There are many things youths do in Singapore today for fun – gaming, shopping or hitting a new karaoke joint. But let’s be honest, nothing warms the heart quite like giving back to society. And youth volunteering isn’t that uncommon in Singapore after all. Just ask Mr Raymond Huang.
Having nurtured seeds of volunteerism in youths by setting up Heartware Network in 2000, the founder of the organisation has now seen it grown in full bloom with a pool of over 17,000 volunteers today.
From my research about his endless volunteering endeavours and the man himself, it made me wonder – just what does it take to pursue one’s love for helping others?
His story of founding Heartware Network might just inspire you the way it did for me.
It has been at least three decades, but Mr Raymond Huang vividly remembers the heartache of seeing a family live with just the bare necessities. He recounted, “It was the first time I visited a 1-room flat. It was a family of 6 and the parents took turns to sleep on the sofa while the children took turns to sleep on the floor.”
Seeing the juxtaposition of the bare-bones apartment against the atas houses he frequented as part of the Tanglin division for the Singapore Police Force previously, Mr Raymond said, “my heart broke”.
We know the existence of 1-room flats in neighbourhoods but how many of us actually pause to ponder and try to understand what these living quarters mean in our society? This was the turning point for Raymond, that ignited his personal mission to start making a change.
That’s me trying to connect Mr Raymond’s stories with the images
From then on, baby steps included following his church for mission work up in the mountains in Chiang Mai to help uplift the village with healthcare and improved sanitation. It sounds straightforward – but when the ground in front of him collapsed while he was trekking down the only path in the mountains, that was his “wake up call” to start making volunteering a full-time thing.
He then revealed the secret to his undying spirit since,
The ultimate tipping point for Mr Raymond however, happened when he was serving his post as a bank representative in China. He was forced to helplessly watch the unending chain of Chinese nationals climb over the walls of the Singapore embassy during one of the many communist demonstrations just to get to the British and American embassy.
Witnessing the chaos, he could not allow himself to see a similar fate for Singapore. He knew that he wanted to forge a future back home, where idealism met passion for the youths to work towards a greater cause, instead of resorting to actions like leading demonstrations.
“I realised I like helping people more than making money for the bank,” he recounted. And from then, his solution was born: building a volunteer society for the youths in Singapore.
Mr Raymond with some of Heartware Network’s greatest achievements
It wasn’t the easiest decision for Mr Raymond Huang and his wife to take a leap of faith by leaving the banking industry and putting his life on hold for the next 3 years, just so that he could pioneer a new generation of empowered youths under Heartware Network. But as the saying goes, “take a risk, and it just might pay off.”
He started with absolutely zero expectations, but the one thing he was very sure about was loving the community selflessly and serving them from the heart.
So he took that mindset and inspired youths to follow in his footsteps by treating them as equals and teaching them the ropes of life along the way, such as the value of learning through transparency and genuity.
Mr Raymond sharing one of the milestones of Heartware – putting together the world’s largest photo collage
“Thick or thin, rain or shine, we’re there for them,” he added. Since the organisation’s inception in 2000, he has consistently made sure that he’s always first a volunteer, then a founder – and that’s the reason why he attributes the trust the youth has in Heartware Network.
Through their Youth Bank platform, youths between 14 and 35 years old in Singapore can seek opportunities for volunteering.
Mr Raymond sharing his memory of an NDP event
With 19 years of establishment, Heartware Network now offers a comprehensive list of programmes that aims to instil altruism or in Mr Raymond’s words, “install the intel chip for the soul” in youths.
Some programmes available include a tuition programme for under-served children with incarcerated parents or from low-income backgrounds, and visiting the elderly to render social and emotional support.
One of the many NDP events Heartware Network has participated in
Under these Youth Development programmes, the young volunteers not only provide manpower as ushers during the National Day Parade, but they also get to train their hospitality management skills.
Besides, they also bridge the gap between social classes when they provide equal footing for underprivileged children in their education through tuition programmes.
Mr Raymond sharing nuggets of life lessons to help the youth volunteers with their NDP planning
Throughout our conversation, Mr Raymond shared his past encounters in the cheeriest manner. But his choice of words and expressions still managed to tug at the chords of my heartstrings at times I least expected them to.
It’s no wonder that he’s such a revered role model, and someone his volunteers look up to. When interacting with the volunteers at the centre during my visit, he made sure to address each and every one of them, cracking jokes to lighten the current stress of their NDP planning.
Even the simple act of making sure every volunteer wears the same T-shirt during activations is important to allow conversations without prejudices, and mutual respect to be shared among everyone.
A youth came up with the idea to get the teddy bears signed by Tom Cruise to boost their fundraising efforts
Before I capped off my exchange with the man himself, I asked Mr Raymond what advice he had for youths who have yet to install their own heartware. His answer? “Always try to live a purposeful life especially against today’s landscape of distractions. Find your purpose.”
From my conversation with him, I learnt that it isn’t all about making time to participate in volunteer events but it’s how you choose to act with kindness every day – that’s the true meaning of volunteerism.
I headed into this interview having entertained the idea of volunteering before, and now I knew I needed to act on those thoughts. I was even given a set of Heartware Network badges to kick start my own volunteering spirit!
It’s time we redefine volunteering in Singapore to be more than just helping the needy. It starts with everyday interactions that we then get to break cultural barriers and educate personal prejudices, before understanding how the nation can only pulsate when we choose to react to situations with kindness and action.
If you’re inspired by Mr Raymond Huang’s story behind Heartware Network, you can find out more about volunteering opportunities in Singapore at Our Tampines Hub this 17th and 18th August 2019, and count yourself a part of the SG Cares movement.
At the finale to the SG Cares “Celebrating Our Culture of Care” series, witness for the first time the unification of the completed murals that have been worked on by corporate and community partners, members of the public and artists with special needs over the last few months. You’ll also enjoy performances by community organisations and get to meet and greet MediaCorp celebrities such as Romeo Tan, Elvin Ng and Desmond Tan on 17th August 2019.
Visit booths by charities, social enterprises and Social Service Agencies from 11AM-6PM or participate in arts and crafts workshops to bring home your own work of art, as a way to pledge your support for the SG Cares movement.
If you’re like me, always second-guessing to lend a helping hand, remember how many little acts of kindness it took before Mr Raymond started the Heartware Network. We might not have the same means to emulate his legacy but every small act of kindness will make a difference.
Start with what’s within you, your own heartware, and then share it with others.
SG Cares “Celebrating Our Culture of Care” Finale Event
Date: 17th & 18th August 2019
Time: 11AM to 6PM
Venue: Our Tampines Hub, 1 Tampines Walk, Singapore 528523
This post is brought to you by MCCY SG Cares. Responses have been edited for grammar and clarity.
Photography by: Tan Wen Lin
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