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TAKING HEART

Expats give back

The Expatland Giving Back Fund encourages expats to volunteer their hours to local initiatives.

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John Marcarian, (third from left), founder of CST Tax Advisor, along with staff from CST Advisors and volunteers of the Expatland Giving Back fund.

Singapore

LIKE most people, Bernard Tan's tear ducts are not immune to the fumes of sliced onion. But for every day except Sundays, he has volunteered to chop the pungent vegetable at Willing Hearts, a non-profit soup kitchen that prepares and distributes about 5,000 daily meals to the less privileged island-wide.

"Everyone will leave the onions for me," he says after finishing his morning shift last Thursday. "It's one of the important ingredients. If nobody cuts them, the food will not taste good. So I volunteer to cut them."

After a while, it is time for the afternoon shift. Volunteer John Marcarian, among others, stands in the back kitchen confronted with crates of asparagus. He is attending an afternoon-long volunteering event organised by the Expatland Giving Back Fund, philanthropic arm of CST Tax Advisors, the international tax consultancy he founded. Other volunteers about to prepare meals at the scene are expatriates, local employees of expatriates who are clients of CST Tax, and staff of the consultant firm.

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Expatland Giving Back Fund funnels volunteering initiatives to some citizens of Expatland, an imaginary country coined by Mr Marcarian, comprising the migrants of the world. When people move from one place to other, they are really going to live in Expatland, explains Mr Marcarian.

And a lot of expats are perceived to take out from the community, he says. As the name suggests, the Expatland Giving Back Fund is one medium for them to give back.

In Singapore, Ministry of Manpower figures show that the total foreign workforce is over a million as of December 2017, with 187,700 employment pass holders. Employment pass holders here draw a monthly salary of at least S$3,600.

The Singapore registered fund swings open a window of opportunity for them to donate their time by setting aside three to four hours every three months for a volunteering initiative. "In Singapore, we look for charities that are accepting labour," Mr Marcarian says. "Our philosophy is to be more of a mobile workforce. There are enough organisations out there which collect money and donations. But I think it's important to work in a tangible way."

For example, they have partnered with Willing Hearts because "they are one of the organisations that need labour all the time".

Last year, they also volunteered at Wheel, Walk or Jog Singapore, an initiative organised by the Handicaps Welfare Association (HWA). It was where beneficiaries, corporate volunteers, students and members of the public walked or jogged with HWA wheelchair-bound members. Forty-five people who volunteered were relayed from the Expatland Giving Back Fund.

"I would just prefer to be doing something and helping somebody," adds one volunteer and expat Julian Banningan, "than staying at home and watching television".