RSVP’s Volunteer of the Year for 2014 shares how important volunteering is to him and the qualities that make a good volunteer.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Chee Chat San, 77, has been volunteering for many years in the Senior Service Volunteer Programme at non-profit RSVP as a Changi Airport Service Ambassador, guiding travellers who require help and assisting older people to get to their appropriate gates if necessary. The ex-radio operator for a passenger/cargo ship is also a volunteer concierge at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s (KTPH) A&E counter, assisting patients in their registrations and doing Chinese translations at the counter and consultation rooms, and on his other free days he volunteers his service at church.
So it comes as no surprise that he was recently named Volunteer of the Year at RSVP’s Volunteer Appreciation Nite. Ageless Online catches up with the divorcee, who has no children to find out what makes a good volunteer and the benefits of volunteering:
“As a pioneer generation, it is not easy to gain employment but through RSVP, we can still remain productive by doing volunteer work. I started volunteering as a Changi Airport Service Ambassador three or four years ago. Before one is engaged in duty roster, you have to undergo four days of training and to familiarise yourself with the facilities at the airport terminal. I was an ambassador for two years but then the programme stopped, and then it started again in 2013.
With the budget airlines being introduced, there are a lot of first-time air travellers. We can do some service and give them information as well as direct them to their appropriate gates. On arrival sometimes they do not know where to get their luggage and there are language problems especially from those coming from Vietnam and Mainland China.”
Helping those in need.
“Once while I was on duty with a colleague, we noticed three Myanmar maids who were stranded at the airport. That was the first time they came to Singapore and they spoke little or no English. There was no one to receive them at the airport since morning. They had no local money and no telephone number to contact the Singapore agent. Coming from a poor village they dare not use the toilet facilities because they thought they had to pay.
I tried to communicate with them but due to language problems it was not successful. We discovered from their passports that they were from Myanmar. I contacted my Burmese pastor, who spoke to them. They were so happy to hear someone who can understand their problems. We bought them some sandwiches and drinks.
My pastor managed to get the details of their agent in Myanmar and contacted them who then contacted the Singapore agent. At that time, I was not sure if they managed to get in touch with them, as it was already after-office hours.
As I completed my duty at 8pm, I asked my pastor to talk to the girls as to whether they wanted to continue to wait at the airport or stay a night at the church where I serve as a volunteer. When the girls decided to come to the church I informed the Changi Experience Agents (CEA) at the information counter and left my phone contact number and the church address so that they could contact me when the maids’ agent arrived. They stayed overnight and two agents came to the church the next day to fetch the girls who were very pleased for the assistance rendered.
There was also a middle-aged Vietnamese couple who were not able to get through the immigration because they did not fill out their forms properly. They tried going through another channel but was also not successful. So I brought them to see the officer-in-charge who spoke to them. Apparently, the husband was very unhappy due to the incident until their eventual clearance at the immigration. Unfortunately, they could not find their luggage so I helped them to retrieve them from the holding area.
Though these are small matters, I think that not many people can be of help to them. I am glad that I was given the opportunity to assist them in a tiny way.”
Learning new things.
“I wanted to know what is inside the transit area of Changi Airport. A normal person cannot gain access but a passenger on arrival can but they usually hurry to go home so they do not see what are the available facilities. Do you know there are six gardens, a swimming pool, a transit hotel with full facilities, as well as prayer rooms in the airport terminals? There is also an activity called Social Tree, where you can have your photo taken by a computer and sent to your own e-mail address, a koi pond where it is said that those koi can grow to 2m long and to 200 years old. Also, non-Singaporeans can get a GST refund if they shop at Government-appointed retailers and/or duty-free outlets.”
One is never enough.
“I also volunteer at my godmother’s church since it was founded in 1963 after the Bukit Ho Swee village fire. I was one of the founders, I do mostly odds and ends such as checking toilet paper, a bit of administration work, shop for the fellowship lunches, visit old folks, etc. I usually do it on the days when I am not doing any RSVP work. I have been volunteering in the church since then.”
Commitment is crucial.
“For Changi Airport, I am on a duty roster once a week on Mondays from 4pm to 8pm. Usually, there are two volunteer ambassadors at each of the terminals. At KTPH, I am there every Tuesdays from 1pm to 4pm.”
Age doesn’t matter.
“As long as God permits and gives me the time and health, I will continue volunteering my service. Everyday is a bonus for me and I want to make full use of it.”
Pay it forward.
“I am very happy if I can assist a fellow human being in whatever ways. It is better than idling at the void decks.”