Volunteerism Through Video Calls – Connecting Hearts When Social Distancing
Aysha, pictured top row, 2nd from the right, leading a dance that can help the children keep fit while cooped up at home during the circuit breaker period.
Reaching Out From The Heart
With the circuit breaker in place due to Covid-19, life seems as if it has been put on hold for many of us. Despite this feeling, we must adapt to the new norm of working or studying from home. For one group of people, volunteering has been taken to a new level as they experience volunteering through a screen.
When volunteering is mentioned, one thinks of friendly engagements between volunteers and beneficiaries where they have to interact together in person. Currently, with everyone forced to stay home, how does one continue to bring smiles on people’s faces, especially when some beneficiaries require special attention?
Aysha and Javier are two individuals who ventured into new levels of volunteering through a screen, not allowing physical limitations prevent them from reaching out to the communities that they care about.
Beyond Physical Limitations
31-year-old Noor Aysha Binte Syed Sulaimen and 15-year-old Yung Cheng Ze Javier signed up as volunteers for Heartware’s President’s Challenge online engagements during the circuit breaker.
Aysha recalls: “I have a lot of time to spend and am not occupied by work [during circuit breaker], so I thought how else can I spend my free time? If I can’t go out to contribute, how can I do that by staying home? So I got in touch with Heartware again.”
She was looking through her resume while applying for jobs when she realised she had volunteered with Heartware for the National Day Parade and Chingay Parade ten years ago, in 2010. It sparked an idea in her head to return to Heartware.
“Yeah I had to reset my password [for the online portal Youthbank],” she laughs.
For Javier, as a regular volunteer for the past two years, he searched the internet for possible volunteering opportunities and came across the programme by Heartware. He also volunteers for another organisation where he calls and checks on the wellbeing of the elderly weekly.
Javier and his fellow Heartware volunteers in red educating the children about planets in our solar system. This deck of slides would have required a rigorous proposal and vetting process before reaching the screens of the beneficiaries.
Planning From Home
Signing up just a week before the induction and engagement sessions started, planning went into full force within days.
Javier expresses how he was stressed in the beginning, but he got used to the process of planning each engagement.
Each engagement requires hours of preparation for the team of one to four volunteers – it involves volunteers drafting a proposal for activities to be done during the session, followed by approval by volunteer Field Leaders before reaching the Heartware staff. If all goes well, it would then be sent to the beneficiary organisations for approval.
“Most of the time it’s the proposal approval and rejection process that requires more work,” Javier says. After the proposal is approved, the volunteers will also prepare slides for the session where it goes through the same process.
They also work within a tight timeline and according to Aysha, just four days of planning is considered “plenty of time”.
Additionally, unlike physical sessions where logistics can be provided, engagement from home requires more thought to be put into what kind of logistics the beneficiaries would have at home, or in their classrooms. Javier says that logistics are “kept to a minimum”.
Aysha smiling brightly with the lovely children from the Stamford CareHut as part of the Care Community Services Society.
Spreading Smiles Through Screens – Not As Easy As It Seems
The engagement sessions are mostly with children aged 7 to 12 years old, and some children with intellectual disabilities between 5 to 8 years old, done through video calls.
One of the engagements Javier attended was with the intellectually disabled youth where his team had to Zoom call the beneficiaries from their homes. At home, the beneficiaries would have their parents to help facilitate the activities
“As much as possible we try not to get the parents involved as it’s supposed to be their rest time. [However,] most of the time they still have to be [involved] because in a non-physical situation, it’s difficult to grab their attention and sustain it,” Javier explains.
For that session, his team did a simplified version of the Cup Song as well as Baby Shark with the beneficiaries and struggled getting their attention.
In a similar engagement Aysha attended, she adds that “most of the parents would dance as well in hopes that that their kids would follow them”.
Another challenge that came with interacting online is the occasional disruptions by technology. Aysha highlights that dancing can be off-beat due to the delayed connection. Additionally, in her first engagement, her partner was supposed to introduce the session and had all the materials but couldn’t enter the Zoom call. Aysha, with no prior experience, was left in a call to a classroom of kids through one screen. Luckily, she adapted.
“I realised it’s just a screen separating us and I just started engaging with them. We became friends in ten minutes or so,” she smiles as she recalls the incident.
Likewise, Javier agrees that “there’s a lot of adaptability and focus” needed in these sessions. In the session with Baby Shark played, his team finally “had a breakthrough” with getting the cooperation of the beneficiaries when they realised the beneficiaries knew the song.
Javier teaching the children “Baby Shark” during one of the engagements.
“Instead of treating it as part of our material, we decided to change it to a reward system. After we finished each activity, we rewarded them with one round of Baby Shark,” he explains.
“Their attention span was very short so it’s really important to find the sweet spot between intensity and satisfaction. It’s about knowing when to increase the intensity so that they’ll get involved yet not to the extent where it discourages them.”
Opportunity To Connect In A Time Of Social Distancing
One thing Aysha loves about these sessions is how she is able to impart life lessons that are not taught in school. She had one session where she had the kids draw an outline of their hand to serve as a bark of the tree. For the leaves, they drew any shape that they wanted.
“In each leaf, they wrote an act of kindness they’d like to complete either that night or another day. We tell them why kindness is important and how it’s actually embedded in our everyday lives. The topics we chose [to do with the beneficiaries] are close to our hearts, and it was very satisfying.”
For another engagement, she chose a topic that she’s passionate about to impart to the beneficiaries – poetry.
“The kids were excited with rhyming. Sheep, jeep… They kept noticing the [rhyming] words after we taught them! That worked really nicely and it gave them a nice on-screen activity,” she says.
For Aysha, volunteering online has been “new and satisfying” and what’s most memorable for her is “the smiles I get from the participants”.
Javier reflects the same sentiments: “For one of our engagements, a few of our beneficiaries commented on our engagement being the best that they have taken part in so far. It was personally very fulfilling to have the beneficiaries enjoy the session knowing that our efforts paid off.”
In such uncertain times, the actions of individuals who reach out to spread joy can serve as comfort to many, by showing that they are not in this alone. Despite the challenges that can affect human interaction, these online engagements with the beneficiaries fill the volunteers with a sense of fulfilment and renewed resilience. Simply being able to spread smiles during a bleak time is worth it all.
“Every morning we hear the news of [hundreds of cases], it’s really negative. It puts our day off, and everyone is cooped up at home,” shares Aysha. “To retain that human-to-human bond in any small way that you can, I think anyone should go for that opportunity. No matter how old or young you are, we have to live by our hearts.”