Coming together to make a difference all year round with NUS Cares

They stood amidst the shrubs near the edge of Kranji Coastal Nature Park, toiling over the soil, swinging their garden hoes into the earth. The NUS students, staff, alumni and members of the public were planting 60 trees to establish a coastal forest in the park.  

The tree-planting session was one of 15 signature community service initiatives held on 3 Sept 2022. Involving nearly 400 participants, the projects were part of NUS Cares, a university-wide movement encouraging the NUS community to volunteer in initiatives that give back to society.

Evolving from the Day of Service held annually in September, the hallmark community outreach effort has since this year become a year-round affair.

“It is meaningful for us to continue marking the first Saturday in September as a commemorative date for NUS Cares, which can serve to further rally and amplify the movement’s broader call to action for the NUS Community (students, alumni and staff) to champion and volunteer in community service and initiatives,” said Mr Ho Jun Yi, Chairman of the NUS Cares Steering Committee.

Participants took up diverse causes, from environmental conservation to caring for the elderly and less fortunate, aiding nearly 500 beneficiaries.

Championing sustainability efforts

Leading the participants at the park was the nature and environmental volunteer group NUS Toddycats. Joined by NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye, they guided volunteers on the methods to dig up the soil, prepare the soil enhancement mixture and plant the saplings. Since November 2020, the Toddycats has mobilised volunteers to support the National Parks Board in reforesting the site, planting 750 trees.

NUS Department of Biological Sciences senior lecturer N. Sivasothi has been organising these sessions to help Singapore achieve its aim of planting one million more trees by 2030. “In Singapore, a lot of nature areas have disappeared… We can’t keep lamenting what we lost in the past, but instead we can help the efforts, which are looking at how we can restore areas for the long-term,” he said. Through repeated visits, he has observed the site’s transformation, with earthworms returning to the soil and birds nesting in new trees. 

Volunteer Collin Chua, a Year 2 Life Sciences major, remarked on the progress the group had made in less than two years. “I heard that it used to be a scrubland but when I went there it was already covered with growing trees. So, it’s quite nice to see,” he said.

Muhammad Salman Sabeer, a Year 3 student also majoring in Life Sciences agreed, saying: “It shows that sustained effort can really yield nice results.”

The NUS Toddycats was not the only group who took up spades and shovels that day. Ridge View Residential College’s (RVRC) FoRestore, a student interest group that aims to raise awareness of Singapore forests through hands-on involvement, also held a tree-planting session at Chestnut Nature Park, where it has been spearheading reforestation efforts. Volunteers planted 50 trees of native species, adding to more than 200 previously planted by RVRC FoRestore. 

Year 2 Environmental Studies major Chu Jia Xuan said, “It was an enjoyable experience and I got more accustomed to being with nature. My biggest takeaway was the importance of forest restoration, which cannot be easily achieved on its own due to invasive non-native trees and other weeds.”

Volunteers also did their bid for the environment by clearing litter from Singapore’s shores at Pasir Ris Park, East Coast Park and Coney Island, collecting 100kg of trash. Four clean-ups were organised by BIZAlum (the NUS Business School’s alumni office), the Master of Science (Environmental Management) Alumni, the Office of Student Affairs (OSA), Office of Finance and the Central Procurement Office.  

Staff members from the Finance and Procurement offices mobilised their families to comb a stretch of Pasir Ris Park, hauling unusual items like an Ultraman toy figurine among many mineral water bottles. At East Coast Park, students and alumni from NUS Business School spent hours cleaning up pieces of plastic strewn along the coast.

“That’s the natural degradation process of items we use once and leave on Earth for hundreds of years. I’ll now think twice if I need a plastic bag,” said Ms Na Han, an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) student.

Mr Luigi La Tona, an EMBA alumnus who has participated in regular beach clean-ups for two decades, said such activities are rewarding as they shine a spotlight on the need for collective action. “We all need to do our part. Education needs to grow about disposing goods properly and respecting the environment,” he added.

Caring for the community

Volunteers also reached out to the elderly or the underprivileged.

OSA staff partnered Sathya Sai Social Services at its Tembusu Senior Activity Centre to organise a house-cleaning for elderly residents in Eunos Crescent, many of whom live alone, are frail and have medical conditions, impeding their ability to perform daily activities such as tidying their homes. Together with Prof Tan, they worked in teams to help the seniors with household chores such as sweeping and mopping the floors.

Participant Tan Wei Shuang, President of the NUS Students’ Community Service Club, shared that despite volunteering regularly, each experience is a different one. “I see every volunteering opportunity as a new chance to hear one more story and that story can help in understanding more about what we can do to help these individuals.”

Lee Yat Bun, President of the National University of Singapore Students' Union, appreciated the chance to make a difference beyond his social circles through the house-cleaning. “This is especially the case in recent years when I have been extremely caught up with university life. Through this activity, I was able to go beyond that and reach those I have not had the opportunity to lately,” he said.

Meanwhile, Raffles Hall students, staff, and alumni turned up in force to volunteer at the Ready, Set, Gold! Charity Walk to Unity 2022 in collaboration with Blossom Seeds @ Sembawang, an organisation that supports lonely seniors in staying socially connected with the community.

Aiming to encourage active ageing for active and vulnerable seniors regardless of their mobility, the event saw 24 Raffles Hall volunteers befriending and accompanying them through the 1.5km walkathon and a plethora of carnival game booths, performances and other on-site activities.

Mr Leonard Tan, a Raffles Hall alumnus from the Faculty of Engineering, Class of 2018, said, “To our beneficiaries, it was a rare moment to enjoy the lively atmosphere and feel that connection with their community. It was really heartening to experience the joy of the seniors as we guided them through the walkathon and performances.”

Chong Yong Rui, a Year 2 student from the NUS School of Computing, also felt the event taught him to “empathise with the elderly more”, while Raffles Hall Master Associate Professor Stella Tan lauded the increasing “attention now being paid to help the elderly in their golden years stay active and connected socially”.

The event was graced by Minister for Health and Advisor for Sembawang Central GROs, Mr Ong Ye Kung and NUS Deputy President (Research and Technology) Professor Chen Tsuhan.

Other events saw participants offer music and meals to the elderly. The NUS Alumni Sing-Along belted out classic hits for nursing home residents at All Saints’ Home (Hougang), as did the NUS Senior Alumni and Office of Alumni Relations, who entertained needy seniors at Kampung Senang.

The National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) also held a lunch and family day at Dover Park Hospice for low-income families with loved ones suffering from end-stage diseases. 

Other programmes held included a Sports Day organised by NUSS for beneficiaries of the Children’s Wishing Well, which focuses on providing children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with a holistic education, and the packing of food donations by the Registrar’s Office for The Food Bank Singapore.

Find out how to give back to the community through volunteering opportunities here.