The volunteer youth corps, which will start with a few hundred members in early 2014, will aim to offer a volunteering experience that is meaningful and fulfilling so that young Singaporeans will continue serving after their school years.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the programme at the National Day Rally on August 18.
Jonathan Low, a graduate student, is part of a group of computing students from the National University of Singapore who offer IT solutions to non-profit organisations.
Their project not only helps others, but also allows them to apply the skills they learnt in the classroom to real life.
Community projects like this are what the volunteer youth corps wants to generate — both overseas and in Singapore.
Mr Low said: “Going overseas will allow students to have good exposure. But I think that this is where home is, so we should be volunteering here locally to make this place better.”
But going on the streets with a can and asking for donations is not everyone’s cup of tea, said Mr Low. Many tend to associate that, and that alone, with volunteering, he added.
He said: “I guess the idea is that with the youth corps we can see more meaningful activities where the students actively engage the beneficiaries, and they can actually see their efforts (paying off).”
The programme will build on and eventually incorporate the existing Youth Expedition Project (YEP), which sends about 4,000 young Singaporeans on overseas community service expeditions a year.
The idea is to have both a local and overseas component in the volunteering experience, said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.
Mr Wong said: “We hope we can harness the energies of our young people and expand the opportunities for them to serve, and at the same time make that service a vehicle to serve community needs as well as our national goals.”
The programme targets students in polytechnics, ITEs and universities, but also includes young working adults up to age 35.
Volunteers will be equipped and well-trained before they start on their local and overseas projects, said the National Youth Council (NYC), which will be administering the programme.
When projects are completed, senior volunteers may also get a “pay-it-forward” grant that can be used to help more junior members fund their projects.
For students who wish to take a gap semester and volunteer full time, the youth corps will also offer financial support in the form of a stipend.
Volunteerism in Singapore has increased overall, but the NYC said there is a significant drop at the point where young Singaporeans leave school and start working. More are also doing ad-hoc volunteering, rather than committing to longer-term service.
Mr Wong said: “It’s not because there’s a shortage of opportunities. There are many opportunities to volunteer, but we think that existing opportunities are somewhat ad-hoc.
“We get feedback from young people that sometimes they want to do something for the community but they’re not quite sure how to go about doing it.”
Youth and community organisations will be roped in to train, mentor and work on projects with the volunteers.
Details are being worked out, but the target is to support 6,000 volunteers every year.
Mr Wong and the NYC will be holding dialogues in the coming months with youths and community partners to develop the programme.