"Volunteers are the heart of the Singapore Red Cross, pumping life into all its programmes. Volunteers play an indispensable role in uplifting the lives of the vulnerable while enhancing resilience in our communities," said Dr Mohammad Zaidi Ariffin, Singapore Red Cross (SRC) Council Member, in his Keynote Address at the Volunteer Convention 2023, held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre on 19 August 2023.
Paying Tribute to Dedicated Volunteers
Over 500 volunteers and members of the public attended the Volunteer Convention, where Dr Zaidi presented certificates of appreciation to volunteers who have served 500 and 300 hours. SRC’s leadership team comprising Mr Benjamin William, Secretary General, Ms Eileen Cher, Assistant Secretary General, Corporate, and Ms Charis Chan, Assistant Secretary General, Operations, took group photographs with volunteers who have served 100, 48 and 24 hours. SRC recognise 470 volunteers who contributed volunteering hours significantly for the year 2022 across all programmes.
Cassandra Rudge, former news presenter, screenwriter, actor and master of ceremonies, volunteered as the emcee for the Volunteer Convention.
Volunteers Come from All Walks of Life
In his keynote address, Dr Zaidi shared that volunteers contribute to a myriad of humanitarian services of the SRC. They provide the gift of friendship and security to seniors, distribute supermarket vouchers to vulnerable families, tutor and mentor young children, offer medical transportation and chaperone services to persons with disabilities and seniors, advocate blood donation, and provide first aid to people in need, among others.
Dr Zaidi also highlighted that SRC's volunteers come from all walks of life. There are youth, undergraduates, working adults, seniors, and retirees. One example is Johnson Ee, a retiree who befriends seniors. Dr Zaidi also shared that SRC volunteers hail from different nationalities. One such volunteer, Jacques Knudsen Al Sayed, who has Danish and Syrian roots, volunteers with the National Blood Donor Programme. Some volunteers also lend their expertise to the SRC. Dr Zaidi cited Edgardo Cortez Vicente, a volunteer who leveraged his expertise in organisational effectiveness, human resources and leadership to creating the Volunteer Leadership programme, and the Future Leaders Programme.
Others roped in their network to support SRC's causes. Dr Zaidi cited Girvan Tay, a First Aider on Wheels, and volunteer with Home Monitoring and Eldercare, who spearheaded Project Red for SRC's First Aid Instructors; training some 50 medical students in first aid annually. In return, the students dedicate their time to SRC's First Aider on Wheels programme. Dr Zaidi also shared that some family members enjoy volunteering together. He cited siblings Maggie and Nicol Chan, who volunteer with SRC’s Community Befriending Programme, which sees them making fortnightly visits to seniors.
"Despite their varied backgrounds and experiences, all Red Cross volunteers are bound by a common thread - the steadfast commitment to serve humanity and save lives. This unity amid diversity is the foundation of SRC’s strong and vibrant volunteer community," said Dr Zaidi.
Amplifying Services to Augment Reach in the Community
Going forward, SRC will be recruiting and training more volunteers in Standard First Aid, Psychological First Aid and community befriending to become Responders for Resilience. These volunteers will be deployed in the Community Befriending programme as it expands its reach from Tampines and Yishun to reach out to seniors living alone in other locations. The Young Hearts programme, which provides tuition, mentorship and excursions to young children from vulnerable families, will expand its footprint to more locations to provide opportunities to unlock their potential.
Volunteers can also take on roles in Medical Transportation and Chaperoning, Community Health Education for migrant workers, and Home Monitoring and Eldercare programmes for seniors. They can also be first aiders at public parks and community events, blood donation docents and advocates, disaster surveillance volunteers, and volunteers for overseas missions.
"Our commitment to volunteering is a reflection of our deepest passions, guided by the desire to make a tangible difference… Let us challenge ourselves to expand our horizons, transcend the boundaries of our familiar paths, and rise to meet the ever-increasing community needs… Let this gathering serve as a crucible for innovative ideas, a canvas upon which we paint the strokes of our most audacious ambitions. May the stories shared and the lessons fuel the flames of our determination," said Dr Zaidi.
Panel Discussion to Call for Volunteers to Befriend Seniors, Tutor and Mentor Youth
In a panel discussion on “Collaborative Approaches on Emergency Response and Building Community Resilience, Celebrity Ambassador Ya Hui, Jerrold Lam, who spearheaded Project R.I.C.E+ 2021, Shaikh Ismail, Founder of Byte.sg, Abdul Razak from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, and Sean Elliot Png, a community first aider, First aider and Community Responder with Home Monitoring and Eldercare, regaled the audience with their heartfelt sharing of volunteering experiences and community work. They called for greater community engagement to uplift the lives of those in need while enhancing community resilience. Ms Selene Ong, Head of SRC's Community Resilience moderated the panel discussion.
Celebrity Ambassador Ya Hui has been volunteering with the Singapore Red Cross for a few years. She believes in touching the lives of the less privileged as it brings meaning to her life. Her positive volunteering experiences have inspired her to do more for the community.
During the panel discussion, Ya Hui shared her volunteer experience with persons with severe and multiple disabilities, whom she interacted with at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled.
She also recounted that a 98-year-old lady had invited her to attend her 100th birthday party, but when Ya Hui visited her two years later, the lady had lost her memory. On a separate occasion, Ya Hui befriended another elderly lady, but she could only visit her once before the elderly lady passed away. Although the time she spent with each senior was short, Ya Hui noted that it was meaningful to be able to bring joy to them.
