Heart of gold

Love has to be put into action and that action is voluntary service

Iqbal (right) receives a certificate and a promotional banner on My Forest Watch from Malaysian Nature Society president Henry Goh.

THOSE who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer.

Indeed, volunteerism has become a key social obligation of many organisations. And the work of volunteers, done with a cheerful heart, have touched and changed the lives of many for the better.

As they say, volunteers are not paid — not because they are worthless but because they are priceless.

Iqbal Abdollah, an assistant director of Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia Miri branch, is an active volunteer and environmentalist. He believes volunteerism often arises from an unsettled issue or problem.

“There’s always something that needs to be done — whether it’s cleaning up a litter-strewn beach, helping people in need or finding homes for stray animals in the streets. But to depend solely on the government or certain agencies to do something about it wouldn’t be possible as they may already have a lot on their plates.

“That’s why volunteers have a very important role to play. It’s not only that they reach out to people but more importantly, their selfless deeds also have far-reaching effects in alleviating hardship and improving lives,” he said.

When he was 11 to 12, Iqbal helped with the funeral arrangements when his grandmother passed away. From then on, he often volunteered to help the workers of his father’s funeral management setup.

At 15, he even went for a basic funeral management course together with his father although he already had a basic understanding of Muslim funeral management.

“It somehow sparked my passion to volunteer,” he added.

Iqbal’s active involvement with voluntary bodies such as the Malaysia Civil Defence Force, Hikmah Youth Club Miri Division, and the Malaysian Nature Society Miri branch, attests to his readiness to support various good causes, and through this, he hopes to spread the message of volunteerism.

“I’m often asked, personally and at public talks, why I actively volunteer. There’s no ready-made answer but for me, volunteering should be out of selflessness and being the first to take action to make changes.”

Iqbal believes volunteerism should come from the heart, pointing out that it’s important to set good examples for the young emulate.

“I will help wherever I can. In my public talks, I always encourage the young to volunteer. They are the ones to make a change — if not them, who?”

As an active advocate of environmental conservation, Iqbal said he has had his fair share of heartaches, especially when his good intentions were twisted and criticised.

“My voice on this subject (conservation) is very loud. I feel it’s very important to let my children and the younger generation know there shouldn’t be any political agenda to protecting nature.”

Iqbal always makes time to educate his children on volunteering to help others, saying, “I try to impart this important value of life to the young so that they will understand and appreciate the value of volunteering for worthy causes when they grow up.”

As the saying goes, volunteering is at the core of being human. No one has made it through life without someone’s help.

The MEIS team of volunteers and children under the ‘Support a Child’s Education’ project.

Helping illiterate children

Another Mirian, Leslie Lau, was prompted by an unlikely experience to take up the challenge of eradicating illiteracy among disadvantaged children — in this instance, through a non-profit organisation which he formed — the Miri Education Initiative Society (MEIS).

“I come from a medium-income Chinese family, which means I don’t often speak English. My family doesn’t speak the language nor have I many English-speaking friends. I only learned to speak English as part of my everyday conversation while pursuing my degree in university. Back then, I was struggling to complete my projects and pass my exams due to low proficiency in English,” the 28-year-old said.

He recalled stumbling upon the chance to meet several children in the rural areas while serving as a volunteer during a general election campaign and the experience opened his eyes to the need to give these young children — and many like them — an opportunity to get an education.

“The children only speak their native tongue — not even Bahasa Malaysia. About three years later, I returned to the same village for the second time but things hadn’t changed, so I decided to do something to help these children. That’s how and why I set up MEIS.”

At first, Lau was unsure where his quest would take him but he persevered and eventually found his path — thanks to his family’s support and that of his MEIS team.

MEIS, comprising educators, designers, lawyers, bankers, sales executives and even personnel from the oil and gas industry, focuses on improving the education standards of children from poor families and has implemented a ‘Support a Child’s Education’ project to identify children from the village for English language lessons. In all, 27 sessions have been held.

“Although MEIS depends solely on public donations to fund this project, we will continue to help the children attain literacy on our own … as far as possible. For them, a good education is a ticket to a better future,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Lau believes that problems could be identified and solved with a sincere heart, saying volunteerism means the willingness to sacrifice time and energy and “give selfless love” to help make the world better.

Lau disagreed with claims that young people nowadays were reluctant to volunteer for worthy causes, noting that those who had been nurtured with the value of volunteerism while growing up were always ready to volunteer.

“Education is key to inculcating such an attribute in young people,” he stressed.

According to him, different people make different impacts as volunteers and there is no one-size-fits-all standard to judge who is better.

“It’s the appreciation of the work volunteers do that is invaluable as it gives them a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose, knowing they have made a positive impact on the people they helped,” he added.

Iqbal with his daughter during a beach-cleaning outing.

Committed volunteer

Connie Tan, a manager of a consultant medical centre in Kuching, has been volunteering her service to five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) since a decade ago. Despite her busy schedules — travelling around Sarawak and to Singapore almost every month — she is still able to squeeze in the time to volunteer.

“I do it at my own pace and I’m happy my contributions are helping to make life better for people,” she said.

Tan confessed that volunteerism has become a part of her life and it has changed her too.

“Bringing cheers to the needy, especially children, is so uplifting. It all started with the agency — CanHope — a non-profit cancer counselling organisation, supported by Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) in Singapore, where I was and still am involved in cancer care. To see the smiles on the patients’ face gives me a lot of joy.”

She said working as a cancer counsellor was an incredible experience for her because it could make a huge difference to people’s lives as she discovered.

“Every cancer patient has his or her own struggle. As a counsellor, I can help to address their physical and emotional needs, supporting them throughout their treatment. I have learnt a lot from face-to-face counselling — how to communicate with and bring comfort to each individual patient.”

To Tan, a volunteer is like an angel, bringing hope and happiness to those in need.

“If one is committed enough to volunteer, one can build a relationship with people based on trust. This is, of course, not easy without making the time and effort,” she said, adding that education is the key to laying a strong foundation for volunteerism.

According to her, volunteering strengthens one’s understanding of and commitment to doing good. This value can be inculcated in school. Involvement in volunteerism usually marks the beginning of a life-long passion to help others.

She believes volunteers today are highly recognised for their altruistic spirit of giving the best of themselves without expecting anything in return.

“I can say volunteering is like making a small investment of your time in contributing to society and the volunteer, in turn, will benefit from the social skills developed through interacting with new people.”

This year marks Tan’s 12th year with PCC and the one thing that inspires her to continue her voluntary work with the cancer centre is her desire to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Courage and compassion are important when interacting and empathising with cancer patients — and more importantly, the ability to listen and communicate effectively as a counsellor,” she said.

Iqbal (centre) volunteers to distribute beef during Hari Raya Haji.

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