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Service Learning Opens Students' Hearts and Minds

03 Jan 2013

Xinmin Secondary School Hari Raya celebrations for Muhammadiyah Welfare Home

Xinmin Secondary School volunteers organised games and activities for their guests from Muhammadiyah Welfare Home during the Hari Raya celebrations.

While most students would relish the opportunity to sleep in on a Saturday morning during the September school holidays, over 30 student volunteers from Xinmin Secondary School were up and about finalising the details of the Hari Raya celebrations they had organised for the beneficiaries and family members of Muhammadiyah Welfare Home. The event, hosted at the school, was the culmination of five months of "tremendous effort from recruitment to planning, preparations and rehearsals," said Secondary 3 Xinmin Secondary student Song Yi Hang, who was in charge of this service learning project.

Muhammadiyah Welfare Home is a residential home for boys from 10 to 19 years of age who require care, supervision and/or rehabilitation. The event was themed "Celebrating Love and Joy", and was the joint effort of the school and Kim Seng Community Centre's Youth Executive Committee (YEC). Teacher-in-charge Mr James Tan explains that Xinmin Secondary School was in charge of programme planning and layout, while the YEC was in charge of liaison, coordination and logistics.

From conceptualisation to implementation

The school visited the home earlier this year "to understand the beneficiaries' needs and to facilitate planning," says Mr Tan. The 35 student volunteers, comprising six Sec 2 and 29 Sec 3 students, went through a few rounds of brainstorming in order to develop a Hari Raya Festival programme that was fun and engaging, and to reinforce the ideas of "love" and "joy" that were aligned with the theme.

The programme they came up with included games and activities, a lucky draw as well as a skit written and performed by the Sec 2 and 3 students. Yi Hang admits that when he agreed to helm the project, he had expected something "straightforward", much like other service learning projects in the school. While he was ready and able to assist the project teachers Mr Tan and Ms Joyce Quek in event and programme planning, he was exposed to other areas of work.

For example, Yi Hang had to work on the details, from recruiting the participants to writing the drama script, and managed the activities from planning to implementation. Yi Hang even performed the role of the English-speaking emcee on the event day.

Xinmin Secondary School Hari Raya celebrations for Muhammadiyah Welfare Home

Some of the activities were drawn from aspects of Malay culture, such as a ketupat-folding activity.

All told, the event involved 140 beneficiaries and their families, and Yi Hang said it was "stressful to shoulder the responsibilities." He attributed the event's success to the teamwork and cooperation of his committee as well as the participants, plus the effort everyone put in during three extended practice sessions - lasting six hours each - and many smaller meetings and rehearsals. He also appreciated the guidance from the teachers, which eased his concerns.

Inspiring concern and empathy among students

For the school, besides exposing students to the Malay culture, it also wanted to open their hearts and minds to people from different social backgrounds, and "inspire empathy, compassion, care and concern for others," emphasises Mr Tan. He commended the students' dedication and determination, leadership and cooperation as they willingly spent much time of their school holidays on the volunteer project.

The Hari Raya celebrations were fun and ended all too quickly, without any hiccups. Calling the preparations "tougher than the final execution", Yi Hang declares that the outcome had exceeded their expectations. The games they organised, such as "Guess the Picture" and "Photo Match", proceeded smoothly, and their guests enjoyed activities such as ketupat-folding.

"Our teamwork and ability to adapt to the situation really helped a lot on the event day," said Yi Hang. Secondary 2 participant Mohamed Rusydi B Haron added that through this event, he had improved his communication skills and self-confidence. All these are useful life skills that will serve him and his peers in good stead, both in and outside school.

According to Mr Tan, the student volunteers were all fired up by the success of the project and have approached the teachers for more opportunities; some of them even initiated ideas for service learning projects. Clearly, the seeds of volunteerism have been sown and the students are taking ownership to be agents of change. "The students' enthusiasm showed that we have achieved our objectives, and more," says Mr Tan.