The spirit of volunteerism among the youth in Singapore is reported to be strong with large numbers of participants. But I’d like to question if this is community service done from the bottom of our hearts?
There are two ways to look at this: Some chase after carrots hanging overhead while many others happen to pick up carrots along the way.
You would have heard of “CIP”. If you’re from the education sector or a younger parent, “VIA” would ring a bell. The Community Involvement Programme (CIP) launched in 1997 requires primary to pre-university students to spend time on community work.
It was later reframed in 2012 by the Ministry of Education as the Values In Action (VIA) scheme. Activities typically include flag days, helping out at welfare homes and beach cleaning. The number of CIP hours is used in the calculation of Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) grading system. A good CCA grade is important because an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ allows for deduction of bonus points from the aggregate score obtained for GCE ‘O’ Level examinations.
The list of community service activities also appear in our résumés and may make up interview questions in job applications.
In Singapore Management University, there is the Centre for Social Responsibility (C4SR). Before convocation, all students are required to attend a compulsory community service briefing. Students have to clear at least 80 hours in community service to be eligible for graduation.
I’ve met friends who participate in just-enough activities to meet the requirements. Some try to clear as many hours as possible in Year 1 so they can have a worry off their mind, while a few delay volunteering till Year 4 (because it only becomes important when graduation draws near). While that’s the case, we can take comfort that they are the minority.
Could these be the reasons why youth volunteerism rates here trump those of the United States and Britain?
Are people doing these for the carrots?
Now, take a look at the People’s Association. There are over 1,800 grassroots organisations with more than 25,000 volunteer grassroots leaders. “Grassroots volunteers visit residents to encourage community involvement, raise awareness about community issues, explain government policies and gather feedback, as well as help those in need.”
Even here, there are carrots. They are entitled to free parking in constituencies, priority in Primary 1 registration exercise and HDB ballots.
One starts to wonder what the real reason for activism is.
The Carrots Along The Way
For those without self-serving motives, they see no dangling carrot… But they do run and pick up some carrots along the way. When the run gets a little boring and tiring, these carrots keep them going.
Minister of Education Mr Heng Swee Keat agrees that youth volunteering depends on passion. However, passion will run out in the long run. We have to keep rediscovering and rekindling ours.
Volunteers I’ve spoken to often sign up for events together with friends for causes they believe in. Friendships are formed through volunteer work; and working together with a group of like-minded people motivates us to do even more.
Inadvertently, volunteering also enabled me to establish contacts in many areas which go on to benefit me beyond volunteer work. I do love carrots and I’m happy to chance upon them!
My leader in an overseas community service project actually said this, ‘We may be going there to help the people, but let’s face the fact. We are beneficiaries ourselves, and we get even more than we can possibly give.’
Our reflections on these trips render much introspection. We learn to appreciate our country even more and show gratitude. Fundraising activities also help us with public speaking, idea generation and handling of finances. These make up invaluable experiences that hone our leadership, teamwork and management abilities. Carrots!
We can also sharpen our skills through skillset volunteering. Law students give pro-bono clinics and designers offer to do up community event banners. Research by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) showed that the potential for personal skills development has growingly become a key motivation for continued service.
Once upon a time, social media did not exist. Online platforms are seen as tools that promote narcissism and self-gratification. People now post photos of themselves together with the beneficiaries and tell stories of their experiences.
Are they out to get recognition for themselves? I don’t believe so. To spend many hours on community service just to upload some photos would be simply absurd! Rather than gaining self-recognition, social media is used to gain traction and spread awareness. The recognition is again, a carrot.
We may seem to be running for the carrots, but our hearts for service are still genuine.
Altruistic or not, does it really matter? At the end of the day, community service and social responsibility must still be encouraged.
And in the words of Singapore Kindness Movement chief William Wan, “We should always give the benefit of the doubt to people. So long as the action benefits someone, it is good enough, whatever their motivations are. If we start to question, there will be no end to it.”
So long as the run continues.