Written by Choo Li-Hsian 

In a meaningful 2017 TEDxKids@Gbagada talk, 13-year-old Kofoworola Jolaoso shared her experience of volunteering, and talked about why it is important for kids to volunteer. Kofo who has a passion for performing, speaking and leadership wants to be a television personality and a youth development activist. She was then president of the volunteer club in her school as well as the chairperson of her student council. According to her LinkedIn profile, she is now an active content creator and third year communications student at the University of Southern California.

According to Kofo, “The world is becoming a place where anybody can make a change.” When she first started in volunteer club, she wondered why they needed to publicise their events as she felt community service should be less for show and more for supporting those in need. Later, she realise the value of sharing as a lot of people do want to help others, their community and the environment but they do not know how to start. Kofo highlights that the problem with the world is not the lack of interest in helping but the lack of knowledge in helping.

The benefits of volunteering for children are manifold:

  • Volunteering encourages cooperation as most experiences require children to work as a team with people who are not their usual peers. Learning to work together and compromise to reach a common goal is an important life skill.
  • Volunteering builds empathy and compassion as they will meet and need to work alongside people from different ages and backgrounds to assist those in need. Listening to other people’s life stories, children will build connections and a deeper sense of empathy.
  • Volunteering ignites children's interests in areas they have not been exposed to before. This can lead to children finding their life’s passion and purpose as well as a greater sense of self-identity. They will be exposed to new occupations and skills outside of their regular home-school routines, and help them to find new hobbies. Children will also find new friends who share the same interests and care about the same things they do.
  • Volunteering builds self-esteem, particularly for older children who may be self-conscious and need encouragement to discover and embrace their specific talents and skills. They can gain confidence and a sense of independence as they realise they are able to make a difference in the world around them.
  • Volunteering develops leadership skills like planning to achieve a goal (e.g. meals and portions for a soup kitchen), negotiation, compromise, and how to see a project from start to finish.

Like many parents, I would like my children to be grateful for their many blessings they have, and to contribute where they can to good causes. I would like to expose them to the spirit of volunteerism when they are small, so that they can be inspired to become community and national changemakers when they are older.

When researching for this topic, we found that there was a lot of interest amongst parents who are keen for their children to be a part of meaningful volunteer initiatives. We have put together some ideas of how your family with children of different ages can get involved in doing good. Hopefully, these community service ideas will make giving back second nature for your children.


Charity begins at home: ideas for toddlers and younger children

No child is too young to volunteer. For younger children, you can focus on things they can do at and from home and school, with an emphasis on their immediate circle. When you volunteer, your children can also tag along and learn by example that volunteerism is a meaningful way of life.

Credit Image: iStock 

You can pick flowers in your garden with your child, bundle them up, and together give the bouquet to a friend, a family member, or a neighbour who may need some cheering up. Children can also help grandparents with chores. Alternatively, you can encourage your child to notice when a child is playing alone and have him or her ask that child to join in. Ask your child to help sort recyclables into various bins, helping them learn about how these impact the environment in the process. Get children to make thank you cards and give them out to workers in your condominium or teachers at school.

Credit Image: MAPPAC Angel Child and Youth Project 

If your child loves making art and wants to work towards a larger cause, you can ask them to do paintings or design cards in a wonderful initiative by the Malaysian Association of Paediatric Palliative Care (MAPPAC) that serves to encourage children with life limiting diseases, their family and healthcare staff. The MAPPAC will handle the delivery of artworks to the respective individual according to donor's requests. They will also manage the sales of cards and paintings through their website. Upon submission of paintings or cards, your child will be automatically enrolled as a member of their Angel Club. Your child will be eligible to join their Family Day, Children’s Day, painting classes and other events. All the donations will go towards setting up Malaysia’s first children’s hospice care centre.

Credit Image: The Star 

Before a major haircut, ask your child if she would like to donate to Locks of Love Malaysia, an organisation that makes free wigs for people who have lost their hair due to an illness. You can read more about this organisation here.

