that some individuals may not be receiving help through traditional channels.

"You may have elderly people who don't want to sue their own children for maintenance or those who don't qualify for government aid," she said.

There are many others like Ms Ong, who are involved in ground-up initiatives to plug the gaps that are not met by larger and more established charities.

A survey commissioned by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, released on Wednesday, found that the overall volunteerism rate has increased from 18 per cent in 2014 to 35 per cent of respondents last year.

Of this group, half gave their time to such informal efforts last year, compared with a quarter in 2014.

There are no figures available on the number of such ground-up initiatives here, as it is not compulsory to register them with the authorities.

But checks on popular social media platforms and crowdfunding sites such as Give.asia found about 200 active movements.

Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of the Charity Council, said that while ground-up volunteering is not new, social media has increased its visibility and reach.

With social media, people can spread the message about a cause to thousands and donate or sign up as a volunteer within seconds.

Mr Alfred Tan, chief executive of Singapore Children's Society (SCS), said that organisations can look to tap on this interest in ad hoc and informal volunteering.

SCS, for example, offers opportunities for volunteers to take part in less-structured programmes, such as taking children to the zoo, before recruiting them for longer-term programmes.

Community clinic Healthserve's communications manager, Ms Nhaca Le Schulze, said that ground-up efforts reflect "an entrepreneurial mindset among young people who see a problem and want to be involved in coming up with a solution".

Ms Rebecca Lim, who is head of a digital storytelling initiative by the Singapore International Foundation, called Our Better World, said that it is important to communicate to volunteers - whether they are with established organisations or informal volunteering projects -  that they may not have to make drastic lifestyle changes as part of their volunteering commitments.

There are also opportunities for people to volunteer in areas where they are interested in.

She cited a campaign for Running Hour, where fitness enthusiasts can volunteer as guides for visually challenged runners.

"If you are already running every weekend, you can just be a buddy to (another person). It is an example of how you can do what you're interested in, while helping someone along the way. It is this accessibility that needs to be communicated."

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'More turn to ground-up volunteer projects'. Print Edition | Subscribe