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In November this year, a group of 56 people made up of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, volunteers and youths participated in Operasi Bhakti III to provide medical care and health education to islanders staying off Batam Island. This is a joint effort of the Singapore Red Cross and the Batam Branch of Indonesian Red Cross. These are volunteers. Operasi Bhakti III triggers some thoughts on voluntarism.

What is voluntarism? This is a generic term for activities that one does for the good of mankind. It is also not done for profit, or at least not ostensibly for profit. And it is not always necessary for the poor and down and out. For example, we do volunteer to be on school committees and medical organisations.

What is important is that voluntarism brightens the world that we live in. For those who spend time as volunteers looking after the elderly, the disabled, the mentally unwell or cognitively impaired, these activities are labours of love. Only the persons who are volunteering and the recipients know the kind gestures being exchanged. The rest of the world may not know. And that does not matter really. What it matters to the volunteer is that it has brightened the life of a fellow being. It is an achievement to be able to give, particularly when one does not have much in the first place.

Then there are those who volunteer to make the world a more cheerful and beautiful place to live in. These are people who promote the arts and cultural activities or the various youth and school extra-curricular activities.

There are also people who sit on committees to debate on problems of the day, deep into the night. The topics under discussion may range from profession to people to politics or patients. Members of the various Committees of the Singapore Medical Association are examples of such volunteers.

It is hard to imagine a world where there are no volunteers. It is true that volunteers do grumble, feel burned out, feel unappreciated but yet they continue to soldier on.

As we celebrate the year-end festivities, let us think about the many volunteers, both at home and around the world. There are many who are spending their holidays away from home and family to do volunteer work. They show quietly what goodness can do to mankind to make this world a better place to live in. Let us give all our volunteers our cheers, support and encouragement, not only during this festive season but also all the year round.