Encourage your child to sort out toys they have outgrown to donate to various toy libraries around the city like those run by Play Unlimited. Play Unlimited also welcomes child volunteers at their Re:Play Toy Recycling / Upcycling Hubs and Toy Libraries. They have many preloved toys, books and games that need to be inspected, cleaned, sorted and repacked to be regifted, recycled or resold to raise funds for the setting up of community toy libraries for at risk children. You can find out more on their website as well as the Facebook pages of Play Unlimited and Toy Libraries Malaysia. Interested parents can fill-up the Volunteer Form and they will connect with you on the next steps.

Credit Image: Brian Edmund, The Inclusive Outdoor Classroom 

If your child likes sports and outdoor activities, they can do these in a meaningful way by volunteering at The Inclusive Outdoor Classroom by being a friend to children who are differently-abled or just participate in community projects and charity events coordinated by schools like JR Skates that share their skills and love of skateboarding with the underprivileged.

Credit Image: World of Buzz

Community gardens like Kebun-Kebun Bangsar, Kebun Komuniti Hartamas and TTDI Edible Community Garden also welcome volunteers but do check first with the administrators how your family can contribute their time and energy to these initiatives.


Credit Image: Trash Hero Ipoh and tzuchi.my

There are also community clean-up campaigns (like those by Trash Hero Malaysia and The Beach School in Port Dickson) recycling and upcycling initiatives (by organisations like Hara Makers and Tzuchi Foundation that has community recycling days every third Sunday of the month that families can join via the recycling centres closest to their homes) and conservation projects (like Alliance of River Three (ART)) that families with children can get involved in as volunteers or sponsors.


Letting children take the lead: interest-driven ideas for primary and middle years learners

Children have incredible ideas. The wonderful thing about children of today is that many no longer say “when I grow up, I will…” but are often empowered enough to rally groups of like-minded friends together to immediately start a change initiative they are interested in. Parents and teachers simply need to support them where needed.

My son recently learned about Non-Governmental and Non-Profit Organisations in school. At the end of their unit of inquiry, their teacher encouraged them to raise money for their selected organisations (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Selangor, the Sea Monkey Project and the Dignity for Children Foundation) through a charity sale in school where they sold homemade food, old toys, second-hand books and handmade items.

For birthdays, you can help your child select a cause she cares about, make a physical collection box or set up an online donation site, and ask their classmates, friends, family members and neighbours for donations. At community markets, children can also set up a stand selling food or crafts to raise money for their charity of choice. They can make a sign to educate customers about the cause they are raising money for.

Credit Image: Bubble Dive Resort Turtle Conservation Project

Expose your child to different initiatives they can volunteer for, and ask them to share their experiences with others. A friend’s child recently volunteered for a turtle conservation project at Bubbles Dive Resort in Perhentian Island, and wrote about his experience there.


Volunteer opportunities for young adults

Credit Image: The Sun Daily 

College and university students can get involved in programmes like the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Programme. Another great initiative is Projek BacaBaca, a volunteer-based reading programme conceptualised in 2021 by Taylor’s University School of Education to address the learning poverty gap among B40 communities. Trained volunteers dubbed reading coaches work with students aged between six and nine years to help them read at their grade level and excel at their academic studies. The coaches do this by conducting one-on-one reading sessions with these students over the phone twice a week in both English and Bahasa Malaysia. You can watch a video on this meaningful project here.

Credit Image: The Vibes

Older teens and young adults can also volunteer at soup kitchens and food distribution centres, particularly those set up during periods of emergency like floods. Some of the more credible established organisations you can look up in this area are Kechara Soup Kitchen, Pertiwi Soup Kitchen, the Pit Stop Community Cafe and What a Waste.

You can also ask your college or university going child to check out the previous winners of The Star’s Golden Hearts Awards that is supported by Yayasan Gamuda for more ideas on where they can lend their support.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Help your children be the change you and they want to see in the world.