Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Are youth really not volunteering enough?

By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 25 May 2015

VOLUNTEER work in Singapore ranks only at No. 15 on the list of important goals for young people here, a recent survey found.

Only 12 per cent of the 2,843 young people in Singapore aged 15 to 34 polled by the National Youth Council (NYC) in the 2013 National Youth Survey marked it as "very important" to them.

First on the list was maintaining strong relationships, selected by 74 per cent of respondents.

This was followed by having their own home, at 70 per cent, and then learning new skills and knowledge, at 65 per cent.

Given this mindset, it would seem that youth here probably do not carry out much volunteer work.

But 41 per cent of respondents in the survey did think that it was very important to help the less fortunate and 39 per cent thought contributing to society was also very important.

In fact, a significant portion of young people in Singapore, especially those who are schooling, participate in volunteer activities.

They are more likely to do so than their peers in other developed nations, and their numbers are growing.

An Individual Giving Survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) found that 43 per cent of those aged between 15 and 24, and 28 per cent of those aged between 25 and 34 served as volunteers in 2012.

These rates had risen from the 2010 figures of 36 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.

The volunteerism rates among youth here appear to be higher than those in the United States and Britain - countries whose volunteerism programmes the NYC studied when it was setting up Singapore's national youth volunteer corp.

In the US, only 26.1 per cent of those aged between 16 and 19 and about 18.7 per cent of those aged between 20 and 24 volunteered last year, the US Bureau of Labour Statistics reported.

In Britain, fewer than 30 per cent of young people aged between 10 and 20 years old volunteered in 2013, British think-tank Demos found.

One reason for Singapore's higher, and increasing, rates of volunteerism for school-going youth is the Community Involvement Programme launched in 1997. The programme requires primary, secondary and junior college students to spend time on community work, such as collecting donations on flag day, or helping out at welfare homes and public libraries.

In 2012, the programme was reframed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) as what it called a "values in action" scheme.

Introducing this idea during the 2012 Budget debate, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said: "Schools will be encouraged to develop four-year or six-year development plans in order to move towards more coherent and sustainable learning through community involvement."

He brought up Tanjong Katong Secondary School as an example. He said students of the school had been reaching out to needy families in their neighbourhood for three years, "making a sustained impact on their community".

Under the scheme, the students are asked to reflect both individually and in groups.

Mr Heng said: "They will discuss their experience and the role that they can play in the community. They will reflect on the values they have put into practice and how they can continue to contribute meaningfully.

"Such reflections will reinforce learning, make it more authentic and help students internalise values."

And such schemes may have instilled social conscience in youth here.

The growing pervasiveness of the Internet and social media has also helped promote awareness of social causes and create platforms for activism.

Young people today are contributing to the community not just through taking part in national efforts or those of big organisations and charities.

Many young Singaporeans have stepped forward in recent years to start their own fund-raising campaigns and social enterprises.

Last year, polytechnic graduate Desiree Yang, then 20, started a supermarket with affordable goods for the low-income after an internship at a voluntary welfare organisation.

Miss Yang had wanted to do something after hearing about a mother who mixed water with condensed milk for her baby because she could not afford formula milk.

The idea for a social supermarket had come from a Google search that showed that this new form of social enterprise was catching on overseas.

Saltsteps collects food and disposable goods that suppliers cannot sell to retailers for reasons such as mislabelling, torn labels, or nearing expiry dates. It then sells the goods to low-income families at discounted rates of 50 per cent to 70 per cent off.

In the charity drive 50 for Fifty, 50 young people each organised fund-raising events that raised a total of $3.5 million for more than 50 charities in just three months.

They used their ingenuity and social networks - including those online - to very quickly raise money for organisations that find it hard to raise funds for themselves.

For example, one of the participants, Ms Teresa Tay, 32, had collected unwanted brand-name handbags from her friends and sold them to raise $34,000 for the Autism Association of Singapore.

When 50 for Fifty co-founder Rebekah Lin, 30, launched the charity drive last year, she said she wanted to break the stereotype that young people are concerned only about themselves.

"As we celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday, we shouldn't forget those less fortunate than us," she said.

However, despite the improvement in volunteerism rates over the years, Singapore still suffers from the "bathtub effect".

This describes the plunge in the rate when Singaporeans who volunteered regularly while in school stop doing so after they graduate and move on to pursue their careers.

Volunteerism then picks up again when their children have grown up or when they retire.

Minister for Community, Culture and Youth Lawrence Wong said during the Budget debate last year: "Volunteer involvement is high among Singaporeans aged 15 and in the younger age groups, but it declines sharply in their mid-20s as they enter the workplace, and participation comes back up in their 30s, but it is still not as high as before."

The 2013 National Youth Survey found that 33 per cent of teenagers aged 15 to 19 spent more than 10 hours volunteering in a week.

This number fell to 26 per cent for those aged between 20 and 29, and then to 25 per cent for those aged between 30 and 34.

Fewer than one in five Singaporeans volunteered last year, with the 82.2 per cent who do not saying they lack the time to do so.

This is a fall from 2012, when 32.3 per cent of Singaporeans volunteered.

So while Singapore has been fairly successful in mobilising a substantial and soaring proportion of young people here to volunteer, the next challenge is to encourage more to do so, and to sustain their participation beyond their schooling years.

Changing the world with ideals, energy and passion
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 25 May 2015

TO SPUR young Singaporeans into taking up community work and continuing to do so beyond their schooling years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mooted the idea of a national youth volunteer corps.

At the National Day Rally in 2013, he announced plans to set up this platform, saying: "You are our future. You are idealistic, full of energy and passion. Go forth, change Singapore, change the world, for the better."

Youth Corps Singapore was launched last year with an inaugural batch of 200 aged 15 to 35.

Most were from tertiary institutions, but there were also working adults from industries such as finance and food and beverage.

During the one-year programme run by the National Youth Council (NYC), they went on volunteering stints here and overseas. They also received training and mentoring, as well as government funding for projects and networking opportunities.

Some of last year's projects included helping low-income families put food on the table through urban farming. Others tackled health or environmental issues, or helped vulnerable youth.

Those in the next intake for the programme will start training next month. Eventually, the NYC hopes to have 6,000 volunteers a year serving the community.

Between 2000 and July last year, the council also supported more than 27,000 young people who made 1,300 trips to carry out community projects across South-east Asia, China and India.

This year, the Government announced that it will donate money to schools so that students can use the funds to work on projects with charities as part of the SG50 celebrations.

Each primary and secondary school and junior college will receive $20,000 to use for causes that students identify with. Each polytechnic will get $150,000, and the three Institute of Technical Education colleges will be given $250,000 altogether.

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said during his Budget speech this year: "We want to encourage the spirit of giving, and to raise the awareness of community causes in our students from young."

To reverse the dip in volunteerism when young people enter the workforce, the Government wants to "make giving part of the DNA of corporate Singapore", Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said last year.

The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre is developing a Singapore Roadmap for Corporate Giving to guide companies.

This is the 10th of 12 primers on various current affairs issues, published as part of the outreach programme for The Straits Times-Ministry of Education National Current Affairs Quiz.

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