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WELCOME REMARKS BY CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF MUIS, MR ESA MASOOD AT BEFRIENDERS APPRECIATION 2019

Sohibus Samahah Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohd Fatris Bakaram 

Ladies & gentlemen 

Assalamualaikum wr. wb. 

Introduction 

I am happy to be here, together with my colleagues from Muis and the organising team from the Social Development Centre @ Al-Istiqamah Mosque. Today’s event is to celebrate your hard work and acknowledge your immense contribution to the community. We are here to celebrate more than a decade of commitment and dedication of supporting our Zakat beneficiaries. 

2 Your important role as Befrienders is to conduct regular home visits to those on long-term Zakat assistance. This includes those who are chronically ill, the elderly poor, kidney patients and those with disabilities. As Befrienders, you are there to provide companionship, offer emotional support and through these personal engagements, develop bonds with our beneficiaries so that they feel part of the wider society. 

3 As we look back at the past 10 years, as Befrienders you have collectively made more than 13,500 home visits, touching the lives and hearts of 3,500 Zakat beneficiaries. This is no ordinary feat and I believe it was only made possible because of your collective passion and compassion to help others. Let us take a step back and reflect on the journey of the Befrienders. First, it has been a Journey of Learning for us and our Befrienders; Second, a Journey of Adaptation particularly using technology; and Third, a Journey of Change to continuously meet the needs of the Community.

Journey of Learning

4 When we started the Befriender Scheme in 2008, the aim was to ensure that volunteers are provided with structured training to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their roles effectively. Mr Kassim Kamis, currently a Mosque Executive Chairman, was the officer in charge then, tasked not only to roll out this initiative but also to design the training programmes for the volunteers. 

5 Over the years, Muis has further invested in developing the skills of our Befrienders through on-going training and development efforts, in partnership with the social development (SD) mosques. Mosque clusters and SD mosques engaged the Befrienders through check-in sessions with them and organised short tazkirah with the mosque’s religious officers to deepen their spiritual understanding of the work that they’re doing.

6 I'm glad to hear that the journey of learning has brought our Befrienders to different parts of Singapore and through a range of experiences. These included Dining in the Dark experience at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, to better understand the challenges of the visually impaired, to National Kidney Foundation to observe the process and experience of persons undergoing dialysis, and to the Institute of Mental Health to be more aware of the challenges of patients suffering from mental health illnesses. Befrienders Learning Day events were organised to give volunteers an opportunity to learn experientially with more than 20 different participating agencies addressing issues such as assisted living, elderly care, family violence, healthy living, to name a few. 

Journey of Adapting and Leveraging on Technology

7 As the number of Befrienders grew over the past 10 years, Muis had to tap on technology to support the programme. After a few years it became impractical for us to rely on paper reports which had to be administered by the SDOs and mosque cluster offices. As such, a push was made to digitise and leverage on technology to better support our Befrienders.

8 In May 2013, Muis launched the Volunteer Management System (VMS). Ms Khairunnisa Khalid, from the Mosque Planning Office, was vital in making it happen. The VMS is a platform for Befrienders to electronically register with Muis and allows Befrienders to monitor their training and engagement sessions and allows them to be matched with respective clients. With the VMS, communications with our Befrienders became much easier. I am pleased to note that on average, the system churns out 13,000 emails, and about 18,000 SMS alerts per year. 

9 At the end of 2015, the VMS was further enhanced with the introduction of the Mobile web application to make it more user-friendly. Reports were made simpler and with the VMS easily accessible through mobile phones, home visit reporting could be done much more quickly and on the go. Muis obtained the PS21 Innovation Award, awarded to public agencies, for this initiative and it is a reflection of our commitment to continuously strive to leverage on technology to enhance the Befrienders’ volunteer experience.

10 Throughout this journey, we were very fortunate that as Befrienders, you have been very open to changes, despite any difficulties faced, with many taking time to attend training sessions to familiarise yourselves with the new systems.

Journey of Change

11 The last point I would like to share with you today is regarding the need for Muis and mosques to constantly adapt and strive to meet the changing needs and expectation of the community. With Singapore’s aging population in the coming years, together with jobs being disrupted by globalisation and technological advancements, we can expect that these will have an impact on the vulnerable segment of our community. Together, we need to be nimble enough to respond appropriately to these evolving needs. 

12 This will require Muis and our mosques to work even more closely together to provide even more accessible help and assistance to families in need. Indeed, the M3 collaboration with Mendaki and MESRA, is one such important effort to make holistic help more available to those in need. Beyond Zakat financial assistance, families with children for instance can also be supported via educational programmes organised by Mendaki such as the Mendaki Tuition Scheme or attend KelasMateMatika organised at the CCs. 

