The Boys’ Brigade Share-a-Gift 2023: NUS staff, students and alumni bring festive cheer to those in need

After a week of heavy rain, the skies finally cleared up on 2 December 2023 for over 100 NUS volunteers as they went door to door, with grocery hampers in hand, to spread the festive joy to those in need.

The group distributed grocery hampers to over 200 beneficiaries in Ang Mo Kio, with each hamper containing biscuits, instant coffee, Milo packets, a 5kg pack of rice, and other non-perishable foods.

The effort was part of The Boys’ Brigade (BB) annual Share-a-Gift project, which was launched in 1988 to promote the spirit of caring and sharing during the holiday season.

Among the many NUS students, staff, alumni and their family members who volunteered was 20-year-old student Subhashree Panneer, who is also the NUS Students’ Union Student Welfare Secretary.

“I am more appreciative of what I have. I realised that even though I might have my own struggles, there are always people struggling more than I am,” she said.

This was the first time the NUS community was involved in the Share-a-Gift programme, a result of the mobilisation effort by NUS Cares that called for staff, student and alumni participation.   

Mr Ho Jun Yi (Law & Public Policy ’11), Chairman of the NUS Cares Steering Committee, noted that the event was in line with the movement’s broader goals. “As with all activities supported by NUS Cares, the aim is to rally the NUS community to this meaningful activity and seed participants’ future and deeper involvement in this or similar activities in the future.” 

The NUS team, along with another 40 BB Boys, Primers, and Officers worked in groups of five to deliver the hampers to the beneficiaries, who were identified through social service agencies, government-funded initiatives such as ComCare and ComLink, and KidSTART – a non-profit organisation that provides support to low-income young families.

The recipients had been given the option of either receiving two grocery hampers or specific items they had requested in advance, all of which were either donated by the public and corporate donors or bought with funds raised by The Boys’ Brigade or partners such as FairPrice.

Professor Aaron Thean, NUS Provost and Deputy President (Academic Affairs), noted that in any community there are two groups of people: those who need help, and those with the capacity to help. “Creating opportunities for volunteerism is a good way to connect these two groups of people,” he said.

His favourite moment was waving off the volunteers – seeing the smiles on their faces and how passionate they were about lending a hand. “That kind of excitement was contagious,” he said.

Giving is receiving

While the volunteers were there to give back to the community, they received just as much from the experience.

Subhashree recalled an encounter with an elderly man battling cancer, who was at a nearby food court when the group visited his home. Despite his legs being weak from chemotherapy, he rushed back to meet them.

“It felt rewarding to help him, even with this small gesture,” said the second-year Data Science Analytics and Business double major. “I am grateful to have had the honour of helping him and learning about his life and struggles.”

Prof Thean added that even though the elderly man was in pain, there were no signs of it on his face. “He just had an expression of gratitude and happiness.”

For Chin Hui Ling, a fourth-year Business Administration student, it was seeing NUS alumni come together to make a positive impact on the community that made an impression on her.

She said, “It is a nice community and I look forward to being part of it after I graduate.”

Among the alumni who volunteered was 51-year-old Trevor Chee Chang Kiong (Engineering ‘97). “Even though I only helped a few people, I am going away knowing that I did some good this morning,” said the educator.

His advice for those on the fence about giving up their time to volunteer is simple. He quipped: “Don’t think too much. It’s not that difficult.”

NUS Deputy President (Administration) Clarence Ti echoed this, stating that “Life is about making memories. When we look back on our lives, we remember special experiences. [Spending a Saturday volunteering is] much better than going shopping.”

NUS Chief Alumni Officer Ovidia Lim-Rajaram, who was among the volunteers, points out that alumni have always featured prominently in NUS Cares efforts.

She said, “The contribution of our alumni volunteers is immeasurable as they not only make a difference to these families; their involvement also fosters a sense of community and belonging to the University.”