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Impact 0066: Helping to fill in gaps within society

Foo Zi Min · 4 August 2021
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Zi Min is your regular 27-year-old that has a heart for investing in people’s lives. She is constantly on the lookout for different causes she can volunteer in, from helping local communities to building schools in Laos. 

Today she shares more about her passion and the different things she has learnt along the way!

Hi Zimin, great to have you! Tell us more about your volunteerism. 

In secondary school, there were plenty of volunteering opportunities, and I did my best to be involved when possible. 

Since then, I’ve volunteered at Swami Home, an elderly nursing home, taught in kindergartens, did an overseas community involvement project (OCIP) in Laos to build schools, and embarked on several short-term teaching projects in China. These enriching experiences have taught me a lot about the community and world I live in.

I never rooted for a specific cause or group of beneficiaries, and I sometimes wonder the true impact of short-term volunteerism. What I’ve come to realise, however, is how much I love people. 

I’m an extrovert. I love hearing people’s stories, seeing their growth, drawing lessons from their past experiences or gaining insights from their takeaways.

My mantra for volunteering: be there when you’re needed! I believe what a lot of communities need are people who invest their time and effort to help, regardless of the needs that arise.

Has anybody in particular inspired you to volunteer? 

My mum is my loudest cheerleader and deepest inspiration. I grew up in a single-parent family, and she always showed me the possibility of giving and contributing, even when we didn’t have much. We bought extra packets of lunch for elderly neighbours and made small donations when possible. 

My mum always gave. When I wanted to do community projects in school and overseas, she gave me her fullest support, despite knowing this work would mean time away from her.

Volunteering can be difficult and push us out of our comfort zone. What are some challenges you faced as a volunteer? 

I took part in National Youth Council’s overseas community involvement project in the Na Learng village of Laos while studying in Nanyang Technical University (NTU). 

I led the education team. I crafted a two-week syllabus with 20 volunteer teachers for children between 7 to 11 years old. 

On our first day of lessons, many of us felt discouraged by the language barrier between the students and us. We had considered it might take some time to reach out to them, but had not anticipated their actual standard of English.

We called for the volunteers to come together, pick ourselves up and revise our teaching plan. We switched out worksheets for more activity-based learning and used arts and craft, storytelling and performed skits to teach basic words.

We also sought help from adults in the village who could speak English to teach us basic Laotian, so that we could more effectively understand the students. We planned the lessons based on feedback and the different paces of progress and preferences of each class.

We managed to conduct all lessons successfully, and the team grew such close bonds with the students and among each other. The joy of seeing how much the children enjoyed our lessons and appreciated our company made the planning worth it. I’m sure that if this volunteering opportunity were to be available again, the team would sign up for it.

What gives you the motivation to continue volunteering your time?

Everyone has their own unique experiences and stories to share, and interactions with people from all walks of life has always brought me new revelations. These conversations often allow me to reflect and understand myself better. 

Seeing impact in the communities we help is always a joy. Be it an actual school built that we know will provide shelter for the kids and make education more conducive, or understanding that our company has brought comfort to the elderly, the gratification and joy of helping others is something indescribable and only understood if you’ve experienced it yourself! 

What are some current or future plans you are exploring or already a part of?

For the near future, I hope I can contribute to building a stronger community spirit in my neighbourhood. During the circuit breaker last year, a lot of people experienced a sudden change in lifestyle, and the need for stronger community support became more apparent than ever. 

A group of church friends and I who all live in the same neighbourhood started a social media account (@hopebukitpanjang), through which we shared lifestyle tips and helpful information, such as kids’ DIY activities for parents, stay at home exercises, and tips for job interviews from home. 

Reaching out beyond my neighbourhood, we also started a small group on an online singing app (Quanmin), which bonds youths from all walks of life. Till now, we still have our weekly sessions, and I’ve watched this group of strangers become friends who share the same interest and support each other through life. 

Lastly, do you have anything you would like to say to those who are considering or afraid to volunteer?

I would encourage anyone who’s considered volunteering to try. It’s not about how much time or money you are able to give. It’s the heart that counts. When people collectively put their strengths to good use, the impact is immeasurable. Contribute in any way you can.

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