At the home of teacher Mrs Molly Zehnder, pupils learnt the dance steps to the Eurasian song "Jingkli Nona".
"Jingkli Nona, jingkli nona yo kereh kazah,
Jingkli Nona, jingkli nona yo kereh kazah,
Kaza nunteng porta nona kai logu pasah,
Kaza nunteng porta nona kai logu pasah."
Without missing a beat, Primary 3 pupil Yusrina Shaista Binte Sulaiman from Eunos Primary School belts out this Portuguese-Eurasian ditty about true love - a little something she picked up during her visit to the home of Mrs Molly Zehnder, an adjunct teacher at her school. Mrs Zehnder had played host to a group of pupils and the sights, sounds and spirit of an Eurasian home still linger in Yusrina's memory. "We ate kari debal [devil's curry] and she told us how to make sugee cake - it's really delicious!"
Similarly, another Pri 3 pupil Nurul Amanina bte Mohamad Azhar Marican had visited the home of Art teacher Ms June Chong. "We learnt how to serve Chinese tea and it was the first time I learnt how to use chopsticks," recalls Nurul Amanina. Her classmate Chloe Tham adds, "We poured the tea into small cups and learned that we should serve tea to the elderly with both hands as a form of respect."
Later that day, the two pupils also visited Mdm Elisha bte Jaafar, a Malay Language teacher who taught the pupils kampung games from her childhood. "We ate roti kirai [a traditional Malay bread-like dish] and played congkak [a traditional board game of Malay origin] and 'five stones'," says Nurul Amanina. "I accidentally threw a 'stone' out of the window!"
At teacher Ms Majeed's home, she introduced pupils to kabaddi, the popular South Asian game of tag and run.
Learning to appreciate differences and diversity
Nurul Amanina, Chloe and Yusrina were among 25 pupils who had the opportunity to experience the everyday lives and ethnic customs of four of their teachers during the June school holidays. In turn, the pupils assumed the role of National Education Ambassadors in school, sharing with their schoolmates what they had learned about the beliefs and practices of Singapore's various races.
The idea of organising home visits with teachers of different ethnic backgrounds came up when the school was thinking of new ways to bring to life the various communities that make up Singapore. Explains Mdm Sarah Zheng, Subject Head for Character and Citizenship Education, "We thought it'd be very powerful if we could provide an avenue for pupils to learn in an authentic context."
Since it was not possible for each teacher to host an entire cohort of pupils, the school selected pupils who would be enthusiastic about spreading the message. "We have pupils who are very passionate about National Education and advocating racial harmony," says Mdm Zheng. "We got them to share their learning with their peers in school." Adds Ms Arafah Tajudin, one of the teachers in charge of National Education, "It was apt that this year's theme for Racial Harmony Day was 'People, Places, Memories' because this tied in very nicely with the home visits."
Pupils enjoyed a splendid meal the traditional Indian way, with banana leaves and using only your hands.
Generally, the school arranged for pupils to visit the homes of teachers of different ethnicities. For instance, teacher Ms Nabeesah Majeed, who is of Indian Muslim heritage, welcomed pupils of Chinese, Malay and Myanmar origins to her home. Joining her was teacher Ms Sheela d/o Letchumanan, who is of Indian Hindu background; she shared with pupils about her own cultural practices and demonstrated how to wear a sari.
At each home, the pupils sampled their hosts' traditional cuisine, danced to cultural songs and enjoyed a peek into the cultural environment that governs the lives of their teachers. Nurul Amanina recalls seeing Chinese artefacts and paintings at Ms Chong's home and explains, "Her father was a fengshui master and she told us about her fengshui element, which is dark water." On his part, Pri 5 pupil Don Lim was struck by a small fountain at Mdm Elisha's home, which she explained was placed not for fengshui reasons, but simply because it helped her relax and she enjoys reading her Qur'an near it.
Role models from home to school
At Mrs Zehnder's home, Pri 3 pupil Muhammad Zahil bin Abdul Rahman enjoyed his portion of devil's curry so much that he wanted a copy of the recipe. Laughing, Mrs Zehnder explained to the children that the dish's original name, kari debal, had nothing devilish about it, as debal refers to Christmas leftovers which were turned into a spicy stew. "We told the Muslim children not to worry," she adds. "To cook, I borrowed pots and pans from the school, which were all for Muslim use, and we served the curry on paper plates." Similarly, Ms Chong, who has a pet chihuahua, kept it in a locked room and cleaned up her home to remove fur before the pupils' visit.
Two boys show off their new skills in Chinese brushstrokes, having just learned them from teacher Ms June Chong.
Such gestures were, in essence, real-life lessons showing how people living in a multi-ethnic society take into account each other's needs. Between the fun and the laughter, these were the lessons that the pupils took back to their own homes. Mdm Zheng says, "The pupils shared what they had learned with their friends through a video montage shown to the school as part of our Racial Harmony Day celebrations. They also actively spoke about what they had learnt at the teachers' homes with their peers."
Encouraged by the enthusiasm and responses of the pupils as well as the host teachers, Mdm Zheng hopes to expand the home visits next year and involve more pupils. "On top of visiting the teachers, we may visit the homes of some of our pupils' parents if they are agreeable," she says. "There's nothing compared to really experiencing a different culture for yourself."
"The teachers themselves are the role models of racial harmony," adds Mdm Afidah Ibrahim, another teacher in charge of National Education, "because they are opening up their homes and extending their hospitality, giving the pupils insight into how their teachers live."