Giving their all out of goodwill

Eric Pok (above), believes that volunteers should treat the athletes with respect.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Given the slew of major sporting events on Singapore's shores in recent years, it is little wonder the country has developed a strong core of volunteers.

At the SEA Games in June, 17,000 volunteers were out in full force to ensure the Games ran smoothly.

On Dec 3-9, some 4,300 will have the same mission as Singapore hosts the ASEAN Para Games (APG) for the first time.

For most, it is business as usual but with a slight twist.

For instance, not all athletes will be able to step onto the podium used for medal ceremonies. So Eric Pok and his team of volunteers are discussing ways to modify the podium where he has been assigned - the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

He explained that there are plans to do so by removing the block and leaving only the facade with the numbers so the wheelchair athletes can position themselves behind it without needing to stand up.

The 35-year-old, who says he "finds passion and pride in doing victory ceremonies", is reprising his role from the SEA Games, where he was assigned to help out at the medal presentations.

The head of operations support at the People's Association will be leading a team which will be helping to carry out the 215 victory ceremonies for swimming events.

Another challenge is how the athletes will move from the staging area to the holding area as there is a ramp that might prove a hindrance.

"Should our athlete escorts push them up or will the swimmers push themselves up? We want the athletes to look good," said Pok.

But aside from just changes to the physical arrangements, Pok, who was inspired to serve as a volunteer after a stint at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, acknowledges the need for volunteers to be more empathetic.

"We want our volunteers to treat the athletes with respect. We don't want them to make fun of the athletes," he said.

It is this mindset that Robin Ooi, 39, also wishes to impart to his three sons, aged eight to 13.

"My wife and I thought that volunteering at the APG would be good because the kids will learn and understand some of the hardships the athletes go through," he said.

"It teaches them and will inspire them that even with obstacles and hindrances, the athletes are still able to achieve what able-bodied people can do."

The Ooi family will be participating as Games Services Officers at the APG. They also volunteered in a similar role at the SEA Games.

According to organisers, the APG volunteers attended multiple training sessions. This included attending a Disability Awareness session which equipped them with the know-how to interact with people with disabilities. More than 70 training sessions have been organised across 21 areas of Games operations since last month.

"We were trained to understand the athletes... If we're with someone who can't see well, the way we guide them - we need to watch our walking speed and help them anticipate obstacles," Ooi, a property agent, said.

However, G. Ramanathan revealed that volunteers were also trained in cultural etiquette on top of being trained to be sensitive to the needs of para athletes.

The 76-year-old accounts manager pointed out: "Different countries have different taboos. (For example) A taboo in Vietnam is touching or passing objects over the top of anyone's head."

As one of the oldest volunteers at the APG, he is proud to be involved: "This is service for the country, no expectations for anything in return." 

This article was first published on Nov 24, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.