Mr Roop Singh went from a 16-year-old uncertain first-time volunteer to a committed leader in eight years.
“It was scary for me to meet new people because I wasn’t sure what expectations the organisation might have for me,” says Mr Singh, now 24, of his first taste of volunteering at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games during his school holidays.
His initial concerns were quickly allayed as he realised how friendly the volunteering community was. “So I thought, volunteering is actually quite fun. You learn a lot of things, meet a lot of people and form a new community of friends that last you a lifetime.
“Because of that intangible experience, I started volunteering more.”
Mr Singh is part of a growing movement of youths in Singapore who are hungry, passionate and eagerly stepping forward to give back to society.
Nearly 5,000 young Singaporeans volunteered in 2022 – an increase of 20 per cent from pre-pandemic times, says Youth Corps Singapore, the volunteering arm of the National Youth Council.
Youth Corps was launched in 2014 to champion youth volunteerism and build active citizenry for a caring and cohesive society.
Today, Mr Singh is a committed volunteer working with different segments of society, from befriending persons with special needs and playing sports with migrant workers to mentoring youths at risk.
Mr Singh has been leading Play For All, a Youth Corps volunteering programme in partnership with the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN), organising training and orientation, and executing games and activities.
To help volunteers engage meaningfully with APSN clients, he shares tips such as being patient, speaking to clients at their eye level by bending down if needed, and conversation starters such as finding out about the clients’ daily life and internship to build rapport.
“We hope that through our programme, we interact with them and that boosts their confidence,” says Mr Singh.
Since last May, Mr Singh has also been volunteering with the Youth Corps’ Exercise Programme with Migrant Brothers.
He visits two migrant recreational centres twice a month to play badminton, table tennis, carrom, frisbee, or soccer with migrant workers, along with 10 to 15 volunteers.
And he does all of this while juggling his studies in business analytics and his part-time job at a major tech firm.
How does he find the time? “I'm able to manage all this while I’m doing hybrid work. Some of the volunteering takes place on Friday evenings or on Saturdays, so I have my rest on Sunday.”
Volunteering has its benefits. “I’ve grown a lot in confidence since I first started. I find it meaningful to be part of a bigger cause to give back to society, to see the smile on someone’s face.
“You also grow to become more resilient, as you encounter a lot of challenges when you volunteer. You need to face and deal with them.”
New approach sparks youth interest
Volunteering opportunities that offer a shorter time commitment is one key reason why more are stepping up through Youth Corps’ partnerships with social service agencies.
In 2022, there were 2,200 volunteering opportunities that lasted less than a week. Many were also offered during the June and December school holidays.
The new approach to curating volunteering opportunities was to address common barriers to volunteering – such as the lack of time due to school or work, family commitments and other priorities.
Youth Corps also works with partners on programmes to help youths gain new learning experiences and support their personal growth and development.
One such initiative is Youth Alive! (Youth Alumni Leadership In Volunteering Empowerment!), a new two-year leadership programme with charity organisation Shine Children and Youth Services.
Institute of Technical Education graduate Norsyafiyna Syrna, 18, is one of 28 Youth Community Outreach Patrol (COP) alumni leaders in the first batch of Youth Alive! leaders in 2022.
She first started volunteering under Youth COP in secondary school in 2017, which included helping out with the Clementi Police Division when they held anti-scam roadshows and organising carnival games for migrant workers during National Day.
Ms Norsyafiyna says: “It’s something new which focuses on leadership, and seniors that were already there told me it was fun.”
Under Youth Alive!, she is responsible for organising leadership camps to train the next batch of youth leaders, from working with the programme team in planning and running the games, to sharing the knowledge she’s gained.
One key challenge is having to coordinate other volunteers’ busy schedules and finding a common day for everyone to meet.
This year, she will step up as overall leader of Youth Alive! to help others start their own community projects. The programme aims to recruit another 20 youth leaders for the second year.
Building on youth interest
For long-time volunteer Choon Jia Fang, 28, it started with simply wanting to help others and contribute to a bigger cause.
She began volunteering with children with developmental needs during her university days. The interest to work with this particular group continued.
Last October, she joined the KidsLearn programme, a partnership between the Social Service Office @ Bedok’s Community Link programme and Youth Corps.
It is an early literacy enrichment programme that brings volunteers on board to promote fun in learning and befriend children aged five to six years old, specifically those living in rental housing.
In 2022, four KidsLearn programmes were launched in Bedok, Tampines, Ang Mo Kio and Queenstown, with more to be rolled out across other neighbourhoods.
Initially, the child Ms Choon was paired with had trouble spelling her name, but has since improved over time, thanks to the tireless efforts of Ms Choon who comes down every Saturday afternoon to Bedok.
She actively sourced for and created learning materials and engaging activities so her child would enjoy the lessons.
“I feel happy when I can see the child grow and benefit with my help,” says Ms Choon, who works as a clinical research coordinator.
“These are just small, everyday things, but it means a lot to me when I can be there for her.”
Ms Choon also readily offered suggestions on how to improve the programme, and encouraged her peers to create a safe and nurturing learning environment for the children.
“To me, creating a fun, cohesive, and inclusive volunteer community and exposure to a broad variety of volunteer experiences can spur more youths to get started volunteering,” she says.
“And to get them to commit in the long-term, youths have to keep finding meaning in what they’re doing.”
Making volunteering accessible
Volunteering may seem daunting, especially for those bogged down by commitments to school, work or family.
To address these barriers, Youth Corps partnered with social service agencies last year to launch more opportunities that offer shorter commitments or are closer to the community.
“Building a vibrant youth volunteering ecosystem requires strong partnerships,” said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Law Rahayu Mahzam at the Youth Corps partners appreciation event in December 2022.
“Social service agencies, corporates and government agencies serve wide-ranging and diverse needs, and are best placed to identify how youths can serve, and provide opportunities for Youth Corps volunteers to develop their capabilities.”
For example, the Youth Alive! programme was created through a partnership between Shine Children and Youth Services and Youth Corps.
The partnership, support and resources from the Youth Corps are “crucial and vital in furthering these youths’ journey to develop and equip themselves with the necessary skills, guidance and opportunities of learning at this new life stage,” says a Shine spokesman.
Singapore Buddhist Lodge Vision Family Service Centre (SBL Vision FSC) programme manager Joey Loh, 31, shares how youth volunteers raise reflective questions and constructive ideas to improve the programme is “a very beautiful process to witness”.
SBL Vision FSC is a social service agency and Youth Corps partner that runs the KidsLearn programme with the Social Service Office @ Tampines.
She adds: “It is important that through these volunteering experiences, our youths deepen their knowledge on current social issues, learn to be more empathetic and compassionate, and build a sense of ownership to support fellow humans in need.”
The Youth Corps is also piloting community service events, where volunteering events by a host organisation are managed by a small group of regular volunteers.
“The rest of the volunteers can join on (an) ad hoc basis," says Youth Corps’ executive director Ong Kah Kuang.
He adds that the “revised model” of volunteering will provide youths with more opportunities for ad hoc volunteering in different causes and make it easier for host organisations to manage these volunteers.
This was produced in partnership with the National Youth Council