Gladys Ng’s approach to short-term volunteering is refreshing.
She says it is a “by the way” thing, and she is unapologetic about that.
“I don’t see volunteer work as something that needs to move you in order to draw you to it.
“Whatever time you have, you just share a little bit of it. Then it doesn’t become too onerous,” she says.
She remembers going with her classmates and teachers to an old folks’ home near her secondary school to chat with the seniors there.
And when she was asked by her yoga instructor if she would like to help run some enrichment classes at a boys’ home, she said yes.
“My involvement in volunteerism has been off and on. When I have the time, I remember about it or I hear about it, then I just go for it.”
So when Gladys heard about a mobile library project in Vietnam by the Singapore International Foundation, she went for it.
“It’s a great feeling to feel that you’re part of a meaningful project,” she says.
She had fond memories of borrowing books from a mobile library near her home in Singapore when she was a schoolgirl and wanted other children to have that experience. Plus, she loves Vietnamese food.
I thought her desire to share her love for books was lovely. But I wasn’t sure her short stint trying to engage schoolchildren on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City would be useful.
Then I saw how the children at Da Phuoc school responded to her and other volunteers.
They loved having them in their class.
The children’s shyness and awkwardness lasted about five minutes. Thereafter, it was all enthusiasm and excitement.
Encouraged by the volunteers and cheered by their own classmates, the children tried their English out loud.
They raised their hands hesitantly at first, then more confidently. Then they just went for it and blurted out answers without waiting to be called on.
They swamped the mobile library and staff of the foundation’s local partner, the General Sciences Library, gallantly tried to keep some order.
So the kids looked like they enjoyed the books, access to computers, reading and other interactive activities led by the volunteers, but I thought having these foreigners pop in for a day or two must be disruptive.
Ms Nguyen Thi Thanh Lan, one of the English language teachers in the school, explained that the children rarely have a chance to practise speaking English outside of the classroom.
Having foreigners to speak with means real world exposure for them, and that, she says, will go a long way in encouraging them to keep learning.
In fact, she says she would love to have volunteers visit her school more often.
The Singapore International Foundation offers the Words on Wheels mobile library in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and Bandung, Indonesia. The three-year-long projects see volunteers working alongside local partners to bring books and educational workshops to schoolchildren.
Filmed by Anshul Tiwari
Edited by Denise Oliveiro
Produced and written by Joshua Lye
A story by Our Better World – telling stories of good to inspire action.