13 Beyond strengthening our programmes and services, the community has higher expectations of our service, with more demanding greater accountability. I encourage all of you to take this as part of your Amanah and may this spur us on to continue to give back even more to each and every beneficiary that we are tasked to serve. Ultimately, all our Befrienders have stepped forward voluntarily to serve the community. You are the backbone of our system to connect to our Zakat beneficiaries. You are a vital part of the mosque service delivery ecosystem. You are also our ambassadors in supporting the needy in our community. We will continue to invest in training to better equip each of you, and I call on you to continue being steadfast in discharging your duties.

Journey Forward

14 Having come a long way over the past decade, it is also important that we continue to strengthen the Befriender’s programme over the next decade. For this, I would like to urge all Befrienders to walk hand in hand with us, in co-creating how the programme can be further improved and enhanced. This could be in terms of meeting the evolving needs of our beneficiaries, to improving your own befriending experience. We have started the ball rolling with focus group discussions in September at the various mosque clusters and I would like to thank all the Befrienders who were involved.

15 Some of the interesting ideas surfaced include suggestions for more specialised trainings such as counselling, coaching, etc. There were also calls for senior Befrienders to take on a bigger role in the programme which includes helping with the matching and deployment, organising cluster events, and taking part in more community engagements. We see this as a natural part of the growth of the Befrienders programme and to provide avenues for those who are keen to take on additional responsibilities and ownership of the programme. 

16 In this regard, today we are also honouring a select group of Befrienders who have shown much dedication and passion to the programme. I am glad to announce that among you, are 44 befrienders, across the different mosque clusters, who will be appointed as Senior Befrienders.

17 Among them is Mdm Asmah Ahmad, 59, from Masjid Al-Khair. She joined the programme in 2011 and has tirelessly volunteered in most of the mosque support activities for the Zakat beneficiaries. Her care and concern towards the beneficiaries see her going the extra mile with her regular check-ins with her beneficiaries. With her strong leadership qualities, Asmah readily assisted with the coordination of the on-the-job training for younger volunteers.

18 Muhammad Farhan Zulkifli, 31, of Masjid Sallim Mattar also has been a Befriender since 2011, when he was fresh out of NS. Despite his relatively young age, he is confident in discharging his tasks, and able to adapt and connect with other Befrienders, including those more senior in age. He is full of initiative and ideas, always willing to go the extra distance, be it for the ZBs or the mosque. We hope to have more young people like Farhan to step-up and join the programme.

Conclusion

19 In conclusion, as we mark today’s Befriender’s appreciation event, we would like to celebrate all the contributions of our Befrienders in serving those in need in our community. I would like to thank you for your passion and commitment to serve, and also express our deepest appreciation to all the Pioneer Befrienders, for inspiring us and showing us that with passion in your heart, anything is possible. I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to all the 31 SD Mosques supporting the befriending programme through the years and we look forward to your continued contributions. Volunteering is not easy, it takes time, effort, patience and perseverance. But it is a path that is noble and rewarding and may each of you be generously rewarded for all your contributions, Amin. May your efforts continue to inspire others to step forward to serve the community. 

Allow me now to say a few words in Malay

20 Terima kasih di atas kesudian anda menghadiri acara hari ini, sebuah wadah tahunan di mana Muis merai kerja-keras anda. Saya bangga kerana selama sedekad lamanya, anda mampu terus menghidupkan semangat gotong-royong yang sememangnya merupakan tradisi masyarakat kita. Semangat ini telah dapat membantu keluarga-keluarga yang anda dampingi mengatasi masalah atau cabaran yang dihadapi agar mereka dapat berdikari dan membina masa depan yang lebih cerah.

21 Keupayaan anda untuk mendekati keluarga-keluarga ini juga telah membantu masjid-masjid untuk memahami isu-isu yang dihadapi oleh penduduk di sekitar mereka. Peranan anda sebagai nadi penghubung telah membolehkan masjid-masjid untuk melakarkan program-program yang sesuai bagi memenuhi keperluan jemaah dan penerima zakat, masing-masing.

22 Sebagai penutup, saya ingin mengucapkan setinggi-tinggi penghargaan kepada anda yang telah bertungkus-lumus menjayakan Progam Befrienders selama lebih sedekad ini. Syabas kepada pendamping-pendamping yang cemerlang! Harapan saya agar anda dapat membakar semangat rakan-rakan yang lain untuk terus berjuang. Semoga Allah memberkati pengorbanan anda semua dan usaha murni kita bersama, Amin. Saya juga berdoa agar anda diberi ketabahan menempuhi kehidupan harian anda, dan semangat untuk mengukuhkan dan mengeratkan lagi silaturrahim antara kita, dalam memupuk masyarakat yang peduli lagi penyayang. Terima kasih sekali lagi bagi dedikasi and komitmen yang mendalam dan kerana menjadi inspirasi bagi kita semua.

Saya akhiri dengan wabillahi Taufiq walhidayah wassalamualaikum wr wbr. Terima kasih.