“The new volunteer youth corps hopes to attract young people who want to take a break from their studies to do community work, as well as those without any experience in volunteering” (Resources, Grants For Volunteers With Youth Corps, Miss Siau Ming En).
Doubts have been raised about the new volunteer youth corps in Singapore (“Resources, Grants For Volunteers With Youth Corps”, Aug. 23, by Miss Siau Ming En), and many have highlighted the possible overlaps with existing structures in civil society and volunteer organisations. Why create a central administration, opponents ask, when the new manpower and resources can be channelled into current projects instead? Inherently though, they concur that the youth corps is a well-intentioned initiative. While the community involvement programme (CIP) and service-learning (SL) make it mandatory for students to do something for their communities, the youth corps can be an extension for the more passionate volunteers
Essentially, how different will the youth corps be? More importantly, is it ready to confront some of the potential pitfalls that will plague its formation and execution?
The inevitable creation of hierarchies – in terms of the leadership and management of the youth corps, as well as the formation of executive committees – could result in petty politics and obsession over key performance indicators: the number of hours, the scale of events, and the features in the media. This institutionalisation will only be exacerbated by the “portfolio inflation” for scholarships and university admissions, as students seek to pragmatically enhance their curriculum vitaes through these co-curricular activities. Participation in national initiatives does sound more prestigious.
Dolling volunteerism up as a grand movement is counter-intuitive, because volunteerism is much simpler. My fear is that the youth corps could be so caught up in broad community activities, therefore losing sight of the basics: to help another.
Moreover, there might also be the tendency to conflate age with experience and years of service with competency, even though they are not necessarily true. The worst thing that can happen to the youth corps – as evidenced in some other youth programmes, where well-established barriers of entry make it difficult for new members to integrate – is for it to be dominated by power-hungry, like-minded individuals who have made their mark in other similar volunteer agencies.
Some might argue that more is better, for – at the very least – some form of service or contribution will be rendered to the beneficiaries. Yet, what have been overlooked are the complications that will come with heightened bureaucracy and personal interests. If the worry is that the youths “don’t always know how to go about [contributing to the community]”, then the solution would be to strengthen CIP and SL. After all, these school-based pillars should have provided the young ones with the information.
If the new youth corps wants to do more, it should start by getting youths to think about service and volunteerism. Think, before acting. Discourse on whether certain tasks should be undertaken is critical, because it heightens the sensitivities and introspection of members. Already, a growing number is sceptical of the heralded youth expedition project, especially since faith in efficacy of these overseas trips could be premised upon self-serving assumptions of agency, objectification, and the needs of others. Before diving straight into the “doing” to meet targets, reflective conversations will prove to be much more meaningful.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.