Important to give youth firm foundation in volunteerism: Tan Chuan-Jin

(From left) Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin learns to make pineapple pastry with patient Mohamad Shariff  and volunteer Nicholas Mowe at Assisi Hospice on Jan 26.
(From left) Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin learns to make pineapple pastry with patient Mohamad Shariff and volunteer Nicholas Mowe at Assisi Hospice on Jan 26.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin moves patient Mohamad Shariff, 63, from the bed to the wheelchair with the help of senior occupational therapist Celine Yun, 35.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin moves patient Mohamad Shariff, 63, from the bed to the wheelchair with the help of senior occupational therapist Celine Yun, 35. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin having a chat with Mr Yong Siew Chue, 68.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin having a chat with Mr Yong Siew Chue, 68. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - When Duan Mengnan turned 18, she joined Assisi Hospice as a part-time volunteer carer.

The former Singapore Institute of Technology student would drop by the hospice after school at least a couple of times a week, juggling volunteer duties with school work.

Her friends wondered why she was spending her youth in such a "serious and solemn" place.

"They wouldn't even dare to step into the hospice," said the 19-year-old.

But Mengnan, whose year-long stint ends next week when she leaves for university in Australia, calls it an "experience you can't get anywhere else".

"Patients and carers sing and dance during activities. It can be a very happy place," she said.

Young volunteers like Mengnan, however, are a rarity.

While volunteerism in general is on the rise here, those between the ages of 25 and 34 tend to be less generous with their time, according to a biennial survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre in 2016.

Only 29 per cent of respondents in that age group volunteered for a social cause in 2016. In contrast, those aged between 35 and 44 were the most enthusiastic, with 48 per cent stepping forward.

"There is a desire to help and to give, but sometimes, we don't know where (to start)," said Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin at Assisi Hospice on Friday (Jan 26). Mr Tan personally rolled up his sleeves and became a volunteer for the day, interacting with and helping hospice patients get around.

He singled out the Values in Action (VIA) programme as one that "lays the foundation (for volunteerism) from a young age". VIA are learning experiences students in Singapore go through that support their development as socially responsible citizens. Activities can range from volunteering at a hospice or nursing home to picking up litter.

"Surely the vision must be: 'Can every young person that's leaving our school really want to give?' Students are a captive audience, you can curate the learning journey so that whatever VIA activity they do, they really feel that it's something they want to continue to do (when they enter the workforce)," said Mr Tan, who heads SGCares, a national movement that works to build a more caring society. He is also an adviser to the National Council of Social Service.

Mr Tan will be hoping that there are more volunteers like Mr Nicholas Mowe.

The 43-year-old was a full-time commodity financier before he took a year-long break to volunteer at Assisi Hospice.

The father of two felt a need to lead by example, and joined the hospice last April.

Now into the last quarter of his sabbatical, Mr Mowe is once again keeping up with market changes.

But while he is unsure what kind of work he will do as he returns to the commodities sector, one thing is certain- he hopes to find a job that allows him to come back and serve.