Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What's L.O.V.E. gotta do with it?

Recall this, "Calling all Volunteers" February 2010 which was followed by this "Student-Community Convention 2010" in April. The intention was to bring various student groups involved in community work to come together, to share, to spur the effort. The attendance was poor, about 20 students attended the one day event. It was organised by 4 student groups at my instigation. My analysis was that there was no ownership by any particular group. Of course, number is not the only yardstick to measure success. Many groups are tight knead small groups but effective. One conclusion we could make was students are no interested in volunteering or community service. Students just want to be left alone to study.

But less than one year later, the landscape seems to have changed. I believe it was brilliant packaging, excellent organisational skills, a sense of OWNERSHIP, and savvy marketing which carried the day. It was reported that 500 people signed up to volunteer during the one day L.O.V.E. Festival yesterday. See them on Facebook and on the web. I am sure that it was a team effort but it also needs exemplary or extraordinary leadership to carry through any project or event. Essentially, you need the right people for the right job.

So, Well Done to the AIESEC team under Wilson Beh (I hope I didn't screw this up and get protest emails).Of course we should recognise that the Right Livelihood College in USM played a pivotal role too. RLC had earlier proposed something called USMCares as a programme to train volunteers but as usual, where's the money?

So, what's love gotta do with volunteering? Everything, no matter which angle or perspective you wish to scrutinise it.

I was asked how I see "volunteerism" at the Lollipop talk show about 2 weeks ago. I said firstly, "you must want to do it". Secondly, "you must do it for the good of others". You must not be compelled or coerced in anyway. And whatever you do must benefit some one else who needs it. It's not about what you will get out of it personally, or as an institution.

If I could expand it a little, it is not charity. Giving money or donations does not make you a volunteer. You gotta to put in the time and energy.

And usually, this is where the obstacles are. Finding the time, on a consistent and continuous basis is essential. This is where it then translate into a true spirit of volunteerism. You do it not because you hope to get an award for best project. You do it not because of a certificate or merit points for hostel eligibility. You do because you know it is the right thing to do to help someone(s) less fortunate than you.

So, ultimately, and I have said several times before openly and at meetings, the measure of our (the university's) success in community service and volunteering must be measured by the positive effect or impact that we have made on the target community. How many poor people have we help to get out of poverty through education or self-help? How many deaths have we prevented with the new drugs we invented? What percent of our staff are from unprivileged backgrounds or with disabilities?

We should be selective. We need to be selective. Where could we make the most impact?

OK, I hear you. Surely, there must be some benefit to the student or staff who is volunteering? Should we not also measure that? A valid point. We should "measure" how we have created the spirit of volunteerism amongst students and staff. It's actually already there among the staff and students. They are already doing it. We just have not recognised them - we have not acknowledged them. We should seek out groups and individuals in the campus who have persistently and quietly worked for the benefit of others and garner their spirit.

Certainly, I do know there are many models or conceptualisation of volunteerism. The PeaceCorp is a world famous volunteer group where U.S. citizens work overseas for long periods of 2 years or so. I remember one Peace Corp volunteer from my school days, a Mr Martin who taught us maths. Obviously you can't expect them not to get any allowance - how would they live? Same goes to organisations like Doctors Without Borders - volunteers get airfare, accommodation and allowance (which is "small"). Then there is the Tzu Chi group where their volunteers pay for their own airfare when they go for disaster relief work.

I believe L.O.V.E. has the potential to be immensely successful. But I still cannot see where it wants to be. Getting lots of people to sign up as volunteers is only a small step. Will they be happy with this measurement?

This tireless couple are truly and without question the embodiment of the spirit of volunteerism. They persist against all obstacles. Every single cent they collect from their recycling programmes goes to selected charities on rotation. They give talks for free (hey, they are retirees without income so do cover their cost of travel). And they don't take no for an answer ... when it comes to pushing the environmental message. 
Long live, Don and Mylene.

(p.s. as a historical note : I received an email requesting a link on the healthy campus website for L.O.V.E. Also got a phone call, presumably from one of the students in the team, asking whether I would be part of the effort. I was little stunned. I said "I'm still evaluating" - see above. But get this. Kampus Sejahtera is a concept. An idea. Everyone is USM should use. Everyone can use it. And the healthy campus website isn't the best place to publicise your event - as proven above)

No comments: