From instructor to volunteer

HE WAS a strict, no-nonsense instructor who barked out orders and commanded his trainees’ respect. As a volunteer, 64-year-old Lai Chong Kian is the complete contrast; he is extremely gentle and patient.

A former physical training instructor with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) for 30 years, he signed up as a full-time volunteer with RSVP Singapore - the Organisation of Senior Volunteers, in 2013.

“When I was with SPF, I was tough with the National Servicemen (NSmen). I trained them to ensure that they were always physically fit. Back then, I would shout at and command them. Now, I’m part of a RSVP mentoring programme where I guide and counsel at-risk primary school children; I definitely can’t and don’t want to be so harsh to them!” he said with a laugh.

Mr Lai fondly recounted how his mentoring efforts paid off in 2014 when one of his mentee’s parents thanked him for helping their son.

“My 10-year-old mentee was rather rebellious. He refused to apologise for his mistakes. However, after counselling him, he eventually said his first ‘sorry’. His parents thanked me profusely because I had helped their son turn over a new leaf,” he added.

While working with the young gives him immense satisfaction, Mr Lai’s passion lies in befriending the elderly and he volunteers with RSVP’s Enriching Lives of Seniors Programme (ELSP), an initiative to befriend vulnerable and socially isolated seniors. 

“Through this programme, I get to organise simple physical exercises, sing-along sessions, outings, crafts and games for the seniors. This year, I met one of the seniors who could not move all her fingers in her left hand… after teaching her a few exercises, her fingers can now move freely! This is so rewarding, especially for a former physical training instructor like myself,” he said.

Paving the way... Mr Lai leading a group of seniors from the RSVP Enriching Lives of Seniors Programme on a Learning Journey to the Zoo last year. (Photo credits: RSVP Singapore)

When asked if he misses his previous job, Mr Lai said: “I really love training others, but I love volunteering more. When I see the happy faces of the seniors and children, I feel very satisfied and happy.”

Besides volunteering, Mr Lai also spends time pursuing his hobbies like gardening, line dancing and singing. However, volunteering remains his top priority.

He said with a grin: “As long as I’m fit, I will contribute.”

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If you are interested in volunteering with RSVP, visit http://www.rsvp.org.sg/.