Madam Jenny Wee certainly is motivated by a wider purpose. She volunteers at the primary school her three children went to, even though her youngest child left it 16 years ago. Her children are now working professionals, aged between 28 and 34, but the 60-year-old housewife still volunteers at Fuhua Primary School, where she is the chairman of the school's parent support group for parent volunteers.
An appreciation of teachers is one key reason she has been a parent volunteer for the past 20 years. "The teachers care so much about the kids. We can support the teachers too," says Madam Wee, who adds that she wants to change the mindset of parents who tend to complain about Teachers. “There's a sense of belonging, that's why we stay on. Some of the older teachers who have been here for many years have become our friends.”
She says she does not feel out of place even though there are much younger parents around. This is partly because there are a handful of older parent volunteers in their 40s and 50s, whose children also left Fuhua years ago. She is among the dedicated parents who often volunteer for years at their children's schools, motivated by reasons as varied as wanting to know more about the school environment, desiring to give back to society and strengthening their relationship with their kids.
For Mr Razali Omar, 47, a programme administrator in the education services industry, being a parent volunteer has proved somewhat addictive since he started about six years ago. From four fathers in the parent volunteer group at CHIJ (Katong) Primary when he joined, he has seen the number of dad volunteers there grow to about 400. His elder daughter, now in Secondary 3, used to study in the school and his younger daughter is in Primary 5 there now.
He says his first volunteer activity involved helping students approach tourists for their comments during a heritage tour in Kampong Glam. He felt satisfaction in helping and encouraging the students, and has initiated other volunteer projects such as getting fellow dads to perform a One Direction song for Children's Day a few years back.
For active parent volunteers with regular work hours such as Mr Razali, volunteering can take up a lot of mental energy. He estimates that meetings can take place on average a few times a month, on weekday evenings or on Saturdays, and he takes the occasional half-day leave to attend volunteer events. While meetings may not clock too many hours, communication regarding volunteer plans and preparations, via WhatsApp group chats, for instance, can take place almost daily.
But he bears this load with ease. "When I see how my volunteering helps the school, it seems lighter to me. When you're in volunteer mode, you just want to keep contributing," says Mr Razali, who also gives free tuition.
He found that other volunteer activities such as going on nature trails with other schoolchildren could even benefit his own kids, whom he could better guide in their science homework. Several years ago, he asked his elder child Ira Erika Razali if she wanted him to go to a volunteer event as she might be embarrassed to see him in school. She told him not to go, but apparently changed her tune. He was happy to learn later that she thought he was a "cool" dad for volunteering.
Volunteerism in Singapore schools has skyrocketed, with a more than five-fold percentage spike in the past 20 years or so. About 98 per cent of primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges now have Parent Support Groups, compared to 17 per cent in 1998, according to a Ministry of Education spokesman. "On average, Parent Support Groups have about 30 to 50 active parents, with others volunteering on an ad-hoc basis," says the spokesman.
"The strong involvement of parents reflects the efforts of our schools in fostering stronger partnerships with parents, as they recognise that their children's learning and holistic development will benefit from these positive partnerships." Parenting specialist Sarah Chua, from non-profit organisation Focus on the Family Singapore, says many benefits come with parent volunteering: "Research shows that children with involved parents often enjoy greater academic success and develop positive attitudes towards school."
READ NEWS & ANSWER QUESTIONS
Find 4 reasons why Mdm. Wee likes to volunteer.
Name 4 kinds of volunteer activities that Mr Omar is involved in.
Name 2 difficulties or challenges that volunteers face.
Identify 1 benefit of parent volunteers.