Sunday, 5 December 2010

International Volunteers Day

Today is the International Volunteers Day.

Volunteerism in Malaysia is fast catching on, especially now under the stewardship of Prime Minister, with his 1Malaysia concept. As an active volunteer member of the Malaysia Civil Defence Department, or the 'Jabatan Pertahanan Awam Malaysia' or JPAM in short, I guess I have some say on this subject matter. JPAM is a government agency that operates almost entirely on the power of volunteers.  A few years back, it was something like 90% volunteers 10% permanent staff. Now, the ratio is getting smaller, maybe 85% as the current management is expanding its permanent manpower, in line with the expansion of the department.

I always believe that the power of volunteerism has been, and always will be, nature's backup plan to counter the impact of all (not limited to) major disasters, not only in Malaysia, but all over the world. Volunteerism works across borders, and beyond the prejudice of mankind against gender, race, religion etc. Volunteers CHOSE to be there, in the thick of the action out of PASSION. That goes a long way in determining the quality of the services rendered. A volunteer working with passion can be MORE PRODUCTIVE than a few salaried people working on the same task without passion but merely for their paycheck at the end of the month.
However, much needs to be done here in changing the biased perception of the public themselves about volunteers. There are some, even in the government agencies, that do not truly believe that volunteers can be professionals. To these people, I would like to emphasize the following:-
  1. Volunteers are not beggars, and certainly it is not reserved only for the jobless or unwanted.
  2. Volunteers come from all walks of live, with different backgrounds. They might be carrying boxes or driving lorries for you today, but has a Mercedes at home. Heck, they may be playing golf with your Dato KP tomorrow morning.
  3. Volunteers have knowledge ie management skills, training skills, auditing skills or any other skills that they might have mastered in their working life that would add value to your agency/group, so swallow your pride and work as a team.
  4. Volunteers are there to help EVERYONE, so please do not use them as a pawn in achieving your political agendas.

It seems nowadays, everyone wants to be a volunteer, which is good. But in my experience during disaster relief ops around the country, there are those who do not truly understand what disaster relief means. A few examples:
  • A corporate company with a food catering subsidiary cooks and distribute hundreds of fried rice packs to post flood victims everyday, for lunch and dinner. They got offended when they saw traces of polystyrene packs thrown away.
    • Moral: they are flood victims, not beggars. You cant just cook distasteful food (I personally wasn't able to swallow it..too salty) and expect people to eat and show gratitude. Btw, even if they did eat, don't expect them to eat the SAME food for Lunch & Dinner over a few days.
    • My 2 cents: Give your BEST food and your BEST service to victims.
  • A bunch of volunteers, well actually 64 people in a convoy of more than 15 cars wanted to go to deliver post disaster contributions, which was half load of a 1 tonne lorry.
    • Moral: it doesn't take many people to distribute the stuff. Victims are affected not only physically, but emotionally as well. They are victims, not circus. You go with so many people that would only encroach on the victims already limited personal space at relief centres, not to mention cramp up the few toilets already shared by hundreds.
      How would you feel if you are a victim, lost your belongings, staying at a cramped up school hall...and suddenly a few jokers asked their kids to pose with you, all because those jokers wanted to 'instill' the good values in their kids...DUUHHHH
    • My 2 cents: unless you have special skills to assist them e.g. electrician, plumber, brick layer etc, only go when you can add value to their lives.
  • Another big bunch wanted to be 'part' of the happening volunteer crowd. As it was a major disaster, accommodations were limited. They got a local 'powerful guy' to move the victims from one hall in order to make way for them, so that they can do their 'volunteer' work
    • Moral: the first time I heard it, I was so pissed. The first rule is....learn to RESPECT the victims. Like I said, as volunteers, you must be prepared to live, eat even shit in WORST conditions than the victims, or else what's your purpose dude? That's why when me & my JPAM team goes for disaster relief, we bring our own stuff. For us, sleeping is an option but a bed is a bonus.
    • My 2 cents: be self reliant, bring your own stuff, plan your own logistics. If you cant do that, then stay at home and sleep in your own bed.
  • Another company with substantial contributions engaged a group to assist them to get the stuff distributed and in the end also had to PAY for their FUEL, their TOLL, their FOOD and what ever other expenses; and guess what? They enlisted quite a few of their friends to tag along...all paid for by the 'victimized' contributing company.
    • Moral: there are people whom wouldn't think twice about making an extra buck out of other people's miseries. So make sure you get proper people to help you out. As in the example I gave, for their second trip there, I helped them to get assistance from escort, free lorry transport, no fuel or toll fees, direct distribution to victims via JPAM's local unit, no need to provide hotel accommodations.
    • My 2 cents: do some research on how best to contribute. If you have food or basic necessaties contribution to send and you dont know whom to contact, get in touch with government agencies e.g. JPAM.  If you still don't know how, contact me and I'll help you.

 As a Malaysian who believes in the power of volunteerism, I wish all volunteers, irregardless from which organization or country, or even if you don't belong to an organization but do good in your personal capacity..... happy International Volunteers Day.
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