I'm lying in bed. Been in bed since yesterday night after dinner. Wanted to watch a film on my laptop but really couldn't bring myself to look at the screen. All I did today was get out of the bed for breakfast and I came right back to sleep. Been meaning to post on lj since yesterday but the inertia to write was too strong.
So my thesis is done, I've handed it in on time on Monday. Can't say I wish I did better because I don't see what else I could've done. I hate it but there really isn't any other topic for me or another stance to take. Maybe I hate it because it sounds too much like myself.
I have another essay due 28 April. I can't wait to get it over and done with and get school out of my way. I can't wait to just get to nie and start on the next phase of my life. I am slightly afraid of the waiting period, of the decisions I have to make prior to teaching. But I'm sure my friends will be around to distract me even if I can't find money to travel.
So what I've been wanting to post about since yesterday or Monday is this. I've been getting calls from people who want to volunteer with us to give out food to the needy. Which is great, that people are interested in what we do. But I've also been getting calls from schools, organizations etc. that want to send their staff/ students over to help us out one of the days. The large group of them, usually between 50-100 people. That's because they're given halfday off for doing some charity, and I guess it also helps with staff bonding.
The place I help out at, we've been around for about 4 years and we're really small. We have about 10 people every week and we serve food to about 200 people, one meal every week, including public holidays even, raining or not. We've gone through so much -- losing our kitchen and being unable to cook the food ourselves, resorting to having our food catered, running low on volunteers.. But we've also managed to expand -- serving more people, running more efficiently because of some great ideas that the volunteers have contributed.
The thing about having a small team every week is that we need volunteers to be very committed. 200 packs of food, hand carried and distributed by foot by 10 volunteers. If we're short of just one volunteer, the other 9 will have to take care of the other 20 packets. If we have just one or two more people, volunteers may think that they don't have much to do and that their presence is not needed, and will have less of a sense of belonging and purpose. And it being at 6pm means that we run on a very tight schedule. We have to deliver the food to the residents before they have dinner, but we can't be too early because most volunteers come from work. Every volunteer needs to know exactly what to once they arrive.
So I've been turning down the help of all these organisations that want to volunteer simply because our small team does not have the capacity to take them in. What can 50 people do with 200 packets of food? What can our regular volunteers do then? They still need to be around to tell these 50 people what to do- it's not as if they can take the week off. It just doesn't make sense. And I've been telling these organisations - that if they're so well staffed, why don't they plan something like a donation or food donation drive and give us the money or distribute the collected food themselves to the people we have on our list. They say no they just want to join a pre-existing organisation. Low commitment and tokenistic.
Then I got a call on Monday after submission. From an organisation that helps people recruit volunteers. They asked if they could recruit volunteers for us because they would like to expose youth to social work. They also asked how many volunteers we had every week. i said ten. I asked if the volunteers will work with us on a once-off basis or on a regular basis. She said once off and I told her we can't work together. But she pressed on to ask if we could work something ad hoc out. I said sure but we won't be able to do a planning for you. But it'd be great if they could do something like a fund/food donation drive, but that we really don't have the capacity to plan it for them. When she heard that they have to do the planning, she said "nono, what I meant was, can we send 10 people down once in a few weeks to take over your volunteers or like follow your model and do it on another day?" I got really angry. It's fine you know, if you want to send maybe 2 volunteers down every week. So that our regulars can still do what they are committed to and enjoy doing, and we can still expose our programme to more people, slowly. But to want to take over the entire session? To render our volunteers irrelevant for that week because what, you'll like to tell more youths that doing social work once in a while is good enough?? To ask them to passively join a social cause and do what they're told, and not even bother about planning something new or value-add to the organisation they're joining?? And I already told her that we need our volunteers to be trained and to have the knowledge of what to do because each person is very important to the team, she asked me, over the phone, what kind of knowledge I'm talking about. So you think our volunteers are replaceable? That I can transfer this "knowledge" over the phone? And to think the reason why our team has been around for so long is because we have a workable model and not considering the fact that we've been around because our focus is not on quantity but sustainability?? We run not only on a model but also a promise. What does it even mean to give out food for one day? What good does it do other than it being a self-serving feel good charity?
I remember once I got a call from a volunteer telling me she'll be 45 min late and she told me to contact the rest of the team to wait up for her. I told her not to bother coming cause the food has to be distributed at by a certain time and that the team, and the people who take our food can't be just waiting for her. She told me "but I'll feel so bad!!" What the fuck? So are the 200 people going to have a late dinner because you'll feel guilt?? I don't get it, is volunteering about serving others or about yourself??
I know all this shouldn't get to me but it does. It makes me angry. Because instead of supporting us, they don't realise that what they are doing is expecting our team to serve them so they can do the good they want to. But they don't feel bad about it because they think they're doing us and the needy a favour. But you know, maybe volunteerism is not about doing anyone a favour. It's also not about saving or fixing anything. It's really not as self righteous as that. It's about doing what you can because things are not how they should be and you can't fix that problem. Not yet.
And it pisses me off because so many people want to make sure that the cause they're helping is an 'official' one. So many people have withdrawn from us because we are not a registered NGO or whatever. And we are not linked with any religious groups. And this links up to some of the responses we've seen at the chope food movement lately. We see so many people expressing their scepticism towards the hawker stalls - asking, "what if we give them money but they just keep and don't give meals to the needy?" Suggesting "how about we put a counter in front of the stall to see how many meals they've given out?" WHY CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHY WE HAVE SO LITTLE FAITH IN HUMANITY, IN THE GOOD WILL OF PEOPLE? How can you want to do good, and not have trust in humanity? Isn't there something very contradictory there? And how can you try to bureaucratise something that is supposed to be there to cushion the people who fall through the loopholes of bureaucracy? And if you disagree with the methods, then do something you think is apt! Why do you try to stop others from doing something they believe in?
I think fundamentally, people are afraid to take up responsibility. And I don't understand why. They'd rather have a system take over, then at least they can blame the system. But this is also giving up what it means to be human. The thing about not wanting to plan an adhoc event even though they have the resources to do so is because they don't want to be in charge. They want to join a working model and be part of that system. But our team can't do that because we are not simply a system. We work systematically- I do the volunteer allocation every week, we have team leaders, we have a pattern of working. We even have something that can be said to resemble the for fordist assembly line. But the difference is, every team member is irreplaceable because of the degree of commitment required of them, the experience and the knowledge. Every member can suggest ways to make us run more efficiently (for example we didn't used to use google docs, didn't used to have the assembly line). And someone threw me the question that day - what if someone falls ill upon consuming your food? Or if something happens to your team member during the distribution, like assault? I guess the answer is as simple as we'll take responsibility for it. I know sometimes we cant, for instance in the case of death, but I guess it's the necessary risk. We can't expect ourselves to be protected by another system can we?
I guess this is why, even though we are a testament to how you just need a small team and a workable model and you can be sustainable for some very long time, we have not been able to inspire others to set up their own groups.
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