The full-time volunteer
It is all in the attitude and the strong desire to give back to society – that is what Mos Zay lives by.
BY: Kwok Jia Xin
“And you know why?” said the father of two. “I greeted the lady full of enthusiasm! Whenever I give a phone call, I will say ‘A very good morning. How are you?’ It’s very important.”
His anecdote about making a stranger’s day sums up Zay’s character. “My philosophy is to make [others] happy,” he proudly declared. And true to his word, Zay spends a lot of time brightening up others’ lives through one of his favourite pastimes – volunteering. To him, volunteering is not just an activity undertaken during spare time – it’s a way of life. Among a long list of other volunteer roles, he is a volunteer with South West CDC, a grassroots leader at West Coast GRC, a senior health ambassador with the Health Promotion Board and an NTUC U Live ambassador.
The morale booster
While volunteering, Zay specialises in entertaining people around him, often singing and asking the audience to join in. “Music is a universal language,” he continued. “That’s how I convey my message, and make them have some fun.” The self-proclaimed “full-time volunteer” specialises in singing oldies, especially those by Tom Jones.
Zay credits his musical ability to his varied past. During his army days, the former infantryman sang to cheer up his friends, and was known as the “morale booster”. The name stuck, and Zay still calls himself that today. Later on, he worked for over 20 years in the events management and advertising industries – gaining more entertaining experience and continues to work but on a freelance basis.
But being a musician and entertainer is not all that he does. During past volunteering stints, Zay has taken on a host of other roles, from bus dispatcher to crowd control. “It depends on the place. Whatever activities [there are], I play by ear,” he explained. Even when contacted for an interview, Zay was at an eldercare centre, assisting with gym exercises. “When I visit, I like to change things. For the better,” he added with a chuckle.
Indeed, creating a more vibrant atmosphere is where Zay shines. “One time at Institute of Mental Health (IMH), there was this guy [a patient] who refused to sing. He said, ‘I don’t want to sing, I want to listen to people singing.’ So I told him, ‘Why don’t you sit down and listen to us?’ And after a while, you know what happened? He sang five songs! And he was so engrossed he wanted to sing more.” Zay later found out that that the patient was in his last weeks of stay at IMH, and that being able to convince him to sing meant that he was recovering. “That was very memorable,” Zay said. “It’s a great achievement if I can make people do something that they don’t want to do.”
A natural volunteer
When asked about his motivation to volunteer, he shared: “Volunteering came to me from God. Nobody motivates me.” It was 10 years ago when he realised that he wanted to contribute to society, and decided on the path to volunteering. Since then, Zay has never looked back and today, he volunteers approximately 10 hours a week. “It’s just in me,” he said finally. “I want to do something good for the people, so volunteer work comes to me very naturally.”
For him, volunteer work is not only about helping beneficiaries. “I believe in setting an example. Don’t tell people to [volunteer]. Do [things] first and [others will] follow you,” he said. “The most important thing is to set an example for future generations, especially the young generation.” Although students in Singapore are required by schools to do community work, Zay hopes that youths can continue volunteering without incentives in the long run.
But what about the older generation? According to the Individual Giving Survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, the senior volunteerism rate plateaued at 10 percent in 2010, in contrast to an increase in volunteerism for other demographics. Opined Zay on the low number: “Maybe [seniors] are not aware of volunteering opportunities.” He usually sees many more youths than senior volunteers.
Staying healthy & happy
Being a senior volunteer himself, Zay feels that seniors should step up to volunteer, due to the benefits it brings. “In the long run you have a happier life,” he explained. “You can learn from [beneficiaries and other volunteers], share your knowledge, and your mind will become more alert.” Pertinent advice, given the prevalence of dementia today.
According to Zay, it is crucial for seniors to stay active. “Best to get involved in certain things,” he urged. “It can be exercise, volunteer work; [anything]. TV is not so meaningful. Always get involved. The mind is working. If the mind is just ‘sit down and watch TV’ – as the Chinese say you become a gong gong (Mandarin dialect for senile). … If you can volunteer, so much the better.”
Towards the end of the phone interview, Zay spoke of the lyrics of a song by Barbra Streisand, which he feels is symbolic of his desire to connect with others. “The title is ‘People’. You can find it on Google,” he added, and he then broke into singing the first verse.
And in keeping with making people happy, before hanging up, he said: “You have a wonderful day, okay?”
** As of presstime, there were no available pictures of Zay volunteering.
** This article has been reprinted with permission from SALT Online, the e-magazine by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre.