Jan 4, 2007

Something About Social Work

In the comment section of my previous post, I noted that in Switzerland, Jehovah's Witnesses (whose religious beliefs prohibit them from carrying arms) perform their national service by doing social work. Their service period is double that for non-JWs in military service.

Someone then responded that this wouldn't be possible in Singapore because we aren't a welfare state - therefore there isn't much social work to be done.

This reply startled me. I don't know whether the person is arguing for the sake of arguing, or just truly unaware of what social work means.

Social work doesn't disappear in non-welfare states. If anything, there is a greater need for social work in non-welfare states, because the state takes on much less responsibility in looking after its disadvantaged citizens. In other words, more volunteers are needed.

Social work also comes in a wide variety of different forms. Here's one example from the Straits Times today:
    ST Jan 4, 2007
    Voluntary body makes sure kids go to school
    Singapore Children's Society monitors pupils who skip class

    By Liaw Wy-Cin & Yap Su-Yin

    TEACHERS were not the only ones taking students' attendance on the first day of school yesterday. The Singapore Children's Society was doing the same.

    Social workers from the voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) had been monitoring 11 children who had problems attending school.

    Nine were in their classes, but two were not in their schools yesterday.

    According to the society, one of the two - a Primary 5 pupil - did not have enough pocket money for school. The other was a Primary 4 pupil whose father takes her to school only if he is awake. Otherwise, she remains at home.

    But the VWO has got in touch with the two girls and they are expected to be back in school today.

    Five of the 11 children had failed to register for Primary 1 last year, before the Singapore Children's Society stepped in to help.

    The other four, as well as the two who were absent yesterday, were pupils without regular and sustained attendance in school.

    The society, which was set up in 1952, is the only agency tasked with helping the Ministry of Education to see that all children of school-going age go to school, since a compulsory education act was implemented in 2003.
In Singapore, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre even has an e-matching system which attempts to match your individual preferences and skills to the particular organisation or position where you're most needed or would be most useful.

For example, if you are a doctor, you could specify that you want to volunteer in the "Health & Medical" sector; that you want to help "Sick/Needy" or "Elderly", and that you want to provide "Medical Services". The system will then attempt to match you with the appropriate organisation and vacancy.

Many different types of skills are in demand, for volunteer work. Activity areas include "Admin Services", "Disaster Relief", "Tutoring & Coaching", "Green Efforts", "Befriending / Counselling", "Information Technology", "Marketing/Publicity", just to name a few.

I volunteer in my own way. Last year on my old blog, I regularly provided publicity for various public-awareness, fundraising & charitable events. I intend to continue with this, with greater focus, this year. See, it doesn't cost me that much time or effort, but more than 20,000 unique visitors per month, it must be doing some good.

So you are organising a charitable event and would like some publicity, please send me an email. Details on my sidebar.


Anonymous said...

I speak from my personal experience, I had been a regular volunteer for around 10 years until the early 2000's.

There seems to be a common trend in Singapore, esp in the new millenium, where employers (direct bosses) judge staff by "phsyical presence" (number of hours in office) rather that actual quality/quantity of work produced. This result in long unproductive hours (how many people leave work at 5pm? 8pm? 10pm? 12midnight?), leaving little time for family/personal life, causing the work-life imbalance in Singapore. Given this imbalance, what little personal time left is devoted firstly to self and family/friends, volunteerism remains low on the priority list. The govt can forget about reaping results from their costly glitzy adverts cajoling more to volunteer or to have more children, etc... when the underlying issues of work-life imbalance and job security are ever looming.

Volunteer work as an option for national service though is another issue altogether. Call me cynical but I doubt it will happen. Will the govt really risk exposing the underbelly -- at 20% household without income according to 2005 Dept of Stats survey, its probably a huge underbelly -- of Singapore's economic reality to young untainted eyes/hearts? Brings to mind a certain p65'er who was apparently so deluded by the MSM that he didn't know there are poor people in Singapore until he joined the white team! What would the shock of realizing that "there are poor people in Singapore" cause them to do? Will they join the white team or create more opposition pushing for welfare (a dirty word according to the white team)? Or will they accelerate their exit so that they will not become a statistic amongst the "un-welfared" Singapore poor?

Anonymous said...

Oops, correction, it should be lowest 10% household without income in the 2005 Dept of Stats survey. The bottom 20% household saw their income strinking and it was predicted that the trend will continue.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I think that there are creative ways for people to volunteer, such that the utilisation of their time & energy is kept minimal, and yet they are able to contribute usefully.

Of course, I also think that these creative ways are probably left untapped very often.

Everybody has certain skills or knowledge or is already carrying on certain kinds of activities in their usual routine. Many of those skills / knowledge / activities will often be extendible to volunteer activities / social work at minimal cost / effort to the volunteer.

If you are a restaurant owner, it probably would not be of that much extra trouble for you to organise a special meal for old folks at an old folks home a few times a year.

If you are an animal lover with many pets of your own, you may well enjoy volunteering a few hours a week at SPCA and help look after other animals too.

If you are a law student, you could help the needy by volunteering some form of legal aid, and at the same time this would be beneficial to your own legal education. (I mention this because there's an article in today's Today about the pro bono group at NUS Law Faculty).

If you are a popular blogger, it doesn't cost you much effort to publicise a few charitable events along the way, while you are writing about other stuff.


As for NS, I didn't mean to suggest that social work would be an option for just any and every 18-year-old citizen. My point was that social work could be made an option for the JWs.

As it is, we lock up the JWs in detention barracks (military prison) for 3 years, because they refuse to do NS. I don't think that being locked up is particularly constructive. In contrast, there seem to be lots of advantages to the nation, if we utilised them to do social work for 3, 4.5 or 6 years instead.

Bear in mind that these are quite staunchly religious people, to begin with. Social work, to help the underprivileged, may well be the kind of activity that they would actually embrace and be happy to take on.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

"Bear in mind that these are quite staunchly religious people, to begin with. Social work, to help the underprivileged, may well be the kind of activity that they would actually embrace and be happy to take on".

I may be biased but I don't think the Christian-majority MIWs will push for JWs to be actively doing social work for NS because many Christians/Catholics view their social work arm/activities as part of evangelism... how can they support the evangelism of a "cult"?