The family who volunteers, stands together as a unit of strength. This is the story of the Kulkarni family, and how their volunteering journey began with the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) so they could make a difference in the lives of the families of inmates.
For the Kulkarni family, spending time as a family is very important. And with volunteering, family time has become a lot more meaningful for them.
It all started in 2015, when the family of three chanced upon the Home Team Festival. Makarand and his wife Malvika found themselves drawn to the YRP exhibition, which is an essential component of the yearly festival.
What stood out to them, were the posters depicting situations faced by the families of inmates. And as both of them share a 13 year old daughter Mrunal, they felt an instant connection with one of the posters that potrayed the struggles of a little girl.
Feeling such an affinity for the nature of the exhibition prompted them to find out more information about YRP. And together as a family, they began their journey of helping the families of the incarcerated.
“We were touched by the cause, and could empathise with the situation of the families.”
Volunteering mainly to raise funds for familes financially, the family is quite active at YRP roadshows, prison runs, and even awareness programmes such as primary school art exhibitions featuring the creative work from children for the incarcerated.
“We love interacting with the public. I feel like I am constantly improving when I learn new skills at such events. There is also a warm glow of satisfaction knowing you have helped a family who is going through a lot. And we get to forge new friendships, it is great!”, Malvika declares with a laugh.
Besides volunteering with his family, Makarand is also involved in the Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP), an outreach programme where volunteers, who are trained by Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA), visit families of newly-admitted offenders. Once Makarand visits these families, he is able to assess the situation and refer them to available avenues of financial and social assistance.
Volunteering however, is not without its hurdles for the Kulkarni family.
For the the family, selling crafts proved a little challenging for them at first. Due to a lack of familiarity with the public, they were not able to sell as many baked goods as they wanted. “It definitely was not easy for us, we have gotten straight-up ‘no!’ from people despite our best efforts to convince them that it was for a good cause. But then again, we were not as confident in our pitch back then, because we had no clue how they would react.”, she recalls.
And as for Makarand personally, his visits did not start out smooth sailing as a volunteer with YRCP either. “I remember families that would not open their doors for me despite the prearranged appointment. And it was also difficult to get some of the families to open up to me once I was in their homes,” he says.
The family has come a long way since and has successfully conquered those hurdles.
“I would say we are now able to convince the majority of the public to buy items made by ex-offenders. More people respond well to our pitch because we exude our beliefs in the importance of family more confidently.”, she says.
Even for Makarand, learning from more experienced Yellow Ribbon volunteers has made his visits more rewarding these days.
Recalling a visit to an old man in his seventies, he said “the man was living alone suffering from several medical conditions with both his wife and son in prison. When I visited him, he was really grateful for the assistance because he had so many medical bills to pay off!”
When asked about their time as volunteers of the Yellow Ribbon Project, Makarand, Malvika and Mrunal agree that support for the emotional and social well-being of the families of the incarcerated has gradually improved over the years. And they hope to see more families, like them, come together to make a difference to other less privileged families.