Hong Kong-based Singaporean Li Lin Khoo is an active volunteer and member of Little Red Dot Hong Kong (LRD HK), a Meetup group of fellow Singaporeans in Hong Kong. Last July, the group launched its volunteer sub-division, LRDVolunteers, aimed at bringing more awareness to the needs of the underprivileged, and to inspire more Singaporeans to step forward as volunteers. The group meets at least once a month, with a regular turnout of around 20-25 Singaporeans and their friends at each session.
Li Lin shares more about the inspiration behind LRDVolunteers, her volunteering journey thus far, and what gives her the most satisfaction as a volunteer.
Li Lin Khoo at Singapore Family Day in Hong Kong in November 2017
(Photo courtesy of Li Lin Khoo)
LRDVolunteers is just a little over a year old. How did it start and what inspired it?
At that point of time, I had been volunteering regularly on my own and with my company for the past 3 years while in Hong Kong. One day, Alvin, the founder of LRD HK, brought up the idea of having more people join me on these volunteering sessions. To be honest, I was not sure what the turnout would be like, or if Singaporeans in Hong Kong would be interested in taking time off their precious weekends to serve a community they are unfamiliar with. I even wondered if there was a big enough pool of willing volunteers!
Nevertheless, I was motivated and inspired to try because volunteering is my passion. So I reached out to the organisations that I’ve been in contact with and managed to set up the first series of events for the Singaporean community in Hong Kong. This was the genesis of LRD Volunteers.
What prompted you to start volunteering while overseas?
I had been an active volunteer in Singapore before, so upon getting to Hong Kong, I was keen to find out how I could contribute to the local community. Living near the Sham Shui Po district, I would often see frail old ladies pushing carts of cupboard boxes in the wee hours of the morning or late in the evenings. That sparked my curiosity about the underprivileged in the area.
As I delved deeper, I didn’t expect to find out how the homeless situation really is an issue that needs more public attention. This was further exemplified in my research, where I learnt that a park near where I live houses around 150-180 homeless individuals each night. I also read articles about the McRefugees Crisis and the Coffin Cubicles Crisis. It was all hard for me to digest. Coming from a sheltered environment like Singapore to living in a bustling, vibrant and affluent city like Hong Kong, knowing that hundreds were out on the streets every night was just incomprehensible to me. This prompted me to reach out to the organisations serving this need in Hong Kong and start volunteering with them.
At the end of the day, I want to be able to leave behind meaningful footprints in my home away from home, to show a little care and kindness along the way, and to encourage fellow Singaporeans in Hong Kong to see this vibrant city through a different set of lenses.
Li Lin with fellow LRD HK volunteers (Photo courtesy of Li Lin Khoo)
Tell us more about how you volunteered while in Singapore.
I started volunteering in secondary school, both as a regular volunteer at one of the local hospitals, and going Christmas caroling at old folks’ homes as a Girl Guide. During my university days, I also spent a couple of months working part-time at the Children’s Cancer Foundation, helping with their community outreach and Hair for Hope events.
After starting work, I got involved in company-led volunteering events, with my company and as a guest volunteer at other friends’ companies. On a personal basis, I also helped out at Willing Hearts’ soup kitchen and food collection drives, community events and food packing initiatives by Food from the Heart from time to time.
What is a volunteering initiative or memory that's left the deepest impression on you?
It is hard to narrow down on any one in particular because the takeaways from each session are unique and memorable. But one recent example that I can share about is our most recent Kindness Walk at the end of June 2018.
Kindness Walks are conducted with our partner, ImpactHK, to distribute donated items, food and water, to the 120 - 150 homeless individuals living in the area. For this particular session, we partnered with FoodLink Hong Kong to collect unsold bread from various bakeries across Hong Kong. A handful of volunteers donated their time and energy on a Friday night to collect over 200 pieces of unsold bread, to be distributed to the homeless the next day. Our volunteers also helped to clean up an overhead bridge, which houses about 15 homeless individuals, by sweeping, and picking up loads of trash. This helped to facilitate a more open pathway for pedestrians to pass through.
Thankfully, the Amber rainstorm signal that was up the entire day did not deter any of our volunteers – instead, they showed up in their raincoats and umbrellas to show some love and kindness! The kindness and generosity of our fellow Singaporeans is something that continues to surprise and encourage me. Our volunteers have never failed to show up, no matter where or when the volunteering sessions are. As more volunteers join us month after month, with people being interested to find out more and inspired to give more – this is the fuel that keeps the volunteer arm going and growing.
LRD Volunteers at one of their Kindness Walks in Sham Shui Po during winter
(Photo courtesy of Li Lin Khoo)
How have your volunteering stints changed any previous mindsets/perceptions?
I had always preferred to contribute behind-the-scenes, through tasks such as packing food, sorting donations and collecting bread, as I’d felt awkward, self conscious and uncomfortable engaging with the community in need. What should I say to them? What if the interactions end up being awkward? What I say something silly or insensitive? With the language barrier thrown into that equation, it became a cause of anxiety.
But what I learned through my interactions with local volunteers and social workers, and the lengthy conversations with current/past ‘street sleepers’ that we meet with, is that sometimes a listening ear, a human touch, a warm voice is all that’s needed to let them know that they are not alone, and that there are people who care.
I may still be a little awkward and anxious about what to say before each event, but I’ve learned in my time here that this matters less than the bigger picture of being able to share warmth and concern with those who need it most. I’ve also learned to always be thankful for what we have: the roof over our heads, and the luxury of not having to worry about our next meal or next glass of water.
What brings you the most satisfaction as you volunteer?
Just to know that I have done my little bit to make someone else’s day better. I believe that a little kindness always goes a long way.
Li Lin with fellow LRD HK volunteers at a Kindness Walk in Sham Sui Po
(Photo courtesy of Li Lin Khoo)
What's next for LRDVolunteers HK and how can Singaporeans in HK can get involved?
This past year, we’ve mainly focused on the homeless cause in Hong Kong. I think this has been exceptionally meaningful because it is a side of Hong Kong that most of us from Singapore, and those working the city would never be exposed to, and is also an area of need that is not very well supported.
Going forward, aside from continuing what we’ve been doing, we are also looking to learn more about other causes in Hong Kong we can contribute to. We are open to suggestions!
Singaporeans in HK can join us by looking us up on our Facebook page. We are also looking for Singaporeans who are passionate about, and are champions of causes close to their hearts, and would like to tap into the volunteer pool that we have to organise events for the community.
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SG Cares is a movement to support Singaporeans’ goodwill. It is about sharing inspiring stories, forging partnerships and growing opportunities for volunteerism. You may be far away from home, but Singaporeans overseas actively contribute to good causes, whether in your current community, or those back in Singapore.
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