Sorry, stranger, can't help you

IF SINGAPOREANS have looked upon themselves as kind and helpful, a new study may deflate their self-esteem:

Last year, only one in four residents here helped a stranger in need.

How bad is that? Of 135 countries surveyed for the latest World Giving Index, Singapore was ranked second-last. Only in Cambodia do they help strangers less.

Helping strangers was one of three ways in which British organisation Charities Aid Foundation measured charitable giving in a survey conducted from January to December last year. The other two were volunteering time and donating money.

Singaporeans were far more liberal on the last two counts and Singapore's overall ranking jumped from 114th place in the last report to 64th this time round.

But why this indifference towards strangers?

Ms Rachel Lee, senior assistant director of Fei Yue Family Service Centres, said: "Singapore is a very fast-paced society, so people are always in a rush. They may also be more cautious and may feel that it's not safe to help someone without getting yourself into trouble.

"You will notice that it's very hard to get people here to stop to do surveys, for example. We may not have embraced the habit or culture of helping a stranger."

But some feel that Singaporeans are not necessarily unhelpful.

Mr Gerard Ee, charity-scene veteran and chairman of the Council for the Third Age, said: "By and large, Singaporeans may be a little bit shy, but I believe they would not avoid helping a stranger."

He added: "I don't think the index is indicative of the unwillingness to help strangers, because some people may not have encountered such a situation. It's also a matter of how people in different cultures answer the question, and it can be subjective."

More than 155,000 people aged 15 and above worldwide were polled for the survey. Gallupsurveyed between 500 and 1,000 respondents for smaller countries.

The percentage of Singaporeans helping strangers - 24 per cent - was the same as the year before.

But this time, more than half of Singaporeans donated money in the month before they were surveyed, compared to 29 per cent surveyed previously.

In the last month, ramen chain Keisuke Singapore raised over $5,500 for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, as part of the inaugural GivingTuesdaySG, a movement which promotes giving.

More Singaporeans are also giving their time to help the needy - 17 per cent volunteered, up from 8 per cent previously.

Mr Laurence Lien, chief executive of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, attributed this to greater awareness of issues and wider use of social media by charities.

He said: "More people are aware of the needs around them and helping...With the advent of social media and digital devices, people are now getting a constant stream of information. This means that well-designed campaigns can gain traction quickly and widely."

Mr Terrence Chee, chief executive of CAF South-east Asia, said: "I believe overall we are slowly evolving into a better and more cohesive society. We are not there yet, but we are moving in the right direction."