‘It taught me to slow down’: How a life-changing volunteering experience made this man want to do more

Why this 35-year-old rallied his department to volunteer weekly for seven months at the Red Cross Home

The first time Muhammad Sufiyan Ya’akup started volunteering at a Home, he was taken aback by how challenging it really was.

He was at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled, where he was tasked to feed a resident during meal time.

Now 35, Sufiyan recounted his surprise when it took him an hour to feed the resident, who had swallowing difficulties.

Instead of finding the experience daunting, Sufiyan said it inspired him to want to do more.

“When I saw how professional and dedicated the staff of the Red Cross Home for Disabled were in their work, it sparked a profound moment of reflection in me: that I could definitely do something to help them and give back to the community.”

Kickstarted volunteering programme for his team

In light of his passion, Sufiyan, a people engagement manager in DBS Bank, decided to kickstart a volunteering programme that would instill empathy and strengthen bonds among his customer contact centre colleagues.

In 2023, from March to September, he gathered his department to volunteer at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled every week.

He hoped that the programme, which he had named ‘Empathy Day’, would enable his colleagues to cultivate empathy — a much-needed trait for their role. He also hoped they could befriend and engage residents with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, providing them with some companionship.

Besides that, they would also be able to alleviate the workload of nurses by helping out with some tasks, such as cleaning wheelchairs and feeding residents.

Image courtesy of DBS Bank

These efforts are part of the bank’s employee volunteer movement — DBS People of Purpose — and are in line with the bank’s pledge to contribute 1.5 million employee volunteering hours over the next decade.

Learnt many lessons from his time volunteering

Sufiyan had previously under the DBS People of Purpose programme helped to deliver food to low-income families. However, it was his experience at the Red Cross Home for the Disabled that impacted him in a profound way.

That said, he acknowledged that volunteer work at a Home isn’t easy.

“It is a very emotive experience when you are working with people with disabilities,” he said.

Nonetheless, he has learnt many key lessons that he feels will help him in both his work and personal lives.

“The corporate world is fast-paced and we are used to doing things fast. I have to remind myself to slow down and be patient and empathetic, whenever I have to help a resident with his or her meal,” he explained.

Image courtesy of DBS Bank

Sufiyan added that he also learnt the importance of teamwork — working together to achieve common goals — and an appreciation for others, to express gratitude for the things one has.

The volunteering experience has also motivated others in his department.

His colleague Annabelle Ho, a customer service officer, is still volunteering with the Home, and has even forged bonds with some of the residents there.

“It is heart-rending when I volunteered at the Home for the first time. The experience taught me to be contented with what I have and not to take anything for granted. That was also the reason why I decided to volunteer more regularly in the little ways I could.”

Since introducing the programme, Sufiyan saw volunteering hours double in his department, with many stating the experience made them better listeners at work and more empathetic when dealing with customer concerns.

For his efforts, Sufiyan won the DBS People of Purpose Star Champion of the Year award in 2023.

This month, he will once again rally his team mates to volunteer at the Home over the next seven months.

“I am thankful for Sufiyan for organising the volunteering sessions for our customer contact centre team, and providing me the opportunity to give back to the community,” said Ho.

Image courtesy of DBS Bank

A little volunteering goes a long way

The efforts from Sufiyan and his department did not go unnoticed.

Senior Nursing Aid Vedina Mondea, also known as Dindi among residents, said the weekly visits uplifted the spirits of both residents and nurses.

“Many do not have visitors, as their caregivers are unable to look after them or have long passed away. I noticed the residents have bigger appetites and will clap their hands when the DBS volunteers visit. Their presence really brightens our day,” said Dindi.

Dindi was a great help in enhancing the relationship between the volunteers and residents.

Many residents were non-verbal, so she helped them learn how to understand the residents’ body language. Holding the volunteers’ hands, for instance, was a sign that they wanted to express gratitude, and tapping on their bowls showed they wanted more food.

“Even though many can’t speak, they taught me that their disabilities are not barriers to happiness,” Sufiyan said.

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Feature image courtesy of DBS Bank. 

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