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Musings, The Straits Times

Same Same, But Different?

While there is some buzz over the Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) – even though more than 200 nominations for a target of 200 volunteers is far from impressive (ST, Mar. 26) – questions persist. With the aim of expanding opportunities and support for youths to do community projects in Singapore and abroad, the YVC was announced by the Prime Minister at the 2013 National Day Rally.

When asked about the YVC, member of the National Youth Council (NYC) Mr. Tong Yee said the idea was to create a culture. What culture, one might wonder? The proposition of creating a culture of volunteerism implies that it is absent or woefully inadequate at the moment. Yet just last year a study from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy found that almost one in three Singaporeans volunteered, the highest rate since research began in 2000.

“There is always room for improvement” would be the obvious answer, but one would then ask about how and whether the YVC would fit in: how different is it from present endeavours, and is it (even) going to significantly change our landscape of community service?

I am not as excited.

Taken from http://www.trtf.org/TRTF/assets/Image/BW_Helping_Hands.jpg.

Students have been capable of extending their participation in school-based community involvement programmes, and some have started their own service-learning projects.

Students have been capable of extending their participation in school-based community involvement programmes (CIP), and some have started their own service-learning (SL) projects. Informal groups have come together to campaign for causes, and some voluntary welfare organisations have their own initiatives and ambassador schemes. Uniformed groups and community organisations have always been in the long service of the less-privileged.

Is this scepticism wholly justified? Perhaps not. Even if the members of the YVC – as it is with a prestigious national project – turn out to be pragmatic paper-chasers more interested in furthering their own interests, they can at least do some good. With large-scale events and their personal voluntary involvement they could raise awareness about volunteerism and community service, to get more peers involved in different activities. And even with greater bureaucracy there will be access to resources from the $100 million National Youth Fund.

If a primary thrust is to build on existing NYC programmes, then improving them is a must. The Young ChangeMakers grant sought to disburse seed funding for youths to implement projects, though some questioned whether those on the panel were well-qualified to do so, and if the beneficiaries could be involved in the decision-making process. The Youth Expedition Programme has sent thousands of youths abroad on SL projects, though the sustainability of the undertakings and efficacy of reflection exercises remain in question. The countless Youth Forums organised by the NYC should also come under scrutiny.

Maybe the true value of the YVC comes not from the number of service hours and projects its members commit within the year (the “performance indicator” trap which government agencies seem to fall into), but from the discourse it can generate. First on how the execution of school-based CIP and SL could be improved, and second on how adults can be engaged.

Otherwise, the YVC is really nothing – and will have nothing – to shout about.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


5 thoughts on “Same Same, But Different?

  1. I’ve always had some discomfort with two things about “volunteerism” in Singapore – one would be “Voluntourism”, the psychology of which is well documented.

    The other is the necessary assumption that volunteers seem to live in isolation from their projects, and engage and disengage at will. The fact that people are called “projects” is also a departure from the heart of volunteerism. Does YVC add to this distance between volunteers and recipients or does it close the gap? Will it make an endeavour to help the needy something more than “project hours clocked”? Will it really help people find the true value of another person from a time and place and culture that we do not understand? Will it teach us that this work is never done, that we are a just building islands in an ocean of need, that we must not look for “success”, but truly love, truly hope, truly understand?

    It is a first step, yes. But if the fist step doesn’t lead to the second, but makes the second more difficult, then we need to take a step back and find another way forward.

    Posted by Daniel Yap | March 31, 2014, 10:39 am
    • I think both of us are looking at the YVC and wondering how different it would be from present endeavours, and whether it would plug some of the aforementioned gaps. I agree that volunteerism is a broader concept of involvement and giving back, and service projects – as it is with CIP and SL in the schools – can get some interested (and hopefully in Singapore, to continue doing it for the long-term).

      I started volunteering because of pragmatic reasons (resume, hours, awards), but along the way my perspectives slowly changed. And I’m thankful for that.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 31, 2014, 2:18 pm
      • Then perhaps effort would be better invested into trying to make that connection from benefit to duty to values rather than just pushing the volumes harder? The measurable result may look good at first, but the culture is ultimately of greater value.

        Posted by Daniel Yap | March 31, 2014, 4:41 pm


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