Ms Basrai Mahjaben Sabbir

Volunteering since 2011

I left Bombay for Singapore at the age of 17 after getting married. When I arrived here, I did not have any friends, so I decided to start volunteering at the Residents’ Committees and People’s Association in 1980 to meet new people. Over the years, I have also volunteered at SINDA and Tsao Foundation, helping with volunteer management as well as the running of training courses.

Helping others has always been an important part of my life, even back in India. When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to become a nun or a social worker to provide aid to the less fortunate. Now, even though I have been retired for over 5 years, I still spend a fair share of my time volunteering and encourage those around me, such as my family members, to do the same.

I first got to know about RSVP Singapore when I met volunteer Marie Mattar at a volunteering conference that was held in Sentosa. After hearing about what RSVP did and the activities they offered, I went to their office to find out more and immediately signed up as a volunteer. This was back in 2011!

I started off with being a part of ProGuide, which sent trainers overseas to teach neighbouring countries basic English. Later on, I moved to be a trainer under the Volunteer Learning programme when it began, serving as a facilitator for courses such as “Be an Effective Volunteer” and “Building Meaningful Befriending Relationships”. Over the years, I have conducted many of such courses, not just for RSVP volunteers but also for external partners such as the Sunshine Buddy programme at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. After volunteering for a long time, I realised that my niche lies in conducting lessons.

When I teach, I also get the opportunity to learn. Even though the content of each course might be the same, I always think of different examples depending on the background of the participants to make it more relatable to them. Through this process, I get to study deeper and refresh my knowledge, something which greatly fulfils me as I dearly enjoy learning.

I consider myself a lifelong learner, always striving to upgrade my reservoir of knowledge and skills. During the Circuit Breaker period, since I was unable to continue most of my volunteering, I seized the chance to fill my free time with increasing my IT proficiency, practising Arabic and arts and crafts, as well as attending webinars on self-motivation. To me, learning will always be a privilege and a joy.

Another aspect of volunteering which I enjoy is that of meeting new people. I have learnt so much from the friends that I have made at RSVP, and they are a source of encouragement and motivation for me to continue my volunteer work. When it was my last day under ProGuide, one of the trainers waited at the office for hours to personally give me a ‘Thank You’ card, an act that deeply moved and humbled me.

After my many years of volunteering, I have become calmer and take things slow. When I teach others about the values of humility and kindness, I learn to exemplify and embody these virtues too, which then helps me to lead a better life.

An analogy that I always use in class is that of the perfume shop, where you are selling perfume. Even when you sell it to others, you still get the whiff of perfume, so you are always getting that beautiful smell. To me, that’s what volunteering is all about. You are doing it for others, but you will always get the benefits.