Together in service

Left to right: Ms Mabel Ng, Assistant Manager at the NUS Office of University Communications; NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye; and NUS Chief Communications Officer Ms Ovidia Lim-Rajaram preparing food at the Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen

The sky was still dark and most of Singapore still asleep when Salman Yusuf, a second-year NUS Science student, reported for kitchen duty at Kembangan. He was among a small group of students, alumni and staff from the university who had one task that early morning: to feed 9,500 mouths.

As the Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen rumbled to a start, the volunteers started fanning out and getting busy – carrying crates of ingredients, washing kitchen equipment, peeling and dicing vegetables.

This marked the beginning of the fifth NUS Day of Service, an annual event occurring on the first Saturday of every September. The NUS community spends the day giving back to society in a variety of ways, from assisting the home-bound elderly to cleaning up the environment, championing the arts to befriending migrant workers.

This year, with the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, activities were expanded to cover more than just one day. For instance, NUS Temasek Hall held a two-week food and clothing donation drive that began on 31 Aug, while residents from NUS Prince George's Park House have been visiting the Singapore Children’s Society regularly to tutor primary school children.

Still, the traditional Day of Service on 5 Sept was remembered, not least at the Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen. The charity saw a steady stream of volunteers throughout the day, including NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye; staff from the NUS Office of University Communications; staff and alumni from NUS Engineering; as well as alumni from NUS Business and NUS Food Science and Technology.

The groups worked tirelessly to prepare the thousands of meals that would be delivered to poverty stricken families, migrant workers, and the elderly and disabled in need around Singapore.

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NUS Science undergraduate Salman Yusuf carried and washed crates of vegetables at the Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen

As Salman shared, "I feel that every small action can go a long way, from unloading the vegetables from the truck, to washing the vegetables thoroughly and loading the meals up the car. These were just small acts I did, but collectively with all the other volunteers, we achieved so much. It was really inspiring, and if more people step up, there’s no doubt we can make a larger impact.”

These sentiments were echoed by Ms Phyllis Chua, an NUS Sociology alumna who joined the event with some of her fellow alumni. “To me, volunteering at Willing Hearts was less a service and more an opportunity for me to join in the efforts of those who have already been contributing tirelessly to the beneficiaries daily,” she said.

“I think that as a society, we can always do more, and should always look to outdo ourselves. Perhaps our first step could be to nurture empathy.”

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NUS Provost Professor Ho Teck Hua (centre, front) and NUS Vice Provost (Student Life) Professor Florence Ling (behind Prof Ho, to his right) joined NUS Students' Union alumni at Food Bank Singapore

In other projects targeting hunger in Singapore, NUS Provost Professor Ho Teck Hua and NUS Vice Provost (Student Life) Professor Florence Ling joined NUS Students' Union alumni, including several past Presidents, at Food Bank Singapore where they packed food packs for distribution to beneficiaries. NUS Senior Alumni delivered meals with TOUCH Community Services’ Meals-on-Wheels programme, while staff and alumni from NUS Engineering worked with Man Fut Tong Welfare Society to deliver rations and food to the underprivileged.

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Staff and alumni from NUS Engineering delivered rations and food with Man Fut Tong Welfare Society

Acts of service were also carried out overseas, and in the virtual realm.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team is an international team dedicated to humanitarian action and community development through open mapping. Their maps – especially of more rural parts of the world – assist global efforts in disaster response, disaster risk reduction, and economic development. Mr Ng Kian Seng and Mr Leonard Tan led a team of fellow NUS Raffles Hall alumni with skills in data science and computing to support the charity’s global mapping operations.

The day’s mapping session was conducted virtually and spirits were kept high by hall alumna and NUS Law graduate Ms Rosita Ng who tuned in to sing two sets of beautifully relaxing tunes whilst playing her piano.

“(The project) really reminded us to continue to keep our minds and hearts open to the amazingly great support we can provide to the world despite being only a tropical island city, when we have support from our network of alumni and friends all around the world,” said team member and NUS Computing alumna Ms Lim Swee Kim.

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Raffles Hall alumni mapped a rural area in Botswana while Ms Rosita Ng performed two musical sets

As is the case in previous years, overseas NUS alumni chapters ran projects to contribute to their local communities.

The NUS Alumni Xiamen Chapter raised funds from about 30 alumni to support children from an orphanage in Fujian Province’s Yongchun County. The money would cover the expenses of the children for one year.

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The NUS Alumni Xiamen Chapter started a project to support children from an orphanage in Fujian Province’s Yongchun County

“Given the restrictive circumstances of this pandemic year, I am nevertheless heartened to see that many in our NUS family have stepped up to serve the community and do something meaningful on Saturday, 5 Sept,” said Mr Jeremy Ee, Chairman of the Day of Service’s Organising Committee.

“I would like to appeal to everyone to continue the efforts of NUS Day of Service to the end of the year and beyond. I would also like to encourage everyone to keep doing our part to make lives better for others during this crisis. Together, we will ride out this storm.”


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