This year’s RSVP Volunteer of the Year shares his volunteering journey.
Sium Yeap Tong is grateful for having benefitted from over 25 years working in IT in a Singapore bank. As such, he decided, he wanted to give back to society in a meaningful way.
In mid-2016, the 61-year-old did an online search on “senior volunteer” and from there, he attended a volunteerism talk at non-profit RSVP Singapore. This would be his first foray into volunteering. Through RSVP, he got posted to Yumin Secondary School under its mentoring programme.
Sharing about the experience, he said, “It was an enriching experience for me – mentoring the students, listening to their issues and problems, understanding their likes and dislikes, sharing good values and habits with them, etc. I also felt appreciated after each session as the students/mentees would thank the volunteers and wished them a great week ahead.”
However, Yeap Tong had to cut his volunteering short as a friend asked him to help implement an access governance system for his company. He also felt that this opportunity would allow him to try out something different. When the short-term job ended in 2018, he came back to volunteering with RSVP and has been volunteering with the organisation ever since.
Currently, he volunteers with the Mentally Disadvantaged Outreach Programme (MDOP) at Anglican Community Services – Simei. With the MDOP programme, Yeap Tong and other senior volunteers at RSVP support rehabilitating mental health patients and help ease them back into society through light physical exercises, puzzle solving and expressive arts.
Yeap Tong shared that before the COVID pandemic, sessions were done face-to-face but they have now evolved to weekly one-hour Zoom sessions. Besides doing exercises with them, he and other volunteers also share different topics evolving around places to visit, upcoming activities or places of nostalgia.
“We spend some time researching on these topics for each coming week. In the process, we as volunteers also learn while doing the research and also from the sharing during the sessions – things that we normally would not know or appreciate. The main purpose of each session is to encourage the clients to speak up and to share and at the same time, to share positive thoughts and happy moments with them,” said Yeap Tong.
His other RSVP volunteering activities have paused due to COVID such as the MDOP at Dementia Singapore’s New Horizon Centre (Toa Payoh), and the mentoring programme at Holy Innocents’ Primary School and Salvation Army Singapore Prison Service (SPS) programme.
With those, he helps out in various ways. With the dementia clients, he would engage them in various activities such as colouring exercises and games for two hours, and with the primary schoolchildren, he would help supervise their homework for around two and a half hours. And, with the SPS programme, Yeap Tong would engage children of prison inmates. “We would engage them in a meaningful manner and inculcate good values like how to share toys/games/colouring materials, proper etiquette, keeping and storing toys after playing, etc.”
He also started volunteering at the Christian Outreach to the Handicapped and at some Institute of Mental Health wards, but these are not so regular due to the COVID situation, shared Yeap Tong. He also has done skills-based volunteering on a short-term basis, such as conducting the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test at mobile clinics around Paya Lebar Residents’ Committees. This test is a popular screening tool for Alzheimer’s disease. He also helped the Law Society Pro Bono Services on case review and legal clinics, and has been involved in the Smart Nation Ambassador programme related to TraceTogether, and with RSVP’s social enterprise, ProGuide.
“There have been many touching moments especially with the mentoring programme, but one memorable one would be when one of the mentees who had finished his arts and craft activity decided to give the finished item to me instead of taking it home to his loved ones,” shared Yeap Tong, who ended up returning it to him and encouraged him to shared it with his loved ones despite whatever problems he may have at home.
Benefits to volunteering
Besides these touching moments, volunteering brings a bountiful of benefits. Thanks to COVID, he has had to learn how to use Zoom to reach out to clients. He has also gained a lot of satisfaction through volunteering. “I enjoy seeing the clients improve and ‘graduate’ from the programme and lead a gainfully employed vocation independently outside the centre. For the mentoring programme, the satisfaction is seeing them improve in their grades and mature to become more caring and responsible people,” said Yeap Tong.
For his efforts giving back, this year, he was awarded Volunteer of the Year by RSVP. “Volunteering not only brings joy to the clients, but you also learn and enjoy the activities.” He advised other seniors to take each volunteering activity as a challenge and learning experience. “It benefits you physically and mentally, and keeps you socially-engaged with new friends such as fellow volunteers, RSVP staff, centre staff, etc.” His loved ones have noted that volunteering has given him a more relaxed and positive outlook in life. Besides volunteering, he is actively pursuing his interest in the visual arts including Chinese ink painting, portrait drawing and oil/acrylic painting.
Yeap Tong ended the interview with a rather apt quote from Quaker missionary Etienne de Grellet. It goes like this, “I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”