Through the experience and interactions, students gained more than they were prepared to give.
Noticing an elderly person who had difficulty speaking to a salesman in English, Hannah Audrelia Toh took it upon herself to facilitate and help translate the conversation between two passers-by she barely knew, by translating. As she recalled this incident, Hannah credited her initiative to her school’s Learning for Life Programme (LLP).
“I learned the value of empathy and it changed my attitude and reactions towards people around me,” said the Secondary Two student from Hougang Secondary School.
The Community Youth Leadership programme provides students the opportunity to participate in projects that benefit the community or the environment. Student leaders would also be given the responsibility of organising projects and events.
Hannah was one of the students who organised the Ciyuan Eco Day. They shared with residents around their school’s neighbourhood on upcycling hacks such as paper quilling, making terrariums from recycled bottles and fashioned coasters from old T-shirts. They also designed games using recycled materials to add a dash of fun.
While the intention of the upcycling activity was to educate others about the environment, Hannah professed that it was also a learning experience for herself. Interacting with residents and giving a demonstration challenged Hannah to step out of her comfort zone and do what she usually did not have to do – talk to strangers and think on her feet.
“Some residents wanted extra materials for their terrarium and we had to explain to them that we did not have enough materials,” she shared. “We had spent time brainstorming for ideas for the terrarium-making activity, but we forgot that there was a lot of interaction and communication to be done as well.”
Hannah’s schoolmate, Abigail Li, also learned to converse better with strangers through their terrarium-making experience.
“It was hard at first as I didn’t know how to start a conversation,” recounted the Secondary Two student. “But I gained confidence as I spoke to more residents.”
Caring for both old and young
Besides being advocates for the environment and interacting with the elderly, students also learned to care for younger children.
For instance, members of Hougang Secondary’s Boys’ Brigade provided weekly Mathematics coaching to Primary Three and Four students of Yio Chu Kang Primary School who needed academic support. In the process, they made friends with their young charges and learnt to be big brothers.
“One student shared that his perception towards young children changed. He used to think that his buddy needed a lot of help, but over time, he realised that his buddy was a quick learner and wanted to improve,” said Mrs Lee Yu Zhen, Head of Department for Character and Citizenship Education at Hougang Secondary.
“This experience also made him more patient towards his siblings at home.”
Giving back as a way of life
At the end of the day, the programme was not just about organising activities and events for the community. What mattered most to the teachers was the character and perspectives of students shaped through the experiences.
Time was set aside for students to learn about serving the community, as well as to reflect regularly. Students learned to empathise with others as they put themselves in the shoes of others and brainstormed for ways to identify and meet the needs of the community.
“We want our students to be problem solvers and socially apt,” said Mr Tan Weiliang, Subject Head of Student Leadership at Hougang Secondary, who hopes that serving the community will become a way of life for students. “We believe they can continue to contribute to the community and make Singapore a gracious society.”