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Singapore Government

Speech by Mr Desmond Lee at the MSF Volunteer Awards 2017

Speech by Mr Desmond Lee at the MSF Volunteer Awards 2017

Our MSF Volunteers
Family members and friends

1.   Good evening and a very warm welcome to this year's MSF Volunteer Awards; my first since joining the MSF Family.

2.   It is my pleasure and honour to host all of you tonight. The Volunteer Awards are a highlight on our calendar every year - and for good reason. As our volunteers, you are our hands and hearts on the ground. For those who have ever needed a voice, a path forward, or a safe space, you have provided these and more. So, to all our recipients of the 164 volunteer awards this year - a very big Thank You. You have helped countless people and their loved ones get back on their feet, and our social safety net is much wider, and much stronger for it.

A People sector from the ground up

3.   Across various areas of government work, we often speak of strengthening People, Private and Public partnerships, or what we call the '3Ps'. In the social service sector, this cannot be understated. We need all three to come together in order to provide a holistic community of support for the vulnerable and less fortunate amongst us.

4.   Our volunteers constitute a key pillar within the People sector. While we design policies and implement programmes, they expend their energies and expertise to help us see it through to the last mile. Indeed, those who work on the ground and within the community often make the greatest impact to someone in need. A helping hand is much warmer and more effective when the face behind it is someone you know, and who knows what you need.

5.   It is for this reason that we launched SG Cares, a national movement to encourage more Singaporeans to step forward to volunteer. By growing volunteerism opportunities, coordinating partnerships, and building the capabilities of individuals and organisations to volunteer, we hope to create a society where people come together, and inspire each other to give.

6.   It is our hope that the spirit of the SG Cares movement will spread throughout our Singaporean core. The volunteers whom we are recognising today exemplify this vision. Each of you serve in various capacities. But what you share in common is an instinctive heart to give yourselves in service of others, and an intuitive spirit of giving back to our community. This is the spirit that we wish to build - the spirit of a caring and inclusive society, where people find it in themselves to offer a hand to another in need, and where every person asks themselves the question, 'If not me, then who?'

Learning from our volunteers

7.   How can we as individuals come to the point where we ask ourselves this very question? I believe many of our volunteer awards recipients tonight would have encountered this question in their journeys. As we celebrate their achievements tonight, we can and should also take the opportunity to think about what drives them to do what they do. Why do they volunteer? How did they get to where they are today? I believe that if they can do it, so can each and every one of us.

8.   This year, we are honouring one Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer, five Outstanding Volunteers, 14 Friends of MSF, and 144 Long Service Award recipients. I am glad that most of them are able to join us tonight. Allow me to share some of their stories, and what I believe we can learn from them.

9.   There is the perception that it takes someone really special to be a volunteer, and to achieve great impact. But our volunteers have shown us that more often than not, you just have to start small, wherever you can, and not be daunted by the end in mind.

10.   There is no better example of this than tonight's recipient of the Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award, Mr Koh Choon Hui. Mr Koh has volunteered with the Singapore Children's Society for over 40 years, the last 39 years of which as its chairman. He first joined the Society in 1975 to improve its charity's fundraising efforts. Dedicated to the cause, Mr Koh continued to build up the organisation, and transformed it into one of the leading charities in Singapore today. It is our pleasure to recognise Mr Koh's lifetime commitment this year, just as the Singapore Children's Society celebrates its 65th anniversary. Congratulations to Singapore Children's Society and Mr Koh.

11.   One of our Outstanding Volunteers, Ms Anita Fam, did not think of herself as a volunteer initially. She merely saw herself as doing planning, organising and advising work for the social sector. Today, she continues to serve on many boards and committees in the sector.

12.   Volunteerism can sound like an abstract concept to some. But it can be broken down into one hour, one task, or one project at a time.

13.   Our volunteers also teach us that our current abilities or affiliations are tools rather than barriers to volunteering. Ms Monica Seng, another one of our Outstanding Volunteers, used to be a HR Director. She has been a Volunteer Probation Officer for 17 years. Her talent for people management has helped her be an effective mentor to not just her probationers, but also to fellow volunteers as Chairperson of the Volunteer Probation Officer Committee.

14.   Among the 12 Friends of MSF this year, there are professionals and academics, as well as religious leaders, healthcare professionals, and a video producer. Each of them brings their own perspective and expertise to the table.

15.   We are also proud to present the Friends of MSF award to two organisations, Christian Outreach to the Handicapped, and HSBC, for their long time partnerships with MSF.

16.   Above all, our award recipients tonight teach us that volunteering in itself is a rewarding and self-fulfilling experience. This year, three out of our five Outstanding Volunteers are foster parents. All of them are currently fostering children with special needs. It is humbling to hear that despite all the challenges they face, they share the sentiment that their foster child has introduced so much love and laughter into their homes that they would not have it any other way. Their foster children have also drawn their own families closer, as they rally around to cross hurdle after hurdle, and achieve milestone after milestone together.

17.   I am certain that if you ask any of our volunteers, they will share with you how they have found joy in volunteering. They will talk about how volunteering has led them to discover how much of an impact a small act can make. They will tell you how they developed a sense of purpose that has kept them going, some for as long as five, ten, twenty, forty years.


18.   I have shared the stories of our MSF Volunteer Awards recipients tonight, to answer the question of how the rest of us can take the first step towards volunteering - start small, do what you know best, and keep going. If our volunteers have each achieved so much individually, imagine the difference we could make in society if every one of us also chooses to volunteer in a regular and sustained manner. I do believe that each one of us has something to offer, and I call on you to do your part to help us build a Singapore that cares.

19.   To our volunteers, thank you once again for your contributions and dedication. Thank you for daring to ask the question 'If not me, then who?' and being brave enough to answer the call. You have been a light to those in need, and also lighted up the way for a more caring and compassionate society.

20.   Behind every volunteer are their parents, grandparents, spouse, children and friends. To all our guests who are here today, thank you for supporting our volunteers in their journey with us.

21.   Please join me in giving our volunteers a huge round of applause. I wish all of you a wonderful evening ahead. Thank you.

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