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Meet our ELP Volunteers - Mei Qian & Charles!

International Volunteer Day is a day where volunteers are appreciated for their hard work and sacrifices in bettering the lives of others. Here, we feature two of our Early Learning Programme (ELP) volunteers who will share with us more about their volunteering experiences!

Our ELP is a weekly intervention-based, volunteer-championed literacy and numeracy programme for underprivileged children aged 6 to 7. The programme is run by partner charities for the children that they support. Find out more here.

- Mei Qian -

Mei Qian is a 19-year-old freshman at the National University of Singapore, with a double major in Social Work and Sociology. She has been volunteering at an ELP co-run by Beyond Social Services and Kampong Kapor Family Service Centre since May 2020.

How did you get to know about ELP?

I did a teaching internship stint at the Ministry of Education, and because of that, I became very interested in education and I wanted to be able to volunteer in the education field. I went to the website to look for volunteer opportunities, which is how I found the ELP.

In my teaching internship scheme, I found that because the classroom sizes are so big, it was very difficult to attend to each student individually. Hence, I felt that a lot of students who were already disadvantaged at the start - without wealthy family backgrounds or parents at home to tutor them - were made even more disadvantaged by this system in the sense that they weren’t able to have attention or seek help one-on-one. I think this is perpetuating a lot of inequalities and I wanted to play my part in this field to alleviate the problem. I found that ELP is a way for me to contribute and do something about this problem, even though it’s only to a few students.

What motivated you to be a volunteer?

I’m someone who comes from a privileged background, and have been able to go on to tertiary education without much difficulty. I think this is something that not a lot of people have so I want to share my knowledge and my time with children who may not have the same kind of opportunities I have. Hopefully, in doing this, I’ll help to alleviate inequalities faced in Singapore.

Describe your experience in the ELP.

It has been challenging because we have to do the classes online due to COVID-19. It is difficult to have to captivate the students’ attention online because after all, you are just on a screen and it is also hard to point things out to them when you cannot really see them. They may also be very distracted in their home environment because they have their toys around.

But at the same time, I think it was very rewarding. In the first few months, my kid was very shy and it was difficult for him to open up to me. But after a while, about two months back, he started opening up to me, telling me more about his life, his best friends and his family. That in itself was very rewarding because I realised that I helped to open up his mind a little.

One memorable experience was in seeing his personal growth, not just in terms of academics but also his character. Initially, when he started, he didn’t know how to read any words at all, except for 2-letter words. But now he’s able to read more than 20 words by himself! Even for the words he doesn’t know, he can blend it, so I think that’s a very big achievement for him. Also, initially when we started playing games, he was very obsessive about winning, but now he has improved so much to the point where even if he doesn’t win, he will say, “Oh it’s okay, I see how many cards I got instead!” I think that was a lot of growth for him.

Another memorable experience was when he enjoyed my lesson. There were some instances where I planned an activity to play with him and after that, he told me, “Teacher teacher can I play it later after the lesson again?” That was very rewarding because I felt that he liked the lesson and he really enjoyed learning what the activity was supposed to help him learn. That was very fulfilling for me.

How has volunteering in ELP impacted you?

One, it really helped me to fulfil one of my dreams of being a teacher. Through this programme, I am able to continue to interact with children and see them develop personally, which is something I really enjoy.

Secondly, I really learnt a lot through interacting with my kid. He is a very affectionate person, always telling me how much he loves his parents and that he is grateful that they buy him small things like popcorn or a small toy. I think not all of us are so grateful for these small things in life, so there’s so much to learn from him.

What would you say to people who are considering to join ELP as a volunteer?

If you have the ability to commit with time and resources, and you are very interested to work with children and see them grow, and also seeing your own personal growth, I think this is the right opportunity for you. This programme is very fulfilling and it helps you to discover a lot of the different aspects of yourself that you don’t really know, and also to learn more about other people.

- Charles -

Charles is a 32-year-old part time tutor and property manager. He is a NIE-trained teacher with a postgraduate diploma in education, and has been volunteering in the ELP for 6 years. He is currently volunteering at the ELP site at FaithActs.

What motivated you to be a volunteer?

I’ve always been into education, it’s just that my area of specialty is primary education so the whole pre-school thing is quite new to me when I was introduced into the ELP. But I guess it’s related because pre-school leads on to primary, so for me it was something I thought I’ll try my hand at. My interest in teaching motivated me to volunteer to some extent. I was fairly confident that I could make some kind of impact, that some of the skills will transfer [from my experience with primary school students].

Describe your experience in the ELP.

I’d say it has been beneficial, hopefully it’s been beneficial for the beneficiaries but it’s actually been quite beneficial for me as well. I get to interact with a segment of students which I otherwise would have zero interaction with. It’s very eye-opening.

Some of my memorable experiences would be the individual moments - lessons where you can see that there has been, or a reminder of, progress when a student has clearly grasped something that they were not able to get two or three weeks ago. That’s a payoff when you can see you bridged a certain gap.

Each student is different and special in their own way. I’ve been doing tutoring extensively this year using Zoom as well, and there are certain segments of students whom I feel need a different approach. So, I started using cartoon avatars to put more enthusiasm into my delivery.

How has volunteering in ELP impacted you?

It has exposed me to a segment of students which I don’t usually interact with, and I feel that this has dragged me out of my comfort zone but also exposed me to learn more methods I can use to teach.

What would you say to people who are considering joining ELP as a volunteer?

If you want to make a difference in preschool kids’ education, definitely give it a try. The support that you will get from Hsin-Ee and team has been top-notch and very consistent. They are always there if you’re not sure about anything, and they will be able to answer any kind of question satisfactorily.

I think the main thrust is if you’re interested in making a difference in a kid’s life in their education at this very crucial age, in particular learning how to read. Definitely don’t hesitate, assuming you have the time!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the stories of our wonderful volunteers, Mei Qian and Charles. If you would like to make a difference as well, do keep a lookout when recruitment for ELP volunteers is open!

Happy International Volunteers’ Day!


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