IN LATE 2021, when some parts of Peninsular Malaysia were hit by a big flood that displaced more than 71,000 people and affected over 125,000, unaffected Malaysians were quick to band together and organise volunteer works and fundraisers to ease the natural disaster’s impact.
Some went on their own with no link to any group like Azwan Omar, popularly known as Abang Viva (the car he drove) who travelled all the way from Melaka to help flood victims in Shah Alam, Selangor.
Others came in groups, either under newly-formed pack of friends and colleagues or a much bigger team by government agencies or non-governmental organisations (NGO).
One of them was Dr Nurmazilah Mahzan, 53, who was among the volunteers from Selangor Volunteer (Serve), an organisation established by Penggerak Belia Selangor. But she didn’t come alone. She roped in her then 15-year-old son Izzat Nuruddin Iskasymar to join the group on a post-flood clean-up mission in Shah Alam.
Nurmazilah says it was her late parents who instilled the passion for volunteerism in her. “They taught me that we need to always help others because it is part of our responsibility as members of the community,” she says.
“Volunteering has been ingrained in my family and all my children have been exposed to charity works when they were as young as five years old,” says the 53-year-old mother of seven children, aged 13 to 29.
Dec 5 is celebrated annually as International Volunteer Day (IVD), mandated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985. It’s a day when volunteers are acknowledged and the spirit of volunteerism is promoted at the local, national and international levels.
The act of volunteerism has been positively received globally and the Charity Aid Foundation’s World Giving Index 2022 said that some 25% of all adults worldwide volunteer, and more than three billion people helped a stranger last year. The report cited that the need created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent feeling of communality and solidarity are likely behind the findings.
Nurmazilah remembers following her late father who was a member of Belia 4B on his charitable activities but one that she remembers most is rewang, a tradition of the Javanese community in helping or coming together when someone has an event or a celebration.
“I was around five when my late mother took me to a rewang. It was fun, there were so many people who came to cook together. And they brought food too as contribution to the hosting family,” she adds.
When Nurmazilah became a mother, she continued this tradition and took her young children to gotong-royong in their neighbourhood and other activities like beach cleaning. “My children are now all grown-up and individually, they have their own volunteering activities. For instance, my eldest son Nafis Nazri is actively involved in an NGO called Nation Building School to promote decent work and tackle underemployment,” she adds.
Meanwhile, business owner Lam Swee Theam, 53, attributes her years at a missionary school in Petaling Jaya, Selangor for her passion to volunteer. “When I was in school, we were exposed to a lot of charity work and that grew in me until now, when I have children of my own,” says the mother of two sons.
Before Lam migrated to New Zealand in 2020, she was an active member of Soroptimist International Club of Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. “The club helped set up a resource centre for single mothers in Pantai Dalam and did charity work with the Orang Asli community in Janda Baik,” says Lam who is now based in Christchurch.
For most of her activities with the club, Lam would bring her sons along because “I didn’t have a babysitter then and my husband was away in New Zealand.”
But those trips exposed her sons John, 15, and Mark Holloway, 12, to volunteerism.
“They are still very much into it, especially now that they are both in the Boy Scouts,” she adds.
According to a study conducted by New Zealand’s Community Research, volunteering helps youth develop practical skills, enhances confidence and self-efficacy. It also increases their work readiness and informs them of their future career choices, while building empathy, compassion and social awareness.
The study also says volunteering provides opportunities for children to learn about different cultures, lifestyles and perspectives.
“I want my children to be grounded and humble, and learn how to share what they have with others and to know that material possessions are not everything,” Lam says.
A study conducted by the University of British Columbia, Canada finds that youths who had volunteered in the past year are in better physical health, have a more positive outlook on life, and are less likely to have anxiety, depression or behavioural problems compared to their peers who did not volunteer.
“I believe volunteering can nurture a selfless attitude, mutual respect and a balanced personality, and I hope my children have these traits in them,” says Nurmazilah.
Start your family’s volunteering journey
Looking for a family-friendly volunteer activity? Here are some suggestions:
Need to Feed the Need (NFN)
This is a soup kitchen that distributes meals and other basic essentials to the homeless and urban poor of all age groups. It operates from Medan Kasih, a purpose-built government-constructed facility at Lorong Medan Tuanku 2, Kuala Lumpur.
Second Chance Animal Society
The society provides a safe space for over 500 dogs and cats and is located in Hulu Langat. Due to safety concerns, volunteering activities are not available for young children but teenagers are welcome to help the shelter by giving the animals a wash, cleaning the kennels and other tasks.
Free Tree Society
Located in Bangsar, it offers volunteer opportunities while at the same time, teaching young volunteers about the environment and allowing them to have fun outdoors. Children can participate in gardening workshops while teenagers have the chance to learn about nature preservation.