What volunteering through OCIP really means
Is OCIP really helping the underprivileged communities?
Halfway through my summer holidays, my Instagram feed has been overwhelmed with pictures from my friends’ Overseas Community Involvement Programme (OCIP) trips. Alongside long captions tinged with heartfelt reflections, these posts almost look like a form of humble bragging.
At a glance, OCIP seems to offer an eye-opening experience for youths to give back to the society. However, as much as OCIP aims to provide aid for the under-privileged, it seems to lack long term benefits for the needy.
Recently, a Singaporean who volunteered in Tanzania 11 years ago realised that his efforts have failed to improve the lives of the under-privileged kids, who are “still struggling in life“.
This boils down to the question – is OCIP really about helping the needy, or is it about helping youths with their personal development?
On the one hand, travelling overseas for OCIP exposes volunteers to a different environment from their usual, urban lifestyles. For 20-year-old Amanda Lee, her trip to Laos allowed her to experience the traditional kampong spirit that was shared among the locals.
The first-time OCIP participant said: “The villagers there share a bond that is not common in Singapore. They don’t close the doors at night, and kids from other houses can enter one another’s houses.”
Similarly, Deanna Nabilah Bte Misbahuddin shared that her biggest takeaway from her OCIP trip was learning to be content with what she has.
The 20-year-old, who spent two weeks in Chiang Mai, Thailand, had helped to replace the village’s water tank, which was already disintegrating. She worked together with the workers to build the new tanks.
Deanna, a Nanyang Technological University undergraduate, said: “The entire village depends on them (the workers), so it’s a huge responsibility for us as well.”
However, Deanna still had some doubts about the help she had given. She added: “I can only hope that we gave them something to remember, just as they have given us something worth remembering.”
Her thoughts reflect a growing concern some volunteers have when they embark on these OCIP trips. While they work tirelessly to contribute to the less privileged, they wonder if it is ethical to gain a sense of satisfaction through them.
To overcome this, some youths engage local non-profit organisations to provide help that better fit the needs of locals.
21-year-old Li Jing Yin went to Chengdu, China, to serve the needs of the poor and elderly. The cross-cultural programme was a collaborative effort between TOUCH Community Services International, and local organisations such as Shanghai YMCA, Shanghai YWCA, and students from Chengdu University of Information Technology.
Jing Yin said: “What is interesting is that some of [the needy whom the organisations had helped] from the previous years became volunteers in 2015 to serve other needy communities.”
While most OCIP trips last approximately one to two weeks, these one-off trips may not be effective in leaving an impact on needy communities in the long run. This brief time frame usually allows OCIP participants to build new facilities or refurnish their current buildings.
However, when it comes to teaching habits like living a healthy lifestyle and exercising basic hygiene, it usually takes more time for the locals to pick them up – especially if these habits are not traditionally practiced in their cultures.
Inevitably, it is impossible for both the volunteers and the needy to benefit equally through one-off trips.
If we work more closely with local non-profit organisations that are familiar with the needs of these underprivileged communities, perhaps it is still possible for us to maximise our efforts to make the world a better place.