Late October, I had an unusual invitation – to speak before daycare staff from all over Malaysia, in a special event aimed to recognize and acknowledge the crucial yet often undervalued role of caring for children aged three and under. Strong evidence exists that proves beyond reasonable doubt that children are most sensitive to stimulus in their early years, specifically before age six. Cognitive development, emotional intelligence, leadership traits, self-confidence – many critical traits are best shaped before age six. Yet, there seems to be a disconnect between the need for quality childcare, and the recognition rendered to daycare staff.
Curious to find out more and to help me prepare for the event, I attended the preliminary meeting. Am I glad to have been there! For a start, the event was an inaugural one. Each and everyone present, from usher to speaker to logistics support, was a volunteer. No one was to be paid for any kind of contribution. We had a month to get things done. Attendance was free. Within days after the event was promoted online, registration poured in. We had hoped for a few hundred participants, but the figure finally swelled to more than a thousand. The venue was changed to a bigger hall.
I asked to speak in the first slot. Eager to connect with the audience, I wracked my brain, thinking hard how to make it a memorable session for the daycare staff, who would be descending from all over the country. Together with my husband and fellow speaker, we decided on a funny sketch, which underlined the importance of the human touch in caring for little children and infants. The audience loved it. But what made me really happy was discovering that the spirit of volunteerism was alive in my own city.
A day before this article was written, I presented to another crowd in a different location. Again, it was organized by a group of volunteers. Even more heartening was the fact that they were all youths in their twenties.
Both events were started by a single person, an idea generator, who felt strongly about doing something to make things better. In the first instance, to raise the profile of daycare staff who are underpaid and undervalued. In the second, to empower parents with better and more effective parenting skills, replete with a powerful vision to raise morally successful children.
Without the dedication and commitment of volunteers, neither session would have happened. For the second program, the volunteers even set up a station, where they kept the young children occupied as the parents sat through the seminar.
These two programs are just two of many sessions where volunteers played a key role in making it happen. Volunteers typically do not expect any reward, other than a sense of satisfaction, knowing they have contributed to something worthwhile, a purpose bigger than themselves. Sometimes, all they get is a handshake or a pat on the back for a job well done. Volunteers are the heart of community organisations, an important resource for every imaginable group of people. They willingly spend time to make their community better. With the right kind of leadership, volunteers feel acknowledged, respected, and motivated to contribute energy, skills and experience.
Volunteers might work long hours, they might be the last to have a meal. They might get reprimanded by the team lead if things don’t go as planned. They are the ones who clean up the venue, or pick up rubbish after participants are gone. They might be the last to get home. Because they know they are weaving magic.
The volunteer who reads to a blind child is weaving magic with his words. The volunteer who attends to a disabled person is weaving magic with his tender, loving care. The volunteer who distributes food at a soup kitchen, or who counsels a runaway teenager, is weaving magic on the story of hope to the homeless and the troubled child. The volunteer who lends a hand to refugees is weaving magic in painting a brighter future for humanity, extending kindness and generosity to a fellow human being. Volunteers distinguish themselves with less talk, more action. They inspire others with their quiet determination. To all the volunteers out there who work tirelessly to make things happen, you are our heroes: THANK YOU.
“And those who believe and do righteous good deeds, We shall admit them to the Gardens under which rivers flow (i.e. in Paradise) to dwell therein forever. Allah’s promise is the truth; and whose words can be truer than those of Allah.” Al-Qur’an: Surah Annisa’ (4:122).
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, Allah does not look at your appearance or wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and actions.”
This article was published in page 20 of the November 2015 edition of Alwasat, a bilingual Australian newspaper based in Melbourne. Read it online at http://issuu.com/alwasat2011/docs/november_2015