Volunteers preparing food packages at Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru after a fire destroyed its intensive care unit in October last year. Volunteerism is sincere, positive and proactive, and not politically motivated. FILE PIC

THE time has come for us to recognise the role played by volunteer bodies and movements, instead of merely encouraging the establishment of such entities.

We must take a leap forward to find a radical path that will convince Johor folk that volunteerism and a burning desire to give back and contribute to society will help in the future of Johor and Malaysia.

Johor and Malaysia must be developed in their own way and based on their respective roles, which is a contribution we should make in the spirit of volunteerism without feeling compelled to do so.

I take this stand and stress it because of several reasons.

Among them is because I believe that the best way to develop Johor and to sustain its people’s wellbeing is to make it into a state where people give back to society. It must be state-driven and developed by the people, or a society-driven state.

I have five reasons why I advocate this.

First, it is because of the nature of volunteerism. Volunteerism involves an individual or group of individuals who are ready to contribute towards a positive change in society. It involves people who are ready to contribute their time and energy for this purpose, and they do so unconditionally. It is a mass movement with the main objective of giving. Its motivation is to bring good things for the public and not to seek prestige, awards or praise. It would be a waste if we do not support people with the drive and spirit to give back to society. Volunteers will make Johor better and more competitive. For many volunteers, giving back to Johor is a manifestation of their love and sense of responsibility towards our country. Volunteers feel embarrassed if they do not fill their lives with activities that contribute to society. These good traits of volunteers will ensure a bright future for Johor.

Second, volunteer movements function as a conduit for change that empowers the community because activities they carry out are trusted by the community. Volunteers are capable of making change without the need to move within any particular structure, or through any position of power. They do not wait for instructions from the government and they do not need position, status and influence to do good. One only needs ambition, hope and willpower.

With sincerity and by allocating their time and making an effort, volunteers move to bring about good. What’s more special is that volunteers have the freedom to move and function without being tied down by bureaucracy. As such, there can be more room for innovative, transformative, creative and unconventional ideas.

Volunteers can highlight the people’s problems and help the government solve issues which cannot be solved through regular methods.

Third, the public’s confidence towards volunteerism. It is not seen as something politically motivated because it is independent, sincere, positive and proactive. More often than not, volunteer movements are a neutral catalyst for change. Volunteers are those who are “pro-rakyat”, pro-do-gooders and pro-charitable contributors.

Whenever there are calls to donate and give contributions, the public will not hesitate to lend a helping hand if the initiative is led by a distinguished non-governmental organisation or volunteer movement as most Malaysians dislike anything that is political. Volunteers only want to contribute and help; they do not hope for rewards.

Fourth, volunteerism has become a way of life in modern Malaysia. A modern society is made up of a civil society that understands their rights and responsibilities. They know their social status is related to their contributions and not based on what they own. It is “cool” to give and dignified to share what we have. In many developed countries in Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries, volunteerism is nothing new. It is part and parcel of their lives, and it is something that they advocate and are proud of.

In Norway, volunteerism is called dugnad, which is a tradition for people to gather for social-community activities. In South Africa, it is ubuntu, which is to be helpful to others even if they are foreigners who have recently arrived in a particular area. In Japan, students will feel embarrassed if their parents are not active in community services. In Germany, one reason they passed a law to prohibit working on weekends is to encourage volunteerism among the people. In South Korea, a special law was passed in 2006 to encourage voluntary activities. A report by the United Nations in 2000 said volunteerism was no longer a form of charity which one chooses to do, but it is something people needed.

Fifth, volunteerism has no expiry date. Doing good has no time limit. It is something we do every time the opportunity arises. This is similar to Johor’s future. It must be driven by doing good things for an indefinite period of time. It must be part of our character.

The culture of giving back and volunteerism is important because it is part of the identity of a Muslim. Islam dictates that every Muslim must do good by their fellow Muslims, and not merely focus on their personal ibadah (worship of Islam).

The spirit of volunteerism must come from a strong desire to alleviate other people’s burden. One must not distinguish religion, race or background when helping others. Many volunteers disregard their own safety and face danger to save others. When people flee a disaster area, volunteers will help. Volunteers can help solve some of the problems in Malaysia today.

Johor and Malaysia are in need of volunteers and youths with the willpower and ability to bring a big change in society.

Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin is Johor Menteri Besar

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