In addition to seniors, Ya Hui has also volunteered with young children. When asked about the differences between children and the elderly, she said that children were boisterous and she had to find ways to calm them down. In contrast, the elderly were less active. She strives to bring happiness and smiles to the elderly by engaging them in exercise, for example, through dance.
Ya Hui also shared her experience providing first aid to an elderly man who fell on the stairway. Although she has been trained in first aid, she still felt anxious while attending to the elderly man. However, she recognises the importance of first aid training in empowering people to help or save others in need, and plans to renew her Standard First Aid certification.
Shaikh Ismail is the founder of Bringing You Technology Empowerment (BYTE), a ground-up non-profit initiative dedicated to empowering lives through science, technology and design. Besides enhancing access to technology, BYTE is targeted at raising awareness and appreciation of technology through skills development programmes. He provides technology and digital literacy training for children from vulnerable families, through the Singapore Red Cross' Young Hearts programme.
He cited a youth, Maureen, who was from a family struggling with finances. She was told that digital literacy was solely for the boys. Through the collaboration between BYTE.sg and the Singapore Red Cross, she has learnt useful digital skills that enable her to access opportunities that she previously thought were reserved for boys. Shaikh also witnessed the transformation of reserved youth as they gained confidence and became more expressive. The radiant smiles of the children made his efforts worthwhile.
He was also impressed by the creativity of the youth. They developed a chatbot for BTS fans, which exemplified how they were channelling the skills and knowledge from the workshops in creative ways. One of the youth also told him that she aspired to be the audio-visual personnel of the Young Hearts programme.
Shaikh encourages people to volunteer in areas they are passionate about. He highlighted that it is rewarding when beneficiaries express their appreciation and gratitude to volunteers for enriching their lives. He also urged parents to consider volunteering with their family.
Jerrold Lam, Assistant Director of the Red Cross Youth (RCY) - Chapter, was inspired to join RCY during his junior college days as he was keen to become a first aider. Through RCY, he learnt about blood donation and the First Aider on Wheels programme, and it motivated him to make the community a better place. He strongly feels that youth have a crucial role in bringing energy and vibrancy to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
In 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during the circuit breaker lockdown, Jerrold spearheaded Project R.I.C.E+, a nationwide distribution project for beneficiaries. Armed with a 'Never say die attitude', Jerrold and his team successfully concluded Project R.I.C.E+ raising $229,046 which translated to 22,905 bundle sets, benefiting more than 3,650 families and 22,000 individuals.
Subsequently, he served as a mentor for Project R.I.C.E+, which raised $460,000 worth of hampers for beneficiaries in 2022 and $560,000 worth of hampers in 2023.
Recounting how a beneficiary expressed gratitude upon receiving the bundle set; saying that if it had not been for the bundle sets, he would have to struggle with hunger, Jerrold shared how it moved him to know that his efforts helped to put food on the table for someone.
Jerrold urged youth to challenge themselves, step out of their comfort zones and join the SRC as a volunteer.
Dr Sean Elliot Png has been volunteering as a First Aider on Wheels, Community First Aider and a Community Responder with the Home Monitoring and Eldercare (HoME+) service. He feels that volunteering is meaningful as it benefits the community while providing several opportunities to hone one's skills and proficiency in first aid. He urges people to volunteer with the SRC as it provides a platform for people to uplift lives, enhance community resilience and make a difference.
Dr Png recounted that a spectator at the OCBC Cycle event had an epileptic fit. As a seasoned first aider with four years of experience, he was able to promptly help the person in need. Incidents like these remind him of the importance of learning first aid and how being a first aid volunteer enables him to make a tangible difference in the lives of others.
He also shared that he once responded to an incident as a HoME+ Community Responder at 2 am. An elderly man had breathing difficulties and was quickly conveyed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and given prompt treatment.
Dr Png encourages people who have recently been trained in Standard First Aid to volunteer as a First Aider on Wheels. The experience will enable them to practice their first-aid skills and enhance their confidence in administering first-aid in emergency situations.
A former Council Member of the Singapore Red Cross, Abdul Razak is also a volunteer who distributes food to the homes of beneficiaries. As the Director of Corporate Communications at the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Abdul shared that SCDF responders and SRC volunteers share the same passion for helping those in need.
He feels that one does not need to be a doctor, or an SCDF officer to help someone. It all boils down to compassion and empathy. In the past, when people called to notify SCDF that someone had collapsed, the conversation would primarily focus on the location and symptoms of the person. Now, the conversation has changed. The SCDF provides guidance to callers on performing Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. Abdul pointed out that anyone can be a community first responder. He shared that three ten-year-old children were community first responders. He also shared that an 80-year-old poured buckets of water when his neighbour's home went up in flames; noting that people can contribute in any way they can.
In response to Ya Hui about her anxiety when providing first aid to someone in need, Abdul recounted that he was shivering when he handled his first case, a road traffic accident. He encourages people to learn first aid, as well as Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) or the Automated External Defibrillator (AED), and to download the SCDF's MyResponder app. They can sign up to become community responders on the app and put their first aid skills into practice to help others and save lives. He urges people to learn
He also urged people to practice self-care when helping others. He believes that "only when you can help yourself, can you help others."
In addition to the heartfelt sharing by the panel members, the event featured videos showcasing the diverse efforts of SRC volunteers, while interactive booths engaged participants with games, and activities aimed at educating and bolstering awareness and support for community service initiatives by SRC and its partners. Photo booths were also available for volunteers to capture the momentous occasion for posterity.
Photos by Billy Wong, Lai Wei Song, James Tan and Wong Leong Jeam, volunteer photographers