You’ve Heard of “Work From Home”, Now It’s Time To “Volunteer From Home”

May 27, 2020   |   Joelynn Tan

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Field Leaders Young Loon and Kimberley teaching the beneficiaries from MINDS some Hand Yoga!

The coronavirus pandemic has severely altered our everyday lives as days pass by with great uncertainty. In Singapore, the circuit breaker closed most of our businesses and non-essential services as citizens are advised to stay home as much as possible.

In this turbulent period, serving the community has become more crucial as it is estimated that COVID-19 will greatly affect the underprivileged. Hence, it has resulted in unconventional methods being used to serve the community as Heartware Network takes on the challenge of hosting online engagement sessions.

Heartware Network works with the President’s Challenge as a volunteer manager, training and deploying youth volunteers to serve beneficiaries. For the month of May, Heartware Volunteer Field Leaders, Kimberley and Young Loon, engaged with MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore) beneficiaries for a total of 3 online sessions to facilitate and encourage interaction amongst the beneficiaries amidst the Circuit Breaker.

In an interview with the volunteer Field Leaders, they revealed that it was very challenging to come up with the activities as none of them had any prior experience with online engagement sessions. In order to ensure that their activities would be able to capture the beneficiaries’ attention over Zoom, the volunteer Field Leaders sat in MINDS online engagement sessions to find out what they preferred to do.

To begin the session, the volunteer Field Leaders conducted Hand Yoga where the beneficiaries were able to improve hand-eye coordination. During the session, the beneficiaries were tasked to follow a set of hand movements and execute the movements according to the beat of a song. They were also taught basic massage techniques which could be done either for themselves or for their family members, allowing them to show appreciation for their loved ones during this difficult period.

During the interview, Young Loon revealed feeling “unprepared for the constraints of a computer camera”, highlighting the difference between holding a real-life session and an online session. Kimberley also agreed that a stable internet connection was an issue as they were unable to hear the beneficiaries at times. In addition, Young Loon pointed out that an online session made it more difficult to sense whether the beneficiaries were able to keep up and enjoy the session. This made it feel “less personal” for him when engaging the beneficiaries. Despite the challenges, Kimberley and Young Loon showed us that a hands-on activity could be conducted online, which has certainly opened doors for more future activities to be conducted virtually.

Next, Kimberley and Young Loon brought the beneficiaries on a city sightseeing tour as they ‘hopped’ on the Hippo tour to visit the Merlion, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Zoo, and Changi Airport virtually. At the end of the virtual tour, the volunteer leaders organised a drawing activity where everyone was given time to draw their favourite tourist attractions. The beneficiaries passionately shared their favourite parts of the tour, with many mentioning Jewel Changi Airport as their favourite tourist attraction.

Many of the beneficiaries drew Jewel Changi Airport as their favourite tourist attraction.

The idea of a virtual tour was a breath of fresh air for everyone, especially since most of us are cooped up at home during this circuit breaker. Through the Hippo virtual tour, the volunteer Field Leaders demonstrated to us that online engagements could make volunteering more accessible to different groups of people, including those who are disabled, as the outside world could be brought to them using modern technology.

Kimberley and Young Loon were greatly impacted by the last activity, “MEmoji”. “MEmoji” was an activity where the beneficiaries explored and interpreted a range of emojis. Young Loon added that this was the activity where they were highly proud of their creativity, as it brought laughter to the session. The beneficiaries acted out different emojis, such as facial expressions and sports activities, while everyone else tried to guess the emoji.

To end off the “MEmoji” activity, they embarked on Tiktok’s Hand Emoji Challenge – a list of hand emojis appeared on the screen and the beneficiaries would try to replicate them with their hands in the same order as it appeared in the video. During the interview, Kimberley pointed out that the beneficiaries were most enthusiastic about this is the activity, and it was a light-hearted activity to end the 3 online sessions on a high note.

Volunteers and beneficiaries came together for TikTok’s Hand Emoji Challenge to the viral song “Baby Shark”.

Every cloud has a silver lining. While the disease has resulted in great changes in lifestyle, it is very interesting to explore what online engagements would mean for the future of volunteering.

With the challenges that could arise from online engagement sessions, the volunteer field leaders emphasized the importance of thinking out of the box, while still making sure that the activities remain engaging and interesting for the beneficiaries. While Young Loon mentioned that “it seems harder to have personal interaction, and build a proper, long-term relationship through a computer screen”,  Young Loon goes on to reinforce that “the spirit of volunteering shouldn’t change. We should do what we can to help others, even if it may be challenging”.

For those interested in following in their footsteps, the volunteer Field Leaders advised to “focus on the beneficiaries” and “treat the session as if it were conducted physically”, because even though “it’s a different engagement, the planning process should still stay the same.” When asked for any words of encouragement for volunteer leaders, Kimberley said, “Just go for it and don’t be afraid to make mistakes and ask questions!”

Being the first few volunteers that kickstarted these creative online engagements at the beginning of May, Young Loon and Kimberley have progressed to guide other volunteers who signed up for President’s Challenge Online Engagements (initiated by Heartware Network). With their valuable experience, they are now able to vet proposals for new activities suggested by newer volunteers, conduct engagement rehearsals and supervise the final online engagements.