Published 29 October 2021 ● Last Updated on 2 November 2021

Do you have kids?
Do you worry they are growing up in a bubble, unaware of the privileges they enjoy?
Do you wish they were more aware that many others face different realities of life?

The solution to this challenge perhaps lies in making ‘giving back’ to the community a part of the family routine. With that in mind, we spoke to a few mothers who live in Singapore and have kids of varying ages. We asked them to recount their personal experiences of doing community service with their kids. What we got back were some very thought provoking responses and ideas.

Over to the mothers. We hope their sharing gives you ideas on how you can incorporate volunteering into your family lives!

Volunteering Experience by Edrian Sethuraman, homemaker, composting expert, and mother of two teenage daughters

Growing up in a small town in India, I was exposed to people from all social strata. In Singapore, however, our children tend to mostly interact with people from the same socio-economic status, making it easy for them to take their privilege for granted. Therefore, my husband and I try to show our kids that their day-to-day lives are not the norm even in Singapore, and to show them the poverty and inequality that some people have to endure.

When our eldest daughter was about 7 years old, we joined an initiative to distribute food to lower-income households around Singapore, and we took both our girls along with us. Although it was upsetting for them to see the dire situations in some households, the dinner table conversations we had after helped broaden their horizons. They realized that simply being angry or sad wasn’t going to foster change; you need to actually do something and play a role by being part of the change we seek.

More recently, after seeing the plight of migrant workers during the pandemic, my daughters (now aged 19 and 16 yrs old) decided to bake and sell sourdough bread for 40 days during their summer break and donated the profits towards various ground-up charities for migrant workers in Singapore. They also eagerly come along for weekly food rescues, an initiative we recently joined that aims to reduce food wastage. During these rescues, they help me haul boxes of fruits and vegetables that shopkeepers have deemed ‘unsellable’, sort them and help me take this produce to migrant worker dormitories. Their love for the environment inspired me to start composting, an initiative that has now spread in our condo.

Want to join a Food Rescue? Sign up here to register your interest with the SG Food Rescue team and wait for the organisers to get in touch!

Showing our children the uncomfortable, less-than-ideal parts of our society has hopefully taught them the importance of giving back to society and Mother Nature. We hope that the little things we do make a difference in someone’s life.

Edrian daughters
Meghna, 19 years old and Harini, 16 years old, with the sourdough bread baked and sold by them for fundraising during the Covid-19 lockdown to support ground-up initiatives for migrant workers in Singapore

Volunteer experience by Sulata Maiti Maheshwari, homemaker, tender gardener, composting enthusiast, and mother of a boy and a girl

Sikh temples – Gurdwaras – are renowned for their advocacy for sewa – selfless service; in fact, the most common feature of gurudwaras across the world is how they create a space for volunteers to donate their effort and time to cook food – langgar – serving up a buffet that is available to all at no cost. The concept serves as more than just a soup kitchen – where irrespective of class and caste, people enjoy nutritious, cooked meals together.

It is in this tradition that I (though not a Sikh myself) went to the Gurdwara at Silat Road, which stands at a busy corner of Singapore and yet stands serene. Here, langgar is prepared and served everyday, throughout the day. The volunteer community works to keep providing the meals; anyone coming to the Gurudwara seeking a meal, is served.

The first year, when we decided to go as a family, we were curious and went with an open mind, to just explore. As per religious practice, everyone entering – men or women – need to cover their head, wash their hands and feet. We found that the rituals clubbed with quiet chanting leant to a serene atmosphere. The dining hall, however, was buzzing with activity.

We were ushered into the work areas. Children capable of contributing without help are better suited for this volunteering (Our youngest was 9 yrs old when we first went). While the men/boys migrated towards the vegetable cutting area packed with potatoes, turnips and louder banter, women/girls moved to the chapati-making spot. DoughBalls were made, rolled into flat chapatis, tossed on fire, ghee applied and served to guests queued up for a hot meal. Anyone who didn’t have the skill – cutting or rolling, picked it up from others around. We changed our roles several times, as and when we tired of one task. No questions asked. When the queue of meal seekers grew long, we helped in the serving too.

After this experience, we returned the next year and the year after; we went with knowledge and a heart of gratitude to be part of something so beautiful. We never talked about what we learnt in the process. It was as natural an absorption as any deep experience imparts.

Covid has reduced the ability of the Gurudwara to take in new volunteers – however if you can commit your time on an ongoing, regular basis, do connect with them to register your interest.

Sulata kids
Arunav and Aarushi cooking chapatis at the Gurudwara kitchen during a pre-Covid volunteering session.

Volunteer experience by Priyadarshini Sharma, Managing Director, cooking aficionado, and mother of a boy and a girl

It is really important to us as a family to give back to the communities we live and work in, to help those that we can, and to pay it forward. But as busy working parents of 2 children, there is so much on our plate – we need to teach our kids life skills, impart the right values, ensure they are becoming well-adjusted global citizens and also spend time together as a family. All this while also doing our “day jobs” with work, school and life priorities.

Juggling these multiple priorities, it used to be difficult to find the time for giving back. (I am sure many parents can identify with this sentiment!) We found our space volunteering as a family at the soup kitchen Willing Hearts. The charitable organisation runs a mammoth effort to prepare, cook and distribute about 9,500 daily meals to over 40 locations island wide, 365 days a year. Volunteers provide manpower for various jobs to be done behind the scenes – washing and cutting vegetables, lifting and loading the grocery, cooking the food, packing the food and clean-up. We like to spend time across all the stations we can, helping out where help is needed.

Volunteering at Willing Hearts is very rewarding. Not only do we give back to our community, we teach kids about the values of selflessness and charity in a family bonding activity. An added bonus is it helps get the kids credit for their service as an action requirement for school and they learn how to cut vegetables and do simple cooking along the way too!

Volunteer kids_sharma family
The Sharma family at Willing Hearts

For giving back, all it takes is the right mindset. When our daughter, Shriya (then 10 years old) learnt that the pandemic had stopped so many kids from learning due to lack of access to laptops / home schooling facilities, she decided to write a book and donate all sales proceeds to the Singapore Children’s Society. We support her by matching the amount raised by her book sales. Likewise, our son Siddh (15 years old) helped out at a charity event recently; he collected clothes from friends and family, and volunteered his time to collect, sort and organize the clothes from various donors at the event. As a family, we believe even an 1 hour activity can help check off multiple goals.

  • If you would like to volunteer at Willing Hearts, vaccinated individuals can register here.
  • If you would like to contribute to Shriya’s cause by buying her book, it can be purchased via Amazon as well as at Kinokuniya book stores in Singapore.

Related Links:

Declutter, Donate, Dispose: Our guide to giving away old things in Singapore

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