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Why Volunteering is Good for the Mind, Body, and Soul

Originally published on Wouter Van Wersch’s LinkedIn. Wouter is the President and CEO of GE Asia Pacific. 

Cleaning elephants, building a small fishing reserve, and organizing public health screenings are some of the more than 100 diverse community projects supported by GE APAC volunteers last year.

The more than 6,000 volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to make a difference, clocked-up over 28,000 support hours last year. Their contribution of time, sweat, and effort, continued a proud GE tradition – GE employees have served their respective cities, and regions, in disaster relief, community, food, and education programs, for more than 100 years.

Keep it local

On top of the commitment shown by the teams, I was impressed by the localization of APAC activities undertaken. Whether it was a blood donation drive, supporting schools, cancer screenings, or programs to protect the environment and wildlife, our volunteer activities addressed pressing local issues and needs.

I believe “keeping it local” is a key factor in ensuring our corporate volunteering and philanthropic efforts deliver meaningful outcomes that touch the hearts and minds of local communities.

In Malaysia for example, 44 GE volunteers, and their families, visited a popular spot for locals and tourists alike – the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary near KL. The volunteers ran clean-up and fundraising programs at the sanctuary, and enjoyed the chance to learn about care initiatives for injured and stray elephants.

Some teams also went the extra mile to help underserved communities in remote rural areas.

In March, 21 GE Thailand volunteers travelled more than 850 kilometers north to clean and repair schools in Doi Mae Salong district (near the Golden Triangle) which is home to Thailand’s hill tribe communities.

Sustainable programs delivering deep, long-term benefits, is another objective we aspire to meet in APAC. This is the case in Laos where we fund a host of training initiatives – including welding classes run by GE experts – to attract young women and men to pursue engineering jobs in the country’s fast-growing hydropower sector. This campaign is increasing our relevance and engagement in the country, and drawing strong support from industry partners and the U.S. Embassy.

Personal growth

Besides improving communities, I believe volunteering is great for the mind, body, and soul. As selfishness is becoming more prevalent in society, volunteering is a good antidote to that.

One of my most memorable volunteering experiences was a home-cleaning program in Singapore at a local HDB (government housing) block. It was good to spend time with the residents, bring them food, have a chat, and involve my children who said it was a good learning experience.

I’ve also helped in a waterway clean-up initiative, and I was amazed at what people throw into Singapore’s canals and waterways – shoes, TVs, bikes, and lots of plastic items.

As a keen sportsperson, I also enjoy the camaraderie, and “we’re in this together” spirit that goes with volunteering – shared experiences often bring people closer together faster. Through volunteering I’ve also met colleagues that I might not normally have had the chance to meet.

And as expressed by one of the Thailand volunteers, getting out of the office and supporting our programs is a terrific way to stay connected, and engaged, with local communities and people at the grassroots level.

Our volunteering and philanthropic activities in APAC are as rich and diverse as the region itself, and I offer sincere thanks to GE Volunteer leaders, their support teams, volunteers, and NGO partners for ensuring that GE is recognized, and respected for the contribution we make in the 15 countries in which we are present.

And the next time there is a call for volunteers in your company, or organization, I seriously encourage you to sign up because it’s a chance to make a positive change, learn, and very probably, make some new friends.

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