WVS survey finds youths empathetic but not acting to help the underprivileged

Lack of time and money the main barriers to youths in Singapore not lending a giving hand 

Youths in Singapore generally find it easy to put themselves in the shoes of others and are thankful for what they have, yet do not translate this belief into action, according to a recent survey by World Vision Singapore. Over 310 respondents aged 15 to 35 responded to this survey that aims to evaluate empathy and gratitude in Singapore’s youths.

While 9 in 10 respondents (92.5%) believed in the importance of helping the less fortunate, more than half (53.4%) did not translate this belief into action, mainly due to a lack of time and money. Ms Andrea Chan, Manager of the Centre for Effective Living (CEL), felt this could be due to the lifestyle and lack of motivation for youths to give help beyond what they’re told to engage in.

“The teenage years are filled with so much distraction and fun and resources are very limited. Some of the schools plan Flag Day as part of helping the less fortunate, but youths are unable to engage emotionally. Besides, community service has always been spoon-fed to them with schools and communities planning it; the youths need only to turn up. It is important to help the youths empathize directly and emotionally engage them so that they can be intrinsically motivated to help the less fortunate,” explained Ms Chan.

In addition, the survey revealed that empathy in youths were cultivated and influenced mainly through their relationships with family, friends and peers. This is contrary to the perception that youths rely on digital and social media as their key information source. When asked to rate their sources of learning about empathy, 1 in 3 respondents (33.8%) strongly agreed that family and friends were their key source, while only 1 in 5 (20.3%) strongly agreed that they learned about empathy from mainly social media.

“The finding that family, friends and peers remain the strongest sources of influence over whether youths display empathy towards others is not surprising. Although youths are frequent users of social media, it serves a more immediate and social need among their social networks rather than something more purposive likes social concerns. In this way, demonstrative behavior from close family and friends is more effective,” said Professor Ho Kong Chong, Associate Professor of Sociology, National University of Singapore.

Surprisingly, although people have the strongest power to inculcate empathy in others, the respondents did not seem to be surrounded by these human influencers. Less than 10 per cent of respondents strongly agreed when asked if they are surrounded by people who display empathy. “Unlike leisure and hobby activities where youths will deliberately look for other like-minded individuals who share their interests, social concerns do not work in a similar way. My sense is that involvement in social causes is more of an additive activity laid on to other interests which youths already have in their lives”, Professor Ho explained.

Getting youths more actively involved in helping the less fortunate forms the basis for World Vision Singapore’s annual 30-Hour Famine Camp. Marking its 30th installment this weekend, the Camp’s theme of ‘Hungry to Help’ challenges participants to examine how they can be part of the collective voice and action for children trapped in poverty. This year, parents are also invited to join a different segment of the famine camp to focus on nurturing gratitude and empathy in their children. The Famine Camp is supported by the National Youth Fund, administered by the National Youth Council (NYC). This is part of NYC’s efforts to support youths who want to make a difference in the community.

Through a series of interactive role-play and activities, participants, stripped of their luxury possessions and abstaining from food, will experience first-hand the events leading to the poverty trap. By pushing participants out of their comfort zone, the Camp aims to inspire and empower youths to champion and advocate long-term action for the less fortunate.

“World Vision Singapore has been an active player in the local youth advocacy space with our global citizenship programmes and activities including the World Vision Global Youth Network, World Vision Youth Summit, a school workshop series titled Beyond the Books, and of course, the annual 30-Hour Famine Camp. These existing programmes aim to motivate youths to be more empathetic by providing opportunities to experience the circumstances surrounding less privileged youth. Looking forward, we seek to amplify these programmes and empower more youths to commit their time and passion for a good cause in the long haul,” said Mrs Foo Pek Hong, CEO of World Vision Singapore.

The two-day camp seeks to propel participants into action by equipping them with empathy and gratitude, building the bridge between local and global action through local community activities. Additionally, as part of the 30th Anniversary of the 30 Hour Famine, the aim is to build heroes against poverty, to empower each one to global and local action through making tiny steps for change. With the experience and knowledge to be a passionate voice of change in their circle of friends, family and community, participants will also be able to better reflect on and appreciate the privileged position they are in, through activities that mirror circumstances similar to those faced by their peers in other countries.

Examples include simulation of the threats and uncertainty of fleeing a refugee or disaster situation, such as a ‘minefield’ that participants have to navigate under challenging circumstances. Participants will also experience an immigration scenario in which their inability to converse in the native language deters them from entering safe grounds.

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World Vision