Stories > Love…With Purpose
Two Singaporean couples find meaning in making a positive impact on the lives of others by participating in the SIF’s community service programmes together.
BY ALYWIN CHEW
ater for Life (WFL) , an SIF community programme, provides rural communities with access to drinking water through the implementation of clean water technology, and enhances their quality of life via improved health and hygiene practices. The programme supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, which calls for universal access to clean water and sanitation by 2030. It also allows Singaporeans and international communities to build better intercultural understanding and friendships by working together. Since its inception in 2010, WFL has brought clean water to communities in Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar.
Another SIF community service programme, Words on Wheels (WOW), seeks to promote learning among children and youths in local communities. WOW creates convenient access to books and the internet via a mobile library equipped with technology that offers opportunities for participation in educational activities. It also delivers culture- and art-based virtual workshops to students to encourage experiential learning.
Since 2010, WOW has brought the joy of learning to children in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
THE COUPLE WHO MET AS VOLUNTEERS
Cheng Kwei Chai
IT executive, SIF volunteer since 2015
Wong Wui Jin
Environmental health & safety officer,
SIF volunteer since 2014
For Cheng Kwei Chai and Wong Wui Jin, volunteering has always been a means to meet new cultures and people. What they did not expect was the romantic sparks that would fly while being of service to others. The couple met while volunteering at the WOW project in Ho Chi Minh City back in 2015 and tied the knot two years later.
Why did you become a volunteer? Was there a specific reason for volunteering overseas?
WWJ: I’m a firm believer in the Chinese saying that goes along the lines of “Whatever you are taking from the community should be given back some day”. I think it’s only right that we do so — and with volunteering, we can evoke positive change in society. I chose to volunteer overseas as this presents a very different experience compared to volunteering back home in Singapore. You get to meet new people and learn about new cultures.
CKC: To be very honest, I was inspired to try overseas volunteering after watching local celebrities do the same in a television programme. Being able to help another person in another country seemed like a meaningful thing to do. I believe that we should all do our part to help the less fortunate. I am not in a position to donate a lot of money, but I do offer my time and effort instead. I truly believe that small changes can lead to big differences when we volunteer.
What drew you to the SIF’s WOW and WFL programmes?
WWJ: I found the WOW programme to be quite unique because I haven’t found many similar opportunities in Singapore. I found it interesting and meaningful to bring the joy of learning and reading to children overseas who might not have the easy access to books and libraries that are available in Singapore. I also enjoyed the WFL programme for presenting me with a more hands-on experience — it was more physical in nature due to the need to install the bio-sand filters.
“I chose to volunteer overseas as this presents a very different experience compared to volunteering back home in Singapore. You get to meet new people and learn about new cultures.”
Wong Wui Jin, environmental health & safety officer, SIF Overseas Volunteer
CKC: I especially enjoyed the WFL because it had an immediate impact on the health and well-being of the local community. On the other hand, the WOW programme was an eye-opener as we got to see how different the education systems in Singapore and Vietnam are. Helping students to learn is always a work in progress, and I believe it could take a few years before we really get to see the full impact made by educational initiatives like WOW.
What did you find most memorable from these experiences?
WWJ: I was really moved by the sincerity of the locals when I was in Indonesia for the WOW initiative. For example, some of the meals they prepared for us were dishes that they only ate on special occasions. This demonstrated how incredibly hospitable they are, even to people they have never met before. I was also touched when I remember the day we were departing — everyone was crowding around to thank us.
CKC: It was an eye-opening experience to witness how communities in remote areas with fewer resources live. While it made me realise how fortunate we are in Singapore, it also provided some introspection, such as how to live a more mindful life. For some in the rural areas of Vietnam, an Internet connection or a mechanical pencil — things we perceive as basic necessities — are a rare luxury.
Did you learn anything new about your spouse through volunteering?
WWJ: I found out that he is a giving person who would go the extra mile just for others. When he was volunteering at the temple near our home in Singapore, he would fork out his own money to buy tech equipment needed to host some online temple activities. He even took the time to teach the temple staff how to operate this equipment. He is a compassionate person who feels proud to be able to make a difference in the lives of others as a Singapore International Volunteer overseas.
CKC: I learnt that she can socialise well with strangers, even though she is a reserved person by nature. I realised that she has excellent musical talents — she can play the violin, guitar and piano — when we volunteered at the same SG Cares activities in Singapore.
Would you recommend volunteering as a couple?
