I had the opportunity to speak with True Heart Connections volunteers Angela, Soon Ning and Yean Ching after their session.
For Angela, the programme was a way for her to ‘give back’ to society, and to help the less privileged get ‘a better footing in society, especially those who do not have good family backgrounds.’ Residents at The Haven are abused or neglected children and many have been referred by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to The Salvation Army for care.
None of the volunteers felt that it a sacrifice to spend a few hours every alternate Saturday with the children. Soon Ning finds great satisfaction in seeing his mentee change for the better. He shared how his mentee used to spew vulgarities wantonly, but has since changed and no longer uses bad language. The joy one gets out of volunteering stems from the ‘satisfaction of seeing your kid grow’, explained Angela.
In fact, the volunteers see themselves not so much as mentors to the children but more as older friends. It is the trust and the friendship that strengthens the bond between them, facilitating the heart-to-heart sharing, which hopefully helps in character building, increasing self-esteem, and according to Yean Ching, inspire each mentee to ‘have an ambition and work towards it.’
Friendships between mentors and mentees are built on more than just meeting twice a month. Yean Ching, for example, regularly keeps in touch with her mentee via Facebook and short messages service (SMS) throughout the week. Because friendships and trust take time to develop, The Haven’s Programme Coordinator Janis Delariman-Khoo stresses the importance of the volunteers’ consistency in working with the children, which makes such a difference in the life of the child. After all, if a volunteer is going to spend only a few months volunteering to test whether it is suitable for him and then leave, the child will feel abandoned.
Before I left, Soon Ning shared with me an experience which left a deep impression upon him. His mentee called him from a public phone (his mentee had no mobile phone), and told him that he passed one subject in his exams. Although it was only one subject, Soon Ning said that he was really happy for his mentee. Such mutual sharing of joy is one of the reasons why volunteering at The Haven is a fulfilling experience. Such is the impact a mentor can have on the life of a child.