As a foreigner in Singapore, I am always amazed at the volunteering opportunities it offers to those who are interested. And more amazingly, I have met some of the most interesting and like minded people on such volunteering assignments.
But this year, I was fortunate to experience such a volunteering activity right from the planning stage to its completion. During a casual inquiry on the Big At Heart volunteer group about used books, Nalini from Big At Heart asked me if I would like to organize a book donation drive as a Christmas activity. Though a bit apprehensive to plan and lead such an activity, I decided to plunge in and take it as it comes! Taking the example of my own home, I knew that all homes have several pre-loved books, especially children’s books, that can be put to a good cause.
Nalini was very prompt and patient in answering all my queries and always pointing me in the right direction with her immense resources and experience. We decided to name this project ‘Book Santa’ in line with the Christmas spirit and also because we wanted kids and teens to participate in this activity.
My first task was to identify various beneficiaries for receiving the books. They had to be genuine, transparent and put the preloved books to a good use. I was impressed to learn stories about some of these beneficiaries like Randall Chong, a young boy, who, during one of his trips to Nepal, saw the plight of school going kids there, and decided to do something about it. He came back to Singapore and set up Books Beyond Borders, where he collects used books and resells them to use the proceeds for funding facilities for school children in Nepal. Or Dignity Mamas, a group that resells books through stalls set up outside some Singapore hospitals which are managed by handicapped/ mentally underprivileged people. These stories really inspired me to put my best foot forward and achieve the best I could for this donation drive.
During the course of the entire campaign, I came across heartwarming incidents from various donors and volunteers. Some volunteers went out of their way and arranged goodies for book donors to entice them. Some others took this initiative beyond their homes, and set up collection points at their workplaces as well! The work in progress pics kept coming on the volunteers group and it kept motivating all of us to give our best shot.
We ended up collecting more than 3000 books of superb quality and rich contents during the two weeks drive. The next herculean task was transporting these books from individual collection points to the beneficiary locations.
One day, as I was sipping Kopi at my favorite local outlet and thinking about this transportation task, I saw a big cardboard box with coffee supplies. Without much thought, I approached the cafe lady and asked if she could give me the empty boxes to pack the books. She did not understand English and I thought it was the end of my overenthusiastic attempt! Just then, a kind Singaporean lady stood up from the next table and explained my need to the lady.Soon enough I managed to get enough boxes to pack all the books! It's true when there is passion backed by a good cause, help comes from unexpected directions!
We had an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers who opened their hearts as well as homes to this cause. Some even helped to store rooms full of boxes until delivery. They roped in family and friends and worked together with each other effectively for packing, segregation and transportation of the books. They even formed smaller groups and some kind delivery volunteers made several trips to transport the books.
In the end we had collected many more books than we had imagined. We could help and reach out to additional beneficiaries and even use the kids books as a Christmas gift for underprivileged children through Big At Heart’s another Christmas initiative.
Often, in our everyday lives, we end up interacting with the same family, friends and colleagues… sometimes narrowing our perspective. However, this project introduced me to many different wonderful people whose hearts are filled with passion and genuine care for society…truly I feel Big At Heart after this initiative!
My heartfelt gratitude to all who contributed in the tiniest possible way…You are the Book Santas in the real sense!