Some time back, the SIF decided that they wanted to spread the word about volunteerism and get the idea of Singapore Volunteers Overseas (SVO) back in vogue. I knew about the SVO programme many years ago but only ‘qualified’ for it recently after I got my much needed working experience to prove that I can do something more than just write and talk aimlessly about pseudo-philosophical topics. I remember being quite inspired by the stories of people spending time away from home to do worthwhile projects – and kept that at the back of my mind over the years. That’s the short version of how I ended up here. The other version is here.
In an effort to further promote the idea of International Volunteerism, SIF decided to send a small team to document the work that we do here. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I figured it would be a nice distraction from the usual work that we do. Distraction it was and it did show me a few bits about myself and my relationship with the camera that I didn’t quite realise before.
We watch travelogues and travel shows and feel the ease with which the hosts effortlessly describe the place that they’re in and banter with people on and off screen with ease. We think, ‘That seems so easy, I bet I could do that.’ It isn’t. I had a camera thrust in front of my face for an afternoon over the weekend as the SIF media team documented me in my normal habitat. Apart from feeling like one of those poor beasts who get prodded and poked by naturalists trying to get a good shot, speaking in front of a camera is about as far from ‘natural’ as one can get.
I stuttered, hemmed and hawed and generally behaved like a block of wood with a speech impediment in front of the camera. The understatement of the year was when the cameraman mentioned that I seemed a little stiff on camera. Yes, and the sky is blue and the grass is green too. After the realisation that I’ll never make it into the ranks of National Geographic or Lonely Planet hosts, I tried to enjoy the experience of being gawked at by about half the village that miraculously appeared as soon as we started shooting. They were genuinely amused by the bald-headed Singaporean who gesticulates too much.
What I liked about the past two days of shooting was the chance to go around to places that I frequent during the course of my work and seeing things through a completely different lens. Literally. Going round with a camera crew alerts one to little locations and details that one often overlooks in the course of one’s work. Meeting the students in a different setting and prepping them for the interviews was also an interesting experience – was also comforting to see that I’m not the only one who gets a little self-conscious in front of a camera.
At the end of it, I figured it was all for a good cause and tried not to make a mess of things. I felt that the only redeeming thing that I said all weekend was a response to a question about how one can prepare for an experience like mine – going overseas for a fairly long period of time as a volunteer. My response was that you don’t quite prepare yourself more than make a conscious decision to do it. Once the decision is made, you don’t quite have to prepare as things would tend to fall into place because it’s something that we want to do anyway. That’s what I felt anyway and gives credence to the idea that the intention is all – we will do well in anything that we want to do. Or so I hope.