“I developed a love for volunteering since young. While my mum was a nursing manager at an old folks’ home, I’d meet and chit-chat with the senior citizens. It was always easier for me to connect with older people, and spending time with them always warmed my heart.

I also found that I connect with kids and youth a lot – it’s just heartwarming to be with them. Later on, my volunteer work involved children too.  In school, I would mentor and give tuition to primary school students.

Before volunteering became a full-time job, I did think about teaching as a career. What changed my mind was seeing homeless people sleeping on benches as I was walking home from a nearby 24-hour McDonald’s. I had spent the night there studying for my A-Levels.

I live in a very mature estate in Paya Lebar, and I had never seen that many homeless people out in the streets past midnight. I remember thinking how great it would be if I could help people for a living, and then it suddenly hit me that I could help people as a living; as a social worker.

That realisation influenced my decision to pursue my bachelor’s degree in social work at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. I also worked at the Singapore After-Care Association (SACA) where I helped ex-offenders for about two and a half years.

The interesting truth is, my experience with helping ex-offenders started way before I worked at SACA. It was in 2014 when I volunteered to be a mentor with ISCOS as part of their Fairy Godparent Programme.

One of the projects I took part in was painting a kid’s house. I didn’t know much about the girl’s parents or their history as ex-offenders, but I can never forget how she literally jumped with joy when she saw us painting her room in her favourite colour.

There was also a period of time where prison felt like a second home because I was mentoring a troubled youth. Seeing his transition from a confused kid to a really confident young man was very beautiful.

I think mentoring these kids is important. One of the problems society now faces is the rise in intergenerational offending. If one or both parents are in prison, the child is more likely to follow their parents’ missteps as compared to the general public.

It’s not genetics, and it’s not the kid’s fault for being susceptible to crime. It’s just the environment that he or she was raised in. For me, one of the aims of being a mentor is to provide support and make sure the child doesn’t go down the wrong path in life.

Yes, I would recommend volunteering as a mentor with ISCOS. I do know of people who are interested but say they’re far too busy. 24 hours is a limited period of time, so you have to assess your list of priorities. 

Don’t volunteer for the sake of volunteering; volunteer with commitment and heart. Just know that the universe works in funny ways. The more you give, the more you will get. Stick to this belief and volunteer work won’t be a hassle.” – Devan, 26  

Devanantthan S/O Ragupathi is a volunteer with ISCOS.

Humans of ISCOS is a collaboration between The Everyday People and ISCOS, a co-operative that helps ex-offenders in Singapore. Read more here.

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