Reflections on volunteering
In collaboration with NUS Student Affairs, students from the NUS Volunteer Network (NVN) organised NUS Volunteer Symposium 2018 on 17 March, where more than 50 leaders from various NUS volunteering groups engaged in meaningful interactions and conversations around the theme of “Effective Volunteerism”.
Centred on two main aims of cultivating empathy and encouraging collaboration, the symposium provided a conducive environment for like-minded students to share their volunteering journeys.
In his opening speech, Dr Tan Teck Koon, Special Advisor to the Symposium, opined that while the huge surge in student-initiated community involvement projects in NUS over the years is commendable, there is a lack of collaboration between these student groups. “It would be good to have a platform for student [volunteers] to interact and exchange their experiences and expertise,” he said. As such, Dr Tan proposed greater synergy among student groups to “optimise executions of community projects and increase the impact on the disadvantaged communities as well as the learning experience for our students”.
Participants engaged in an interactive panel discussion with experts from the social service sector. The panellists were Mr Shawn Soh, Lead of Community Partnership at the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre; Mr Jason Ng, a freelance community trainer and facilitator; and Mr Wang Kim Meng, Social Work Manager at Gracehaven Home (The Salvation Army). The thought-provoking topics discussed — skills-based volunteering, asset-based community development and the long term effectiveness of volunteerism — motivated participants to reflect critically on their volunteering endeavours in relation to Singapore’s broader volunteering landscape.
For a hands-on experience, participants were immersed in a “Trash to Cash” simulation run by Etch Empathy. As they underwent the struggles and environmental stresses prevalent in the daily lives of the poor recreated through the simulation, they were encouraged to adopt a more empathetic perspective towards beneficiaries.
Speaking of the simulation, student volunteer leader Tan Wei Lin, a Year 2 NUS Science student, said, “The simulation enhanced my understanding of the ways in which socially disadvantaged communities are systemically disempowered by wider socioeconomic structures, further entrenching them in the cycle of poverty.” She added that the simulation was effective in bringing to life the key points shared during the reflections.
Following the simulation, participants formed small groups and shared their personal insights about volunteering. Through sharing their common yet diverse experiences, participants forged mutual solidarities and collaborated to come up with thoughtful calls to action for more effective volunteerism in NUS.
By Vernice Kang Jia Xuan, NUS Arts and Social Sciences and symposium organiser; and Tay Kai Yuan, NUS Science, symposium organiser and NVN Chairperson