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?
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.