We may think we are giving the less fortunate a piece of ourselves when we volunteer but, little do we know, that we also learn so much from those we help. Eunice Olsen shares with Go Away some insights on volunteering that may surprise you.
As an Emmy-nominated producer and former Nominated Member of the Parliament, Eunice Olsen is no stranger to Singaporeans. Eunice is also a champion when it comes to volunteering, spending time on projects both at home and overseas. She has participated in several overseas builds with Habitat for Humanity and recently spoke at United Nations in New York at the Unlearning Intolerance Seminar.
With voluntourism (where people travel abroad to offer their help as volunteers at charities) on the rise, we ask Eunice what are some advice she can share with those interested in doing more for the less fortunate:
1. Don’t follow your interest; follow the need
“It used to be, whenever I’m asked how one can decide which organisation to volunteer for, I’d tell them to follow their interests. Because it’s hard to maintain a level of commitment when the interest isn’t even there. However, recently, I’ve decided that if you are serious about helping, go to where the NEED is. Everyone is always interested in children and animals because they are so loveable and cute, and very few people would say their interest is ‘old folks’. But they need our help and attention too. I spoke to Dr. Mary Ann Tsao of the Tsao Foundation recently and she made a very good point: The elderly is OUR future. We will all grow old and, extending help and resources to organisations focused on aiding the elderly is, in a way, helping OUR future too. So go to where the need is – you’ll be much more useful there.”
2. Focus on 1 thing at a time
“Being involved in so many projects at a time does sound pretty overwhelming. But volunteering has always been an important part of my life – it’s just something that has always anchored me. Of course, we are just one person and there are only 24 hours every day. There is only so much time each person has every day – so it’s important to stay realistic. I keep my focus by concentrating on what each project requires from me. Once I know what I need to do and by when, it just all falls into place, and a rhythm is then established.”
3. You can help but it’s up to beneficiary how he/she wants to take it from there
“One of the things we are often confronted with when we are travelling is whether we are really helping the street children by giving them money. I give them food and water. If I’m on a, for example, tuk-tuk, and a child approaches me for money, instead of handing him cash, I’d give him a packet of food and a bottle of water instead. Sometimes, the child might walk away, sulking, but you need to get over yourself and not go, ‘Does he think he’s too good for this?’. Your job is to help. How the child wants to react, that’s his decision to make.”
4. It’s an honour when someone lets you into their life and allows you to help them
“Often, we think we are the ones giving our time and energy. We walk into an organisation and into someone else’s life, and believe they should be grateful. No! It is a privilege to be allowed into someone else’s life. Volunteering is a two-way street: the beneficiary isn’t just receiving your help, you too will learn from the people you help. It also disturbs me sometimes to see charities profiling their beneficiaries incorrectly. I feel strongly that the public AND MEDIA need to be educated about what the good practices are and learn to voice out anything that makes them uncomfortable. Volunteers serve as checks and balances too.”
5. You can’t save the world ..
” … but if you can help ONE person, you are living a more meaningful life than most. Take for instance, an encounter with a street child when you’re travelling. You may end up feeling that there is nothing you can do but don’t just sit back and feel sorry or feel bad. Once you get over it, find out how you can go about effecting a change. Take small steps and work with your strengths. Don’t think just because you are doing one small thing you are not making a difference. I know in the corporate world, everything is measured by numbers, but in volunteering, we measure by value, and every bit of help matters.”
Habitat for Humanity Singapore welcomes volunteers from all walks of life for projects at home and overseas. You can visit its website to learn more about Project HomeWorks, a local home clean-up session aimed at improving the living conditions of the elderly, sick and physically-challenged living in one-room flats all over the island, or overseas builds across Asia-Pacific. According to Resource Development Manager Melodie Lee, hidden poverty is an issue in Singapore and by 2030, the country will have some 83, 000 vulnerable elderly who will need help in cleaning their homes to ensure their living environment is safe and hygienic. “There’s always work to be done, ” says Melodie.