“But the fact that many out there are motivated by hope and the desire to contribute and learn is, for me, reason enough for optimism” (Cause For Optimism, Miss Neo Chai Chin).
Having led a team of 30 on a service trip to Giong Trom Town (Vietnam) in 2008, I share Miss Neo Chai Chin’s (Point of View “Cause For Optimism”) optimism for overseas community projects, and applaud her affirmation of its benefits.
Such community projects are a win-win for both the beneficiaries and the participants. During our trip, we taught the school-children English, refurbished some of the furniture, and paved a cement courtyard for the school. Though our trip was short – as the children enjoyed their new amenities, books and stationeries – my team and I were touched by the school’s hospitality and the students’ enthusiasm. Clearly, our perspectives had been broadened; and this form of volunteerism also made us feel like genuine stakeholders as “global citizens”. More importantly, overseas and local service are not mutually exclusive. Many of my team members have drawn a multitude of lessons from Vietnam, and have continued to contribute on the grassroots and community level.
Nonetheless, sustainability can be rewarding in overseas projects. Schools and organisations can help foster long-term commitment by encouraging individuals and teams to be “attached” to specific areas overseas, such that constant assistance can be granted to the beneficiaries. Some of us have made plans to return at the end of 2009, and explore other means of contribution, such as the setting up of a few refurbished computers and the development of a library. In such a way, not only would meaningful friendships be formed, but also imbue responsibility and the desire to mature as a “global citizen”.