Humble tasks: The First Step to Making a Difference

Nov 15, 2019   |   Vera Lim

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Our volunteer awaiting to usher in the public with a warm smile.

In support of the President’s Challenge, the Istana opens its gates during Public Holidays to invite the public to come down and enjoy its bustling fundraiser cum carnival.

For this Deepavali, they had a variety of performances and booths, which included a Wildlife Reserves Singapore mini-exhibition. This event is exciting for many who are keen to be given privy of what the President’s residence looks like. While this is an exciting opportunity, it is important that we remember the main intent of hosting this event.

The President’s Challenge: What is it?

The President’s Challenge is an annual fundraising campaign and community outreach for charities selected every year by the President’s Office. These benefitting organisations will receive funds to focus on their mission and cause.

In 2018, President Halimah Yacob announced that more emphasis would be placed on those with mental health issues, as more could be done to “raise greater awareness of their needs” as well as “support them in their journey of recovery and reintegration”.

According to a 2017 report by the World Health Organisation, depression is an issue of rising importance in Singapore. However, some are still not going forward to receive the treatment that they need. The Istana Open House this Deepavali was hosted as an initiative for the Singapore community to grow more inclusive as a society. As we stroll through the scenic park, we should remember what we are also commemorating alongside this festive season!

Apart from mental health organisations, the President’s Challenge supports a variety of other organizations, with more information available here.

And so, the Open House crowd starts pouring in! The front house volunteers start to distribute tickets and guide the public to the carnival waiting at the top of the hill. 

Getting to know the volunteers!

Amongst the many executing hands seeking to control the masses, Heartware Network volunteers were the ones in red. They were a mix of seasoned Heartware volunteers, students from Catholic High School, and Rotaract club members from ITE College Central.

I spoke to Karina and Isabelle from ITE College Central to find out more about their volunteering experience.

Best friends who volunteer together stay together! Karina (left) and Isabelle (right) from ITE College Central.

Karina was stationed at the face painting booth where she ushered excited children and parents into linear queues.

Our volunteer assisting an adorable customer to choose her face painting design.

While crowd control may seem like a humble task to some, Karina shared that it was meaningful being able to help in whichever place called for a need. It was her way of expressing her support for the fundraising event.

Her peer, Isabelle, had a cheekier answer to what motivated her to be volunteering at the event. Gleefully, she shared that she was curious on how the Istana grounds looked like. The Istana is known to open only on special occasions, and she was excited to explore the area as a volunteer.

Both ladies agreed that this volunteering opportunity was quite unique in nature, and was different from their previous experiences: Instead of directly interacting with a group of children or elderly, they now had to interact with a slew of unfamiliar faces for a very limited time. This was challenging for both girls who had to step out of their comfort zones to approach strangers whom they were unsure of how to communicate with. It was also stressful as they felt the mad rush of the crowd thronging in.

However, their eagerness to deliver and play their role for the day spurred them on to overcome these barriers. This allowed them to walk away with what they deemed as a rewarding experience, in terms of learning and an opportunity to make friends with the other youth volunteers.

Benjamin, a Secondary 3 student from Catholic High School, was volunteering as part of his school’s VIA initiative. His class had a partnership with Heartware Network for a few months’ worth of volunteering engagement. This was one of the events that he was encouraged to volunteer at. At the event, his role was to approach the visitors and encourage them to check out the various booths.

Speaking to him about his experience revealed that he was not at the Istana Open House because he was told to, but because he wanted to.

The most exciting aspect of volunteering to him was feeling part of a team, building a sense of camaraderie with a shared purpose. To execute an event, one has to work closely and coordinate with other volunteers, and he enjoyed every bit of it.

Like many other active volunteers, he declared that “nothing can compare to giving back to the society”. Indeed, volunteering really tugs at your heart strings, and the joy of giving back is an elusive feeling that one only can understand having been through a personal journey volunteering.

Volunteering at the Istana Open House is one way you can consider giving back to the society. After all, the gesture to show that we are trying to create an inclusive society for all should not just come from the President’s office, but from the people.