SSay “volunteer”, and we think of providing food and building shelters, or maybe a cash donation or two. But the truth is that some people lack so much more… and we have so much more to give.
Sowing the Seeds of Hope
Say “volunteer”, and we think of providing food and building shelters, or maybe a cash donation or two. But the truth is that some people lack so much more… and we have so much more to give.
That idea is the driving force behind Hopefull, a ground-up initiative dedicated to supporting children from low-income families in Singapore with little to no resources.
Hopefull is different from the other charities out there because it “donates” not physical goods, but imagination, hope and a growing community.
“The goal is to bridge the resource divide that stems from systemic inequality,” said Hopefull’s co-founder, Jen Goh. “Many programs catered to children from low-income families focused on academic development and befriending, but we did not know of any that intently worked on bridging the gaps in social and cultural capital between the haves and the have-nots.”
That’s where Hopefull steps in. Its two programmes, Tinker and Lifelab, are all about bringing art, fun and a sense of play to those who never had the chance.
Tinker supplies families with monthly Tinker Kits (packages containing storybooks, board games and other learning aids) and workshops designed to expose children to things we take for granted like environmental sustainability, self-discovery, and innovation. Lifelab builds on that budding sense of wonder and exposes teenagers to expert-curated programmes designed around sport, art, technology and music.
Thiyaghessan, Research Lead at Hopefull, refined their stance further: “Our focus is on cultivating genuine and organic interactions between people and not hitting benchmarks or KPIs.” He cautioned against a common pitfall – getting carried away thinking of the organisation you want to join rather than the people you want to help.
Bring it back to the gap you want to fill, he emphasised:
“Ultimately, it really is about meaningful interactions with the community - how can we constantly innovate according to what we see happening on the ground?”
Hopefull’s core philosophy resonates even in their words of encouragement for others. “Giving back really isn’t about giving back. Because that automatically indicates a power imbalance,” said Jen.
“The most important thing is to get down on the ground and get to know who you are innovating for. So just do it! It will be filled with lots of ups and downs, but if you’re convinced of the need of your project, then find a team and hunker down.”
Savouring the Goodness in Others
While Katrina Lee, 23, was volunteering with community service clubs and non-profit organisations to distribute food rations to low-income households, she began to feel a gnawing dissatisfaction. Recipients did not want commonly donated items such as canned soup and instant noodles, staples which most of them already owned, and manual processes were inefficient and time-consuming.
Determined to tackle this supply-demand mismatch, she decided to do something different.
That impulse became Savour!, one-stop B2B e-procurement and sponsorship web app platform offering regular, expiring, blemished and surplus food, as well corporate gifts, office suppliers and rental services.
“I want to digitalise procurement to save organisations more while saving the earth and empowering those in need,” said Katrina.
With Savour!, much of the mess and fuss is gone and real help can take its place. This Chinese New Year, Western Union collaborated with Savour! in their CNY CSR 2021 Initiative. In under a month, Katrina and her team coordinated and distributed 1,500 CNY cookies to 1,500 migrant workers baked by low-income mothers in partnership with a social enterprise and four non-profit organisations over the CNY period – a quick turnaround time only possible with Savour!’s lean organisation and digital ability.
“We got inspired to do it as migrant workers were not able to celebrate this festive occasion with their loved ones so we wanted to do something nice to spread festive cheer to them,” she smiled, remembering the overwhelmingly positive feedback from partners and beneficiaries alike.
Katrina has found her goals for Savour! – to significantly reduce the massive food waste and food insecurity problem in Singapore with the tech solutions her platform provides.
She encourages other youths to do the same, and find a cause which inspires them. “Reflect on what is important to you in this world and find your purpose, a mission and a ‘why’.”
“If you have an idea. Just do it. Don’t be afraid of rejections and embarrassing yourself.
Entrepreneurship is not a smooth sailing journey, but I can say it is a meaningful and fulfilling one.”
Sustaining the Cycle
When Covid-19 hit, some businesses tanked, but others flourished. And as we all know, one of the big players in the new normal is online shopping. Singaporeans have embraced door-to-door delivery like never before, and Shopee, Lazada and Qoo10 are raking in the takings.
But all that convenience comes at a price. Thousands of products are delivered safely every day, but what about their packaging? Most of it ends up in the trash, destined for the incinerator or the landfill… and becoming pollution, in essence.
What’s three sustainability-conscious girls going to do about that? Package Pals is the answer. Rachel Lee and Rachel Han, both 19, are shoppers making a difference. Together with Puan Xin, they are the brains behind Package Pals, a circular packaging initiative that seeks to extend the life cycle of packaging.
The model works thus: they collect e-commerce packaging (poly mailers, envelopes, bubble wrap) from the public and distribute them back to businesses looking for eco-friendly packaging options. They hold monthly meet-ups to collect polymailers from drop-off points as well as accepting mail-in donations, then distribute them to stores that sell sustainable products.
“We’re not really sure if a similar initiative currently exists in Singapore, but so far we haven’t come across anyone else doing the same thing,” said the ladies.
“We never expected to fulfil such a huge need within the community, and we often receive comments from businesses and individuals who say they’ve been looking for eco-friendly packaging, or a way to repurpose their packaging, for a long time. To hear that so many people resonate with us is really incredible.”
Just as they never expected Package Pals to become the huge initiative it is today; the founders also advise other budding youth social entrepreneurs to start and see where the wind takes them. “Though we didn’t have a project in mind when we first started talking, it is definitely growing into something larger than us and something we hold close to our hearts.”
“If you’re passionate about something or have an idea in mind, don’t hesitate to pursue it, and know that there’ll be a community of people who will see the value of what you’re doing!”
A Vision of Volunteering
Zheng Shuwei, Raymond, was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye condition that rendered him legally blind. He has extreme tunnel vision and can only see the world in shades of grey, living with a disability few can perceive in its entirety – though he sees it every day.
But this isn’t the story of Raymond the beneficiary, because that isn’t him. Raymond is a volunteer himself, giving motivational talks to secondary schools and JCs about the grit, determination and self-confidence needed to succeed in life.
“The essence of motivational talks is to help people to understand,” he explained. “It can be understanding how blindness works or how people with low vision study or go about in their lives.”
“It gives people the needed exposure so that they are able to form their own inspiration and opinions to help themselves. A motivational talk is not a one-off event but a process that allows people to find their way forward in life.”
In this way, he has transformed his disability into a unique learning opportunity for others. Aside from addressing schools, he is directly involved with SIT in one of their Occupational Therapy modules. His position as mentor propels students towards a deeper understanding of people with disabilities (PWDs).
“As many students don’t have enough opportunities to interact properly with PWDs, this course strives to help students to better understand the viewpoints of PWDs,” he commented.
Pondering his volunteering efforts and his goals for the future, Raymond smiled at a vision only he can see.
“Happiness! I wish to live a life of happiness!” he laughed. “I see happiness as the end product of different factors such as career satisfaction, family and health. I always try to intentionally plan for happiness by reflecting on my choices in life and if I would feel satisfied by the plans and choices I make.”
Has volunteering made Raymond happy? The answer is a big “yes”, not just for himself but for others as well. “Don’t see voluntary work as just ‘yet another school requirement’. Instead, see volunteering as a way to explore your interests and passion. There are different ways to volunteer! All kinds of skills can be contributed!”
“Contribute with passion… You might just end up loving to volunteer!”