Lian Sar: My Journey As A Volunteer Mentor
Lian Sar (right) with a youth (left)
Hi, I am Lian Sar! I first came to know about Youth Guidance Outreach Services (YGOS) through my cousin. She called me up to ask me if I would like to volunteer and I said yes, so I was introduced to the volunteering activities at YGOS.
And here I am, volunteering since 2017!
When you first started volunteering with us, what were some things you looked forward to?
Lian Sar: When I learnt that YGOS worked with teenagers, that piqued my interest because I was interested in helping younger people (secondary school age) and even up till university level or young adults. I enjoy hearing their stories, and when given the chance, offering them some of my own perspectives that they may not have had the years of experiences to gain.
What are some thoughts you have on volunteering?
Lian Sar: My philosophy in life is, “You need to learn to fall down, then you need to learn to be helped”. Of course, some people fall down and they never get up, right? Some people fall down, get really hurt and can get back up. This is how I approach my volunteer work with this philosophy, especially when I work with younger people like those who are in secondary school.
It is just like what we learn during the rock climbing session; the mentor is the belayer (a person who controls the safety rope for a climber) and the mentee is the climber. I am holding the line, and if you (the mentee) fall down, or you are really going to fall, I won’t pull.. but if you really want to come down then I will hold on to it to slowly let you down.
When it comes to real life, it’s hard to pre-empt whether they will fall or not; sometimes we get over-enthusiastic and step in before they fall, but that’s also bad… On the other hand, if they fall down and break their bones, that is also an unfortunate incident... There is a nice balance to be striked and I am still learning how to do it.
Lian Sar in discussion with the mentees
What motivates you to mentor youths?
Lian Sar: When I talk to younger people, my motivation is to help them to navigate the unknown as they may be without any prior experience. Do I turn left or right? How do I navigate the situation? So I will ask them questions like, “Do you really want to do this? Are you sure? What do you think might be the outcome?” Sometimes they know, sometimes they don’t. If they don’t, I will ask other questions to help them navigate their specific scenarios.
My advice is to get them to brainstorm about various outcomes, but don’t give them the answers. My experiences in life have taught me that I may be right, but wrong at the same time. What may be right for the person may be wrong for the other person. Or we could also be right, but at the wrong time.
"The effect of this may not be immediate, but they have to learn. That’s what I am trying to do, asking them questions, guiding them to learn and think."
Could you share with us a memorable event in your volunteering journey with us?
Lian Sar: A recent event that warmed my heart was when this mentee whom I had been mentoring for the past 1.5 - 2 years sent me a text saying that he had enjoyed talking to me throughout all our mentoring sessions. I felt really encouraged because sometimes when we talk, I felt like I was talking to the wall!
Even though at times I had felt frustrated, I had to keep reminding myself, it’s not about me, but it’s about the youth.
But there was also a recent event that frustrated me when I had to interact with this mentee over Zoom. As I was not very good in using technology, everybody around us were playing games but I was not involved in the activity. This mentee got bored so the team asked him to play games with them but he couldn’t get the website working, so the mentee got frustrated with me instead.
I tried to manage my frustration, but I wished I was there face-to-face with him, and able to help him. Zoom was very challenging for someone like me who was used to in-person interactions.
Sometimes they do not know what they are doing, neither do they know what to do for fun. They have not grasped the impact of their actions on the environment, therefore they may get into trouble. My job here is to help them understand that “Look, if you behave this way, the repercussions will come back to you. Do you think you will be happy? Do you think (the other party) will be happy”?
The effect of this may not be immediate, but they have to learn. That’s what I am trying to do, asking them questions, guiding them to learn and think.
Lian Sar watching over his mentee transferring food items
How would you advise a new volunteer coming into our school programmes?
Lian Sar: If you are coming in as a volunteer mentor, you have to be (situationally) flexible! If you are not flexible, then I think you might find it tough to be a mentor. For example, I am aware of my handicap - I am past the age of running around and jumping up and down, along with my technological difficulties. But I understand that my value add would be talking to those youths who would like to sit down and chat about their problems, their plans and life situations. Physical play is out of my league!
Some kids guessed my age wrongly, they always guessed around fifties. But I told them, I am a bit older, that's why I can’t jump/be physically active like you. I am already in my sixties now!
In your opinion, what is the best way that we can help the younger generation?
Lian Sar: We must encourage our young people not to be afraid to “fall down” or to fail. With that being said, I am not telling them to “just go and fail” . Instead, we need to be able to provide them with resources to help them recover. It’s not just good to fail, but important that when they fail, somebody is there to help and guide them.
They should be allowed to be in an environment to let them try whatever their heart wants them to try (ethically) and not have to fear that they will fail. If they do fail, they will have gained a learning point.
Wow! Lian Sar has inspired us to not feel limited by our age or abilities in our desire to mentor or guide the youths. Indeed, our wealth of knowledge from past experiences may actually be a blessing to the young! Thank you Lian Sar for your time, effort and sincere care for our youths. We hope that you were also inspired by his sharing, and if you want to explore volunteering with us, you may find out more via the link below!