I-S Magazine (22 Jan, 2010)

Project Happy Feet gets a mention in an I-S magazine feature on overseas volunteering programmes. Check out also the online version!


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Helping Beyond Borders

Thinking of doing charity work? Think outside state boundaries.

By Lisa-Ann Lee | Jan 21, 2010

Helping Beyond Borders

Let’s face it. For all the whining to which we’re prone, we Singaporeans have it pretty good. We’ve got plenty of food, a first-class health system, clean water (even if some of it used to be sewage), and Singapore Idol. OK, strike that last one. So as 2010 gets rolling, how about helping to spread the love? You know, sending some of our good karma out into the world to help those countries that have more misery than malls? There are plenty of organizations in Singapore that can help with this mission.

Need a nudge in the right direction? Here you go …

Give children and young people the chance to lead a life without ridicule

Who: Operation Smile Singapore (www.operationsmile.org.sg).

What they do: The local chapter of the charity organization provides cleft lip and cleft palate facial surgery to children and young adults in developing Asian countries. So far, it has completed 12 missions in Cambodia, China, India, the Philippines and Uzbekistan, and performed free surgeries for 1,595 children and young adults.

Coming up: The organization will be sending missions to Bangladesh, Laos, the Philippines, India and Cambodia in the first half of this year and is currently planning missions to China, Myanmar, Indonesia and Uzbekistan in the second half of the year.

How you can help: For missions, medical roles to be filled include those of plastic surgeons, anesthetists, pediatric intensivists, pediatricians, operating theater nurses, recovery room nurses, staff nurses, biomedical technicians, speech therapists and child life specialists. Don’t have a medical degree? You can still help. Also required on these missions are people with administrative or specialized skills to provide child and medical records support, as well as people who can serve as medical photographers, patient imaging technicians and ward coordinators. Writers are also invited on trips occasionally to help document the missions and spread awareness of the work the group performs. Don’t have the time to leave the country? Operation Smile also needs volunteers to help with designing its collaterals and administrative work. So if you are highly organized or have mad design skills, put them to good use!

Give children in developing countries a shot at education

Who: Room to Read (www.roomtoread.org).

What they do: Founded in 2000 following a life-changing trip to Nepal by former Microsoft executive John Wood, Room to Read is an international charity that seeks to promote education for children in developing countries. The organization has four main programs—Girls’ Scholarships, Local Language Publishing, School Program and Library Program. These are geared toward building schools and libraries, and publishing children’s books in the local languages of the communities with which they work, and enabling girls to finish their secondary school education.

The Singapore chapter of Room to Read acts as a fundraising arm and organizes a gala event every year to raise money to support the charity’s projects in the communities in which it is involved.

Coming up: This year’s gala event will take place on May 6 and will see the highly regarded Financial Times wine expert Jancis Robinson and Room to Read founder Wood hosting the event together.

How you can help: If you like planning events, or you think promoting education and literacy is a worthwhile cause, then why not sign up as a volunteer at www.roomtoread.org?

Help prevent child trafficking in Cambodia

Who: The Riverkids Project (www.riverkidsproject.org).

What they do: Founded in 2001 by Singapore-based Dale Edmonds. The Riverkids Project is a non-governmental organization that works to prevent child trafficking in Cambodia. The project’s work is on the prevention side, which means that they identify and work with at-risk families in slums before the children are sold. Apart from counseling these families, they also provide free board, education and vocational training to children from the families.

How you can help: Buy ethically sourced handicrafts made by Cambodians through The Riverkids Shop (www.theriverkidsshop.com) or volunteer with the organization in Cambodia. There are many kinds of opportunities available (see interview for more information) and how long you want to commit is up to you. They have programs ranging from one-day field excursions to long-term placements that last between three months and a year.

Need to know: You will have to obtain a police clearance from your own country if you’re planning to volunteer in Cambodia.

Help improve the lives of underprivileged children and young people

What: Project Happy Feet (www.projecthappyfeet.org).

What they do: Help underprivileged kids around the region through a variety of initiatives.

How you can help: They are not looking for volunteers at the moment but if you strongly believe in their cause and would like to get in touch with their program partners and help their beneficiaries, you can email Deborah Chew (Deborah@projecthappyfeet.org) for more information.

Read before packing!

Inspired? Former Youth Challenge International volunteer Joanna Haber offers some tips to volunteer newbies thinking of doing good abroad.

1. Learn the language.  If you will be working somewhere where you don’t speak the language, do yourself a favor—take a course or pick up a language guide; don’t assume that your hosts will be able to understand you, or you them. Mix-ups can be frustrating, and in some dialects, the word for “swim” is the same as the one for “shower,” and being handed a bucket of cold bathing water when you’re hoping to head to the beach can be mighty disappointing.

2. Bring pictures from home. Even two weeks can seem like a long time away from home when you find yourself in completely unfamiliar territory, even for a seasoned traveler. Pictures of friends, family and pets brighten difficult moments, and more importantly, bring joy and curiosity to the members of the community that you become a part of.

3. Expect the unexpected. Whatever you’re thinking you’re in for, you’re probably in for the opposite. Go in with an open mind and you won’t be disappointed.

4. Enjoy being stared at. In a community where they have seen very few white or Asian people, the children will scream and sometimes cry when they see you, and everyone will watch you ALL THE TIME. This does not mean that anyone will tell you when your bright pink skirt is tucked into your bright yellow underwear.

And don’t forget to pack your raincoat!