I was offered by my organisation, National Library Board (NLB), the opportunity to assist in a collaboration between NLB and the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) in Words on Wheels (WoW), a mobile library that travels from one school to another in Bandung, Indonesia in September 2012. I spent a few days there helping to launch the initiative by promoting reading to children through storytelling in schools and on the streets.
I felt like an ambassador for Singapore, sharing a part of our community with the children in Bandung. It made me happy to see them smile when they enjoyed and appreciated what we were doing. The satisfaction kindled my spirit of volunteerism. So I said ‘yes’ when approached by SIF again to be a Direct Service Team Leader for WoW. I went on to lead a team of volunteers for two more trips to Bandung in January 2014.
When I began volunteering, I thought it was a one direction experience, for which I would share my experience, knowledge and know-how. How wrong I was! I realised it was not only for me to share, but also to learn.
I began to understand people more deeply. Speaking to individuals from a different culture made me re-look my own values and shortcomings in my life, and in aspects such as work. I realised that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when we implement new programmes within one community and another. We have to make the effort to appreciate the individuals that make up the community, understand their needs, respect their boundaries and embrace their tradition and culture. This requires us to creatively tweak our existing approaches to fit the community.
I returned to Singapore not only as a more mature and more knowledgeable children’s librarian but also as a person. I have gone on to craft alternative models of library operations, services and programmes which I hope to try in the future in Singapore, and elsewhere as well. As you can see, I have not only taught, but learned from my volunteering experience!”