Making A Difference Her Own Little Way

A child’s smile that says ‘thank you’ is what drives 21-year-old management executive Maria Kozhanova to volunteer her time with orphans.

Issue: Mar 2009

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In these difficult times, it’s all too easy to retreat into our shells and prioritise our own comfort, but in fact, there’s no better time to reach out to others. Each individual has the ability to make a difference, and the options are endless. Volunteering at a soup kitchen, sponsoring a child, donating clothes or raising money for charity are but a few ways in which one could lend a helping hand.

For CapitaLand management executive Maria Kozhanova, volunteering is second nature. The 21-year-old Russian began charity work when she was a primary school student in Singapore, collecting donations on behalf of the National Kidney Foundation. Upon her return to Moscow, she continued her charity work and began volunteering in orphanages.

Initially, Maria collected items such as clothes, books and toys for the children. Gradually, she became more involved, spending time with the children, organising events, teaching and playing with them during her visits every couple of weeks. Her love for children motivates her, and in her opinion there is nothing better than seeing them smile when they know they are loved and have someone to turn to. “What can be better than holding a child’s hand, seeing a child smile and laugh, having a child say ‘thank you’ for being with them, giving you a hug and asking you to stay?” she asks.

Spreading Love to the Orphans

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Child-loving Maria posing with her friends’ children
For most people, the loneliness that orphans suffer is not easily understood. Maria says that most people also do not realize that orphaned children often miss out on basic things that most people take for granted, such as a loving family, and more importantly, social support to survive in the world. As these children do not have the love and support of parents, some of them become socially inadequate. They grow up not knowing where to buy food, where to see a doctor, or how to use money. Some of these children then find it difficult entering the real world and having to live on their own when they reach adulthood.

Maria remembers one orphan in particular at the children’s home she visited in Russia. Unlike the majority of the children who run to visitors, try to speak with them and often ask to be taken home, one little boy was very quiet and shy. He always sat by himself in a corner. At age four, he had spent almost his entire life in the orphanage. Maria and her friends always tried to talk to him during their visits but he was very scared and reclusive. However, that all changed when they found a loving home for him. They finally saw him come out of his shell and start talking to people, and that, she says, was a very special moment.

In Singapore, Maria is also involved in a number of CapitaLand’s corporate charity activities. As part of Children’s Day on 1 October last year, Maria and several other staff took some underprivileged kids supported by the CapitaLand Hope Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CapitaLand, on a trip to the Singapore Flyer. She is also currently helping to organise a group of staff to go on regular visits to a voluntary welfare organization here in Singapore.

Harnessing the Power of One

CapitaLand is hopeful that all its staff will have stories similar to Maria’s to tell. Thus, in addition to its corporate charity activities, all confirmed staff are granted three days of Volunteer Service Leave – just one per cent of working time in a year. This encourages all staff to volunteer individually on a regular basis as they can take the Volunteer Service Leave to participate in corporate philanthropic activities or activities organized by other voluntary welfare organizations. Complementing the policy, CapitaLand’s ‘Power of One’ programme was introduced last May to recognise and reward staff for their social contributions. Under the programme, any Singapore-based staff who takes the three days of Volunteer Service Leave in a private capacity will see S$500 donated by the CapitaLand Hope Foundation to their preferred children’s charity.

There are many ways that you as an individual can lend a helping hand and reach out to the community. A good way to start is to contact your choice charity to find out how you can assist. Those who have not decided on a charity can approach the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre (NVPC) for volunteering opportunities in Singapore, some of which include helping people with disabilities, and teaching children to read, as well as providing them with after-school tutoring. NVPC also holds bi-monthly volunteer orientation sessions to get you started. You can visit NVPC’s website at www.nvpc.org.sg for more information.

Singapore’s National Council of Social Services (NCSS) is also another good source of information on volunteering in the community. You can visit their website at www.ncss.org.sg to search for further opportunities.

Maria is currently based in Singapore as part of CapitaLand’s Graduate Development Programme, which identifies promising young graduates worldwide. The programme provides broad based management training that involves working on real assignments in different business units, both locally and overseas, over a period of 18 to 24 months.
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