JOSEPHIANS | LUMEN
Community Involvement ,
By Odette Yiu and Teoh Xin Yi
Gerard Ee is a familiar face among youths from low-income families as he is fuelled by his passion to “ rally and build the community ” and in so doing curb delinquency among these young people ( The Straits Times , 20 Oct 2013 ). Lumen had the opportunity to meet up with him and discover his insights into and opinions of volunteerism and the community .
Under the din of everyday happenings within the confinements of HDB flats , the Beyond Social Services headquarters resides . Children are seen laughing alongside volunteers as they engage in games that everyone has played in the halcyon days of childhood . After mere short minutes of observing the workings of this organisation that seemed both unconventional and homely , we were quickly shown into an office to meet Beyond ’ s Executive Director Gerard Ee Huck Lian .
When we were introduced to Gerard , we were first struck by his casualness . He was dressed in a loose-fitting polo T-shirt , threequarter pants , and sandals , as if he was wearing humility and experience like a sheath of skin . He had little need for airs and finery to enthral us with the tales stemming from his rich experience , and came across as a down-to-earth man dedicated to his job . With an air of someone who seemed to face life with the que sera sera mentality , Gerard certainly had strong opinions to make about the current state of the volunteer scene and social support services in Singapore . It is common knowledge that progress demands sacrifices . In this case , the volunteer scene in Singapore has indeed expanded , with the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre ( NVPC ) reporting a record high of 32.3 % of the population volunteering ‘ occasionally ’. Gerard commended the government ’ s success in encouraging voluntarism , but lamented that selfreliance among the ‘ needy ’ in Singapore has decreased . People are leaning too hard upon the
social support structure built upon by government aid , and if this wall of dependency is removed , they will not be able to fend for themselves . Hence , Gerard and his team at Beyond Social Services aim to empower ‘ every child and youth in Singapore ’ to allow them to gain the opportunity to ‘ refuse a lifestyle of delinquency and welfare dependency ’ despite their ‘ disadvantaged background ’. Moving the dependence from the government and providing youths with a community of support and nonexclusivity instead is the equation of true progress .
Of course , this belief in inclusivity he upholds so firmly did not emerge without reason . We asked Gerard , who was from the class of 1977 , to tell us about his time in SJI , and with fondness he recalled his days in his beloved secondary school . SJI had a whole pool of different people , he said , and we agreed that the statement holds true to this day . There were the ‘ smart guys ’, the ‘ naughty guys ’, people of various talents ; yet , everyone came together , differences aside , to form an ‘ inclusive ’ community — an honest reflection of the ideal society . This was so especially when it came to football matches . All barriers , however small , would dissipate , replaced by an eruption of singular pride .
With this vision in mind though , Gerard does not make grandiose promises about what Beyond can do . He exerts that the work at Beyond will never be completed , but every step is a step in the right direction . How could the task of approaching people , befriending them , and
learning with them ever end ? Volunteers at Beyond are meant to remove the veils that conceal the rest of the world from the people they help . At the same time , volunteers are exposed to a world that they would never have had the opportunity to understand , and will grow with the people they help . It is a process of continuous mutual growth , where the two parties consistently augment the lives of each other . Both volunteers and recipients will be able to develop their empathy , widen their perspectives , and broaden their worldviews .
Indeed , volunteerism is a journey ventured collectively by both , hand-in-hand . Neither is above the other . Teenagers can emerge from their self-centred bubble of egocentrism , and extend advice on the route they take as they walk their personal paths of life . This method , Gerard believes , is better in the long run . People known to be the ‘ disadvantaged ’ members of society would no longer stand at a lower vantage point than the bourgeois , and those that have helped guide them to a higher point will be returned down to earth from their ivory towers . People would then be able to come together to stand on common ground — no member of society would be alienated from another — allowing the Singaporean society to unite as a more cohesive whole . While the piecing together of the many puzzle pieces of Singapore is always going to be a work in progress , the picture , regardless of its state of completion , is always worth admiring ; Beyond is an organisation that empowers the people .