My grandfather believed in Confucianism, and he named my generation Puo Ai. ‘Puo’ (Pok) means universal, and ‘Ai’ means love. Male names would have the Chinese character “Puo” in them, and female names the character “Ai”.
I was named Pok Zin; ‘Zin’ means benevolence. When I was young, I didn’t really understand the significance of my name, but I think it seeped into my value system as I grew up. I was also fortunate enough to have classmates who reached out and befriended me when I was studying overseas.
We’re still close today, and having being blessed with such kindness, it seems fitting to pass it forward to someone else too. Perhaps that’s why volunteering came naturally to me. I’ve not really given it any thought as to why I do this. It just feels good to give back.
I’ve been running my family business since 1976, and was invited to join the Rotary Club in 1980. It’s a place where professionals get together to socialise and – more importantly – do community work. I joined because it believes in ‘service above self’, and that tied into the Confucian teachings of kindness and generosity.
I actually had my first daughter the same year I joined the Rotary Club, and subsequently all four of my kids were raised in an environment where there were charity events every few months. My second daughter now volunteers full-time for Mercy Relief.
I first got involved with ISCOS and the Fairy Godparent Programme two years ago. They gave a talk to Rotary Club members and told us about kids who needed positive guardians because their parents had problems with the law.
Back then, I was paired up with a 10-year-old boy. The problem was at my age, I forgot how to relate to young kids. There was a bit of resistance on his part and we couldn’t really get a conversation going.
There was also a communication gap because our backgrounds were so different. When we went out, I’d try to do things he’s interested in, but there was no feedback so I didn’t know if I was doing something right.
So now, ISCOS has plans for me to mentor a young adult. I was told that he’s a young man who had problems with the law previously. Today, after getting out of trouble and with his life back to normal, he wants to give his time towards helping other people. He sounds like a nice person, and I hope he’d be more open to me as a mentor.
It’s very hard to say what is the right thing to do, but my approach to mentoring would be similar to the way I raised my four daughters. It’s very much monkey see, monkey do. Kids learn a lot from watching. You just set a proper example and hope they pick it up.
No, I won’t look at my first mentoring experience as a failure. Call me optimistic, but you just don’t know what kind of impact you might have on a kid when they grow up. It could take 10 to 20 years to surface.
You can’t expect a 10-year-old to understand the world – even at 68, I still don’t understand the world either. And I know that my relationship with a mentee might not last more than two years, but hopefully when he grows up, whatever impression I’ve had on him will help him in the future.
Yes, I would recommend volunteering with ISCOS, but I understand that life is more complicated now than when I was young. The choices of activities are tremendous now, and people have to choose how they want to best spend their time.” – Pok Zin, 68
Teo Pok Zin is a volunteer of ISCOS.
Humans of ISCOS is a collaboration between The Everyday People and ISCOS, a co-operative that helps ex-offenders in Singapore. Read more here.
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