Orchids, Smiling Strangers, and Sleeping Students: Volunteer Life in Singapore
I recently had the privilege of spending an intensive four days with volunteerism colleagues in Singapore (my fifth visit since 2001) on behalf of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVCP) there. Singapore is a small country, but amazingly multicultural and multi-lingual. Over the last decade, NVCP has focused on encouraging more intentional giving of time and money in both formal and informal ways. I learned about many interesting things during my most recent stay, and want to share three of them here.
First, the orchid is Singapore's national flower (in the country's equatorial climate, the flower grows abundantly outdoors). To celebrate the close of the first Internaitonal Year of Volunteers (IYV) in 2001, NVPC worked with the Naitonal Parks Authority to breed a special orchid called Epidenrum, "Spirit of Volunteerism." Its petals range in color from pink to orange to red, with about 10-15 petals on each shoot. Here is the philosophy behind the blossom:
Just as the orchid blooms into strident red and gold, so too has the spirit of volunteerism blossomed with vibrant life and passion all around the world. The orchid was originally meant to symbolise the growth of volunteerism in Singapore’s midst. It has now come to signify the vigour of volunteerism worldwide.
Epidenrum, "Spirit of Volunteerism" was the emblem of the 21st IAVE World Volunteer Conference held in Singapore last year (the 10th anniversary of IYV) and featured prominently in its logo.
The Singapore Volunteer Conference on May 29-31 offered two evening sessions especially for community volunteers. To illuminate the things I was asked to speak about, NVPC invited representatives from two new initiatives in Singapore to share their projects. Both of the volunteers were young and enthusiastic -- and embodied the principle that small acts of reaching out can make a difference. We heard from "Project Hello Stranger" and "While You Were Sleeping."
Project Hello Stranger expains on Facebook that it is "a voluntary movement for 2012 by a group of crazy happy strangers to spread the spirit of love and giving among all people in Singapore." Basically, it sends groups of young people out into the city to flash signs saying, "Hello, Stranger!" to initiate smiles and honking car horns. You have to see it in action to understand it, so here is one of their videos:
While You Were Sleeping, reflecting the enormous pressure students in Singapore are under to get good grades and pass exams, describes itself like this on Facebook:
WYWS was developed around the idea of simply doing something nice for a person while he / she snoozes (out of exam lethargy and stress!) at a desk! Many have said that the Singapore culture is one that is selfish and results-driven. However, the insomniacs of this independent effort (YES, WE ARE COMPLETELY ALONE!) are seeking to challenge this notion and bring about a positive and refreshing perspective through dropping a
1. Personalised Note
2. Gift (Coffee / Sweet)
at a person's desk WHILE HE / SHE IS SLEEPING.
Join us today in this wonderful experiment - Help us prove that we all care! Again, a picture is worth a thousand words:
What refreshing, fun ideas!
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