WWJ: Certainly. There are plenty of volunteering tasks that require discussions within a group setting, and this provides a good opportunity to find out more about each other’s working styles and character.
CKC: Of course! People often say that the true test of a relationship is when a couple travel abroad. Well, throw volunteering into the mix and you will definitely see the true self emerge.
AN ANNIVERSARY WITH A DIFFERENCE
Actor, singer and host, SIF volunteer since 2018
Educator, SIF volunteer since 2022
For many couples, wedding anniversaries mean romantic dinners and gifts. For Fauzie Laily and Nurul Huda, their seventh anniversary took on an even more profound meaning as it was spent in Cambodia installing bio-sand filters in underprivileged communities.
What motivated you to start volunteering?
FL: I have hosted TV shows where I get to meet all kinds of people and learn about their experiences, many of which have inspired me. Take, for example, migrant workers. These are individuals who come all the way to Singapore to work and earn money for their families. They don’t get to go home to celebrate the holidays with their loved ones, and often have to work in the scorching sun or pouring rain. While there are limits to what we can do to improve their situation, I believe we can befriend them and strengthen their social support system. The same applies to underserved communities abroad. We can do our part to help them as volunteers, no matter how small the act may seem.
NH: At the risk of sounding dramatic, I don’t want to pass on without having done my part to help those in need. I think it’s important that we all give back to society in one way or another.
“The whole journey of learning new things about the world or reaffirming what you already know about your spouse is also very meaningful. The more we volunteer, the more we see the world in a different way.”
Nurul Huda, educator and SIF Overseas Volunteer
Why did you decide to volunteer in the WFL programme together?
FL: I thought it would be special if we did something significant together instead of going for the usual staycation or short getaway. And it turned out to be most unforgettable!
NH: Fauzie first participated in the WFL programme in Siem Reap, Cambodia back in 2018. I wasn’t able to join him due to work commitments, but I thought the programme seemed like a meaningful experience. At the same time, I was eager to volunteer overseas since I love meeting people from different cultures and finding out more about their way of life.
What was your key takeaway from this volunteering experience?
FL: Language is not a barrier when it comes to helping others. Although most of the locals we met did not speak English, we could still communicate through simple gestures and smiles. These simple human interactions truly made the experience stand out for me. This trip also got me thinking about our own pursuits in life. Many of us Singaporeans are too stressed out with running the rat race. It felt nice to take a step back and reflect on our own lives.
NH: I already knew before participating that we were going to help with the installation of bio-sand filters. What I did not realise was how big of an impact this was going to have on the local community. After listening to the stories about how they often did not have access to clean, potable water, and how their children would often fall sick because of this, I realised that it is too easy to take our living conditions for granted in Singapore. At the same time, I was touched by how friendly these communities were. They were so willing to share with us their life stories and help us with the installation of the filters.
What are some of the things you learnt about each other through this volunteering experience?
FL: Funnily enough, I don’t think I learnt anything new about my wife. Rather, this experience reaffirmed what I think of her – she has the kindest of hearts! I thought it was sweet of her to buy souvenirs for the local children in Cambodia.
NH: We have been together for about 15 years, so I think I have learnt everything there is to know about him. He showed me once again that he has plenty of grit. For example, when he came down with hives during the trip, he simply pushed through with the discomfort and continued with the activities instead of opting to rest at the hotel.
Would you recommend volunteering as a couple to other couples?
NH: Definitely! Volunteering together will make you learn things about each other that you do not see under normal circumstances. The whole journey of learning new things about the world or reaffirming what you already know about your spouse is also very meaningful. The more we volunteer, the more we see the world in a different way.
FL: Of course! Life is more meaningful when you are able to help others. By the way, you don’t have to take the leap into overseas volunteering at once. Start at home. Make a difference in your own community. Find time from your busy schedule to volunteer, and once it becomes a habit, volunteering will become second nature.
The work of the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) is not possible without the support of many Singaporeans who generously give of their time and talent as volunteers. Their collective efforts bring us closer to becoming a nation of responsible global citizens.
Singaporeans play the role of Citizen Ambassadors (CA) when they volunteer to work alongside their overseas counterparts to shape new realities, while fostering greater intercultural understanding.
A CA is a friend of the world – someone who recognises that Singapore sits within the global community and that there is a need for greater understanding and collaboration between countries in order to build a better, more peaceful and inclusive world.
As key enablers of our work, all our CAs abide by the SIF Global Citizens Charter, which sets out the principles, values and behaviours expected of them, based on the SIF’s mission and core values.
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