Make this a Summer of Service with family volunteering opportunities.
Many Sassy Mama readers will find themselves in an inclement spot this summer. Given travel bans and quarantine measures, our general reluctance to risk heading overseas will mean we stay put in Hong Kong. Usually, the summer months’ weather forecast is predictable – squally in the morning, with a chance of afternoon silence when the kids are packed off to holiday camp. But what if you are too late? All camp spots are full, and waiting lists are closed. Suddenly, the weather patterns shift and cumulus clouds gather overhead; the squalls are turning stormy and the afternoon of silence is making way for noisy playdates.
“Let them be idle! Let them be bored!” encourage some (leading but deluded) child psychologists who will show me studies have proven children in unstructured play are more likely to become CEOs. My guess is none of the child development specialists has children, nor have they witnessed unstructured play in my household. But before we wring our hands and cry, “What am I going to do with the kids this summer?!”, there is one sunny option to consider.
*Editor’s Note: The situation in Hong Kong regarding closures and restrictions due to the coronavirus is constantly evolving. Please make sure you follow the latest government advice about visiting care homes and stay home if you have recently travelled overseas, have interacted with anyone who has been away, or display any symptoms. Please also make sure you contact each organisation and ask them what their volunteer restrictions may be at this given time as they may also be constantly changing. There are still plenty of ways to give back to the community from home, so be sure to try the virtual volunteer options mentioned as well!
A Family That Serves Together…
…stays together? Well, has great outcomes anyway. How about we theme this time a “Summer of Service”? If holidays are about breaking from the normal routine of school (any other year but 2020 and this description would not seem so ironic), creating new service experiences may be a fun and enlightening alternative. While there are over 3,000 active charities in our city, not many have volunteer opportunities appropriate for the whole family or smaller children. But take heart, they exist! And you don’t even have to go to the end of the rainbow to find them.
One organisation that interests me is Mighty Oaks, a charity which serves the elderly via multi-generational engagement. My young children need only to do what they do at home – delight, entertain and spread general good cheer but at an elderly home (*please see Editor’s note above). Mighty Oaks will engage children volunteers to read, create art, or perform for elderly residents. My eldest could perform on her recorder (on second thought, perhaps better to leave the recorder). During the week, children can prepare for the elderly by baking homemade goods in anticipation of the weekend’s visit.
Another option I’m considering is Ronald McDonald House, an organisation that provides housing facilities for families in proximity to their hospitalised children. This charity asks families to volunteer with storytelling (reading their favourite books), to create videos and make a donation of the book that was read. Separately, my daughter and I created a storytelling video for another NGO – it was a wonderful experience of giggles, outtakes and retakes. For children, seeing their video posted on YouTube or IGTV, just like their Storyline Online friends, was a huge confidence booster (caveat: ensure your posting is preceded by a primer regarding online etiquette and privacy!).
Mother’s Choice has developed structured volunteer opportunities this summer. It has designed arts and crafts projects in which families can work remotely under the guidance of a Project Manager (also a volunteer). At the end of two weeks, Mother’s Choice will select a few art pieces to display at the Baby Care Home. Families working on these projects will have the opportunity to learn about issues that face at-risk children and vulnerable young girls in our community.
Why Volunteer And Where To Do It
Volunteering as a family unit is time beautifully spent. I have fond memories of a particular Saturday morning selling flags (stickers) in Causeway Bay with my husband and our three Littles. The Littles insisted on hanging the collection bag strung from their necks. As they ambled past Times Square and down Percival Street, the large size of the swaying bags in proportion to their small bodies made them look like they were slowly headed to the pillory. So frightfully adorable was their perp walk, passersby started handing out donations of $100 notes! Our family was a huge revenue generator, and it felt like a win-win situation for the organisation, and for us. We were all humming Walking on Sunshine that day.
Speaking of walking, Kindness Walks have become a popular way to engage the entire family in service, even with children as young as five years old. ImpactHK serves the homeless in our city’s poorest neighbourhoods, by engaging volunteers on a 2 to 3-hour kindness walk while handing out necessities to street sleepers, street cleaners and needy elderly. And recently I became acquainted with an organisation called Thrive Hong Kong, which provides thematic classes for economically-challenged 10 to 12-year-olds and their families. Subjects range from Astronomy to Athletics and Magic to Medicine as part of a broad-ranging curriculum covering 16 themes. Classes are conducted on Sundays; they are soliciting volunteers to teach, and especially families who can teach together. The minimum age is 12 years old.
Service does not have to be sacrificial or serious for the act to be consequential. As mentioned, it can be selling flags or assembling a care package. Most of us have heard of Box of Hope, but thoughtful and curated care packages would be appreciated by charities serving a gamut of beneficiaries from Mission for Migrants (migrant workers) to Giving Bread (elderly) to St. Barnabas Society (homeless). In-kind donations of face masks, supermarket vouchers, canned goods and second-hand technology devices are in high demand. These can easily be included in care packages. Finally, the go-to organisation for hands-on volunteering opportunities is the eponymously-named HandsOn Hong Kong.
Scheduling Family Volunteering Opportunities
Schedule service, the way you would schedule activities for the kids and yourself. One quality I encourage in our family is kindness (while this makes me sound like Mother Teresa and my children like angels, it’s categorically not the case). When they return home from school, instead of asking “What did you learn today?”, I ask, “How did you show kindness?” My cherubs answer me with a blank and questioning look: “I didn’t.”
So perhaps the onus is on me to provide opportunities for them to show kindness, and appreciate the happiness of giving “to” and not just giving “back”. If this notion resounds with you, find out which volunteer activities would be appropriate for your family. Then schedule it. Is Saturday afternoon your family service time slot? Is it Tuesday evening? Make space in your calendar for service work.
Summer camps provide your children skills and stimulation to the body and mind. At the very least you’ve paid for competent childminders when we need those hours for ourselves. But their curriculum generally does not include what parents can impart: a stirring of the heart which is a by-product of service. The sort of lessons that are caught but not taught. During the few years that we were a foster family, my children learnt about acceptance, forgiveness and how to quickly convene an assembly line when changing the foster baby’s nappy. Because of these experiences, the kids developed a flexible and inclusive definition of the term family. My Littlest One would quip, “They can include adopted babies, fostered babies, from Mummy’s tummy babies and even those that come from the SPCA!”
This Summer of Service could be a golden opportunity to expose our children to a different type of learning – an inclination towards kindness, a sensibility attuned to the pained, and the courage to respond to those suffering. There is a broad spectrum of service. Whether you are cleaning a beach, redistributing food at Feeding Hong Kong, sorting donated goods at Crossroads Foundation, or even short-term fostering, the end result makes someone else’s day incrementally sunnier.
I know what you did last summer. And I have a feeling it was pretty similar to what I did last summer, which consisted of excessive travel and general hedonism. Nothing wrong with this. But perhaps the different set of circumstances this summer will force us to create a different set of outcomes. Change the weather forecast: still cloudy, but with a chance of kindness.