Coffee Chats: Why Volunteer?

Ace Low, head of SAFRA’s volunteer management, on his contributions as a volunteer with SAFRA.

By Alywin Chew        30 June 2022

His drink of choice: A kopi-o siew dai

In our Men of SAFRA series, we sit down for a coffee and conversation with people of SAFRA who stand out for their contributions to the community. One such leader is Ace Low, Chairman of SAFRA’s Volunteer Management Committee (VMC).

Most Singaporean men give back to the nation in the form of reservist duties, but SLTC (NS) Ace Low has for the past 14 years been going the extra mile by also serving as a SAFRA volunteer.

From starting out as a member of the clubhouse’s Executive Committee in 2008, Low has gone on to head the SAFRA Jurong Executive Committee before his current stint as Chairman for both the Volunteer Management Committee and SAFRA Town Club Committee.

NSMan speaks to the veteran volunteer to find out more about his experiences at SAFRA.

Q. So, where do you have your coffee?

Ace: Whenever I’m at SAFRA Mount Faber, you’ll find me here at Heavenly Wang. A kopi-o siew dai is the perfect way to start my day or before I begin my work here. Sometimes I’ll go for kopi instead; it depends on my mood. You’ll find me hanging out with my buddies here, and I also come here for meetings about my SAFRA volunteer work, as my working counterpart in the committee has his office here. We’ll sometimes meet at the Old Habits cafe for a bite or drink.

Ace having a discussion at Old Habits, a cafe at SAFRA Mount Faber.

Q: Is it challenging juggling your SAFRA responsibilities with your full-time job?

Ace: It’s very manageable. Most of the tasks for SAFRA are planned ahead and there are rarely ad hoc matters that need to be attended to. I would say I spend just a few hours every month handling SAFRA matters.

Q: Why did you decide to take on the role of Chairman in three portfolios?

Ace: I wasn’t aiming to become chairman. To be honest, I was happy to just play any role in SAFRA! The SAF has taught me many things in life and being able to volunteer is just one way of giving back, in addition to the yearly reservist sessions.

Q: What are your main responsibilities as Chairman of the Volunteer Management Committee?

Ace: I head the volunteer committee, which is in charge of recruiting volunteers who support the various functions of the organisation. Upon the appointment of these volunteers, the VMC will usually conduct a session to help them learn more about SAFRA’s functions, objectives and key virtues such as working with mutual respect with the staff. We also organise social network activities such as bowling and barbecue sessions.

We are very grateful for the contributions of these volunteers, and that is why we hold the SAFRA award presentation to honour their efforts every few years.

Q: What are the main considerations in planning for facilities or activities for members?

Ace: Like many other volunteers, I have a family and this means having a need to cater to members and their children. This is why we have Kidz Amaze at SAFRA Toa Payoh, SAFRA Punggol and SAFRA Jurong for the children and other kinds of facilities located in the same venue for the parents to enjoy a cup of coffee or sing karaoke. The key is to be inclusive.

Q: What do you most enjoy about volunteering at SAFRA?

Ace: Watching things go from concept to execution. It’s very satisfying. Take for example the SAFRA Sprint Kids Xtreme event. It first started as a desire to do what no other club in Singapore has done before. The initial idea was to get kids of all ages to race, and we’d also throw in a family element by having the kids race together with their parents.

Over the years, we have also tried to introduce new things, such as Standard Obstacle Course elements, into the race to make it more exciting. This new addition was in fact very well received as many members gave positive feedback. Seeing this event grow from just an idea to SAFRA’s flagship event is very fulfilling.

Q: What is one lesson you have learned while volunteering at SAFRA?

Ace: Understanding your teammates is very important in people management. A team will work better if each member understands where the other person is coming from. Everyone will have different ideas, and some might even clash. There is no point insisting on doing things your way. It’s better to have open communication and find out why someone else thinks what you want to do cannot be done. Understand his or her difficulties. When there is understanding, 80 to 90 per cent of the battle is won.

Ace catching up on work at Old Habits cafe.

Q: Can you share an example of how SAFRA volunteers have benefitted from this volunteering experience?

Ace: I’d say some of them used to be quite stubborn, but having to work in a team setting has helped them to become more receptive to the ideas of others.

Q: How have you managed to keep SAFRA members and volunteers connected over the past two years with the pandemic preventing physical gatherings?

Ace: We did what everyone else was doing – holding virtual get-togethers. We did so because it is important to constantly be in touch with our volunteers. If you do not communicate with them, there may be a loss in a sense of belonging. We want everyone to feel like they are a part of a big family.

We have also tried to be creative in the ways we conduct these online sessions. For example, we once held an online coffee appreciation session where each participant received his or her own pack of coffee and the necessary instruments.

Besides virtual sessions, we have also sought to keep members up to date with what SAFRA is up to through our quarterly newsletter which we launched about a year and a half ago.

Q: How would you encourage someone to volunteer at SAFRA?

Ace: I personally believe that one must have the desire to become a part of the organisation and make a difference. I don’t believe in “selling koyok” and convincing people to become a volunteer because they will receive all kinds of benefits.

As such, we don’t hold recruitment drives for volunteers.

That being said, we are always happy for new people to come forward and volunteer! If you have any queries regarding becoming a volunteer, feel free to approach me or any of the current volunteers. We are more than willing to learn about what you hope to achieve and will do our best to assign you to an area that best fits your interests.

If I really had to “sell” the benefits of being a SAFRA volunteer, I would say that the biggest benefit you get out of this is self-actualisation. One will most certainly improve as a person and gain fulfilment through the work we do here!

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Photographer: Frenchescar Lim
Hair and make-up: Grego Oh | Stylist: Violet Foo
Outfits: Jacket and mandarin collar shirts from Uniqlo