‘Keep An Open Mind and Be Ready to Help’: Student Volunteers Share Tips from Their Community Service Experience

Completing a minimum of 80 hours of community service may be part of SMU’s requirement for all its undergraduates, but it is always heartening to see how students take on such work and projects with pride. In this article, undergraduates Nicole Tay, Masturah Bte Sulaiman and Park Ju Hee share their volunteering experiences at the Harvest Care Centre, a non-profit organisation that serves the needs of the less privileged members of society. They also offer personal tips and advice for peers who might be volunteering for the first time.



By Nicole Tay Mei Yi, Undergraduate at Lee Kong Chian School of Business, and Masturah Binte Sulaiman and Park Ju Hee, Undergraduates at School of Information Systems, SMU


Our shared experiences

Our roles were to plan and run the new ‘Fun-To-Study’ Programme, which would be part of Harvest Care Centre’s kids club en’Rich. The club offers academic enrichment programmes for children from lower-income families.

Looking back, it was an extremely rewarding experience for all of us because we were involved entirely in the programme’s development—from the initial stages of ideation to its implementation.

At the start, we went knocking on doors to share our vision about the new programme with residents. We worked closely as a team to plan each session together, like preparing worksheets and brainstorming activities, and interacting and working with other volunteers.

Finally seeing the programme come to fruition and knowing our work had paid off was a great feeling—it was like seeing our project baby born.

What we appreciated most about being volunteers for Harvest Care Centre was how much the programme harnessed our abilities. It was unlike the typical volunteering roles where we went down to a location and just followed instructions; we were given autonomy to plan and be in charge of a part of the programme, and run the sessions ourselves. This allowed us to not only be more proactive but to have bigger ownership of our work. At the same time, we learnt to better manage our time and develop our leadership skills.

We also valued the evaluation sessions we had after each programme. Our candid discussions about lesson flow, activities and participation, allowed us to assess the programmes, share opinions and feedback, and importantly, suggest improvements.

As programme organisers (as opposed to just activity executors), we inevitably held more responsibilities. We learnt to manage backend planning, as well as actual-day programme execution. This required us to communicate effectively, as well as work through any miscommunication. Working in a team is not easy especially when we were not able to meet often face-to-face.

Some of us volunteered as Mathematics tutors to secondary school children. This required a six-month commitment to Saturday morning teaching sessions, and it was definitely easier said than done. This programme taught us the importance of being disciplined in terms of time management. But, ultimately, we bonded with the children, and each lesson became more enriching and engaging for both the children and us.



Tips for future volunteers

Following this fulfilling experience, we’ve come up with what we feel are three important tips for future first-time volunteers:

1. Choose the programme which you are most interested in or passionate about.

For example, Harvest Care Centre serves several categories of beneficiaries: pre-school children (Reading Programme), primary school children (Fun-To-Study Programme), and the elderly (O’Frenz Club). We chose the programme we felt we were best suited for.

2. Always keep an open mind and be ready to help.

As part of a volunteer group like Harvest Care, you will interact and engage with people from different backgrounds and ages, be it volunteers or beneficiaries. Listen and observe before forming personal opinions; you will gain a lot more by doing so. Adopting this attitude will allow you to adapt more easily to new environments and changing situations during your journey as volunteers.

3. Finally, volunteering might, at first, seem daunting or even intimidating.

Remember that you are not alone; there will be other first-time volunteers like you who do not know what to expect. But also know that there will be experienced volunteers and peers who will be there to guide and lead you, so do not worry. Give it a shot and we guarantee it will be a fulfilling and fruitful experience!


Keen to take the next step with SMU? Learn more about our undergraduate programme today.