THEY WILL ASK thee as to what they should spend on others. Say: "Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof." - Al-Baqarah (2:215)

Monday, 21 September 2015

The ups and downs of voluntary work

Having been a volunteer with Buddies for more than 10 years, I’m getting used to all sorts of characters from among my clients. Had I not joined Buddies, I wouldn’t have been exposed to the many situations which I never imagined was even possible. I saw so many situations which I would have just passed off as illogical had I only watched them in dramas.
You know what? I no longer watch dramas on TV because I’ve had enough of watching real life dramas which can sometimes be more ridiculous than the ones on TV.
So, don’t I get fed-up and tired of this voluntary work? Well yes, sometimes I do get fed up. However, whenever I sense some burnout symptoms, I make it a point to take a short break. Either go for a holiday somewhere, or in my case, since I love outdoor adventures, I’d arrange to go for some sort of adventure with adventure-loving friends.

What kind of situations would usually make me fed-up? When the clients we’re trying to help are not willing to take the necessary actions to improve their own lives. Worse, when they try to take advantage of the volunteers. Some of them tend to treat us as though we are paid to help them with all sorts of things.
We’ve had a client who came to Ipoh by bus, and then immediately called her assigned buddy, telling the buddy to “come fetch me at the bus station now”. Whoa… we CAN help to fetch them at the bus station if need be and if we’re free, but the least the client could have done was to seek help and make earlier arrangements.

Then there are clients who, once we start giving them financial assistance (for their children’s educational needs), they expect us to help for their other needs as well. We’ve had clients asking us to pay for electricity bills, or even house rentals. We ourselves depend on donations from the public to survive, they can’t expect us to pay for their every single need.

There are those who misuse the educational assistance given. We give them money to pay for tuition they had requested for, then we get complaints from the tuition teacher that they never paid their tuition fees. They ask for money to pay the necessary amount to their respective schools, then when we ask for proof of payment, they tell us they used the money for something else. Then they had the cheek to ask again for money to pay to the school. Seriously, they didn’t think we’d oblige, did they???

There were those who sought financial assistance for their children’s education, and when I asked them to list down the items in detail, included in the list were motorbike and handphone. Duh! And recently, a client handed over an envelope filled with receipts of her children’s back-to-school expenses. She didn’t have the chance to submit her claims earlier, so she saved the receipts from her December 2014 shopping. She probably thought I wouldn’t go through the trouble of checking the receipts in detail. Her receipts of back-to-school expenses included non-school-related items which she didn’t bother to cancel out. OK, I’d give her the benefit of the doubt for those receipts. But she certainly went overboard when she submitted a receipt totally for groceries, and worse, there was one particular receipt for the purchase of a single item… a RM100 Gio-Fiore handbag! The only thing she succeeded in doing was to make me reconsider her as a recipient of our children education fund. If she could afford to pay for a RM100 handbag for herself in December when she needed to spend so much for her children’s back-to-school expenses, maybe she doesn’t really need our help, does she?

There are clients who say they needed to go to the hospital but didn’t have enough money to pay for transport, but when our volunteers offer to take them to the hospital, they come up with all sorts of excuses and tell the volunteers to just give them cash instead. Naaah… they didn’t intend to go to the hospital, they just used that as an excuse to get some cash for themselves. Even if the client was desperate for money to buy necessities, at least tell us the truth. Don’t twist and turn their stories.
By now, some of you may be asking, why are we still doing all these?

Because there are genuine cases out there needing our help! And there are those who actually make full use of the assistance given to them to improve their own lives. Because there are success stories as well and not just the frustrating situations that I mentioned above. We already have some of the children who’ve been getting educational assistance from us who are now in universities or colleges. For those who didn’t do well academically, some of them are doing vocational/skill-training courses to help prepare them for a better future.

We already have families who used to get monthly supply of groceries that I managed to source from another organisation, now these families are already independent. And that’s the whole idea. Our main objective is to help them become independent.

So for those who translate our “help” as “responsibility” instead, and start becoming dependent on us instead of becoming independent, we really have to be firm and put a stop to it. Sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind. Oh, I do have a few clients who are like that. I find that “silent treatment” is the best response I can give them when they start asking for more than they should. I’ve tried advising/nagging (or whatever else you call it) before, but after some time, they’d try again.

If there are clients who are going to hate us because we don’t entertain their requests, so be it. They can go ahead and complain to people saying that we’re not doing our job, but the truth is, it is NOT our job. We’re only here to assist them, not to take over responsibility.

I do hope the newer volunteers who have to deal with such clients aren’t disheartened. Trust me, the satisfaction of doing this voluntary work will come when the people we help one day become successful.

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