Meet three Singaporeans who are making our home a kinder city – and prove there is profound joy and purpose in giving
Female volunteers making a difference
When she’s not lecturing part time at LASALLE College of the Arts, this canine lover spends her time rehabilitating rescue dogs and running marathons to raise funds and awareness for these animals. In March, she ran across Hong Kong’s Lantau Island in the Translantau 50 km marathon, in rugged terrain, to raise money for Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD).
Her passion for dog rescue and welfare began in 2011, when she successfully fostered and rehabilitated a rescued Shetland Sheepdog. “I was appalled at how she had been neglected and abused as a breeding dog when she came to me in a malnourished and diseased state. I toilet-trained her, taught her to walk on a leash and socialised her with my dog, and finally managed to rehome her,” Marie shares. “That same year, I visited a dog shelter in Pasir Ris Farmway and was shocked to learn about the huge number of rescue dogs residing there.”
That aroused in Marie the desire to start volunteering. “I began by cleaning kennels and walking the rescue dogs. A year later, I took a course on dog behaviour and training as I wanted to do more to educate others (on dog abuse and abandonment).”
Besides advocating for more responsible dog ownership, Marie focuses on rehabilitating homeless dogs. She set up The Dog Alchemist, a service where she helps owners train and have a better relationship with their animals. “I help [the dogs] overcome their fears and issues and make them sociable and ready for adoption. If we can rehome more rescue dogs, we can free up space in shelters to help more dogs.”
Passionately, she adds, “I never imagined myself to be a dog trainer and behaviourist, but seeing a fearful dog transform into a happy, normal dog is a priceless feeling. It’s what keeps me going.”
“I rehabilitate rescue dogs and help them find forever homes”
“I empower marginalised youth and help build up their self-esteem” “I help ensure the best quality care for people with disabilities”
For Roshini, working on social causes came quite naturally. She’s volunteered with various organisations, including Room To Read and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, but her soft spot is for the residents at RCHD where she is now a member of the management committee.
“When I first started volunteering with people with disabilities, I didn’t know how to be helpful. How do I talk to them, or comfort them? Thankfully, there have always been other volunteers and staff on hand to patiently guide me along,” Roshini reveals.
“And I’m always surprised by how energised I feel at the end of every meeting or outing, even when we’ve been dealing with tough issues. I’ve made a lot of new friends, but I’ve also learned so much from those I volunteer with (both the volunteers and the people we support),” she remarks. “Another underrated fact is how much fun it can be – I often volunteer with my family and it is a great bonding activity.”
“Often when I am chatting with the residents at RCHD, I am struck by their great sense of humour and intelligence,” she says. “Once, a resident with multiple severe disabilities asked me for my date of birth. Within seconds of telling him, he accurately pointed out that I was born on a Thursday!”
“We all have blindspots created by our social and educational circles.” Roshini notes. “Volunteering allows me to meet people whose life experiences have been different from mine. We break down barriers, overcome stereotypes and build a stronger bond as members of the same community.”
In 2014, Danielle and two fellow Sociology graduates were introduced to a group of teenagers who lived in Lengkok Bahru, a housing estate of one-room rental flats. It was an area, according to Danielle, “with a notorious reputation as a druggie haven full of juvenile delinquents”. To engage the youths positively, they formed Kopitiam Lengkok Bahru, and designed a photography and arts project in a bid to help the youths learn new skills to boost their confidence.
“Being outsiders, it was challenging trying to engage the youths. We had to be purposeful and straightforward with them,” Danielle adds, “And we didn’t want to make a transient impact. We kept our day jobs, but for close to 10 months, we headed down regularly to meet them, conduct lessons or just hang out, which helped build their trust in us.”
The project phase was ultimately a success and culminated in two public photography exhibitions. While the team is in the midst of planning another, Danielle keeps in close contact with the youths via text messaging and social media, a channel she uses to continue to mentor them.
There was a huge sacrifice of time and energy, but Danielle strongly believes the rewards of volunteering far outweigh the costs. “It helps you grow in empathy, expands your world view and re-adjusts your priorities. What you do as a volunteer can positively impact the way you think about work and life”.
MARIE CHOO, 40 Dog behaviorist and trainer at The Dog Alchemist; founder of D.O.G.S. (Dogs Owners Guidance Support)
Make A Difference: If you’re looking for a dog, adopt. If you don’t have time to own a dog, you can always foster one for a few days or weeks.
Make A Difference: Try something the whole family can do together, such as taking part in a walk or run that raises awareness for a disease. ROSHINI PRAKASH-NAIR, 37 Management Committee member at Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD); Council Member at National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre
Make A Difference: Start small. The best way to volunteer is to find something you’re already doing, and find a way to use that to make a difference in someone else’s life. DANIELLE HONG, 29 Co-founder of Kopitiam Lengkok Bahru