Why We Volunteer: Stories of 5 Singaporeans Who Rose Above Their Circumstances


During the pandemic, Singapore saw a decline in volunteerism and donation rates, in part due to nationwide lockdowns that affected volunteer programmes, a study has found.  

However, the giving landscape is gradually coming back. Compared to 2018, Singaporeans surveyed seemed to have shifted their preferences to volunteering for and donating to informal community-led initiatives, a heartening sight to behold as the nation inches towards Covid-19 recovery.

OGS reached out to five avid volunteers—Faridah Rashid, Aanya Rao, Jayamane Sivalingam, Isaac Peh and Arshad Fawwaz—who overcame the various challenging circumstances they were in, and started giving back. 

Faridah Rashid: An Ex-Drug Mule Who Finds Consolation in Volunteering for Her Community

With no home and employment after she was released from a two-year prison sentence, Faridah Rashid turned to South Central Community Family Service Centre (SCCFSC) for help. The mother-of-three, who had to dabble as a drug mule to make ends meet, eventually found her calling in volunteering for the community with SCCFSC. “Next year will be my 10th year volunteering in the community,” the self-professed introvert said. 

She presently helps out with vulnerable families in Redhill and occasionally at Lengkok Bahru. An initiative she is proud to be involved in is the community-led movement “I Wish You Enough”, which aims to rally neighbours to help one another in a bid to alleviate poverty within the community. In doing so, she champions the Gotong Royong spirit, a Malay term that refers to a community coming together to do things.  

For her, being in the same WhatsApp group with her neighbours, which they use to organise potlucks or discuss problems, offered her valuable insights that she can share with her team members. More importantly, technology has allowed her to become even closer with her neighbours.

She added: “Volunteering enriches your social life and makes it more fun. Not only will you get to make new friends, you get to achieve something and feel good about it too.”  

Aanya Rao: The Youth Who Volunteers To Spread Positivity In Healthcare Facilities 

Hospitals and nursing homes should be no place for any teenager to frequent. But when her father needed frequent visits to the dialysis centre, 14-year-old Aanya Rao had to take in a dreary sight frequently: patients receiving treatment in a chilly room, void of windows and sunlight but brimming with the shrill beeps of machinery. This spurred her on to be a changemaker.  

Now 17, Aanya, with some of her close friends, founded the youth start-up initiative Art:Connect, which seeks to bring students’ artworks to healthcare facilities to spread positivity.  “Art has so much potential to heal,” she said. “When you look at patient care, you must also acknowledge that creative tools can help children, seniors, patients with special needs, beyond just medicine.”

The 11th Grader at NPS International School enjoys spending her free time volunteering alongside the students with Art:Connect, whether through live mural painting or coordinating art jamming sessions.  “Volunteering, to me, just means doing anything I am passionate about and benefiting others,” she added. “To have been able to meet so many dedicated and passionate student-volunteers from all walks of life is really inspiring.”

Isaac Peh: The Former Youth Beneficiary-Turned-Volunteer & His Love for Empowering Children

When Isaac Peh was younger, he was once a beneficiary of the youth social service agency CampusImpact, where he would spend his afterschool hours studying and playing as his grandmother, his sole caregiver, went to work. Now 16, the tables have turned for the teenager, for the better.

Spending many of his Wednesday afternoons as a volunteer tutor, he teaches Upper Primary students who are mostly from low-income and disadvantaged families through CampusImpact’s Study Buddy programme. “I don’t think (being in disadvantaged families) makes them any less different from others,” Isaac said.

Aged between six and 14 years old, youths can sign up for impactful programmes designed to encourage youths to speak up; some even incorporate therapy with art, dance and movement, and play. “During my time at CampusImpact, I learnt that every child has their own story to share,” Isaac said. “This helped me realise that as individuals, we should also tune in to how others are feeling.”

One piece of advice he has for those contemplating starting their volunteering journey, he said: “Just do it! Every small bit you contribute to society will always have an impact on the person you are helping.” 

Jayamane Sivalingam: The Retiree-Turned-Avid Volunteer at the Indian Heritage Centre

70-year-old retiree Mdm Jaya is a former civil servant who now volunteers at the Indian Heritage Centre as a cultural guide during the festive periods. As an advocate of active ageing, Mdm Jaya enjoys volunteering, especially to help the less privileged. 

Before this, Mdm Jaya volunteered at the Institute of Mental Health, where she conducted storytelling sessions with some patients. She also used to mentor children from disadvantaged families in schools. “I saw some good results in this group of children, and it was heartening and encouraging,” she reminisced.  

Mdm Jaya believes that more seniors and families can volunteer together. Learning to listen to others and creating a safe space to do so are the tools she thinks they need to start their volunteering journey. “We should always share our time and love with people in need,” she said. 

Arshad Fawwaz: An Artiste Who Wants To Spotlight The Talents of People with Special Needs On The Screen

At 25, Muhammad Arshad Fawwaz has had his fair share of rejections.

Recalling a time when he would fail his auditions at different talent shows, including Asia’s Got Talent and The Final One, the artiste, who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, still finds joy in performing. “It’s not made known to me, but maybe it was because I declared my conditions and that handicapped my chances,” he said.  

Most recently, he found a calling in organising virtual shows, titled ‘Inclusivity 4 All’, for performers with special needs and allowing them to shine. “I didn’t want any talented individuals with special needs to go through the same struggle,” he said in an interview with CNA Lifestyle. 

Arshad started ‘Inclusivity 4 All’ after he came across members of the public who do not understand the conditions of people with special needs as their disabilities are not always obvious to the naked eye. Interestingly, Arshad did not have any expectations running and volunteering for the show. Expectations, he argued, may lead to disappointment and failure. “I think I have tried my best for myself and the community,” he said. “And I am willing to do more.” 

This story is brought to you by SG Cares Giving Week in conjunction with International Volunteer Day, happening on December 5. Start giving for a better tomorrow at givingweek.sg and show your appreciation to the avid and passionate volunteers you know by sharing your appreciation for them on social media using #IVDSG2022. 

Author Ler Jun Sng

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