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Telling the Peacock’s Tale With Photos

09 Jul 2008

St Joseph's Institution students

This photograph of St Joseph Institution students at a sports tournament took the top prize at “A Peacock’s Tale” photography competition.

This is the second in a series of Schoolbag articles about Leadership Development Programme projects. Read the first article here.

Inspired by the plumage of a peacock’s tail which reflects a seamless display of brilliant hues, a group of Sec 4 students from different schools came together to create a project that celebrates the varied hues and colours of multiracial Singapore. Calling themselves Illuminati, the group organised “A Peacock’s Tale” - an island-wide photography competition among secondary schools, to find photographs that encapsulated the ideals of racial harmony.

Why the focus on photography? Team member Gilbert Soh from Raffles Institution explains, “Photography is an art. Just like music it transcends boundaries and everyone can connect with it, regardless of their experience. In addition, photos can convey very powerful and even emotional messages.”

Illuminati was one of the eight project teams who presented their work at the Leadership Development Programme Symposium 2008, an MOE-Singapore Management University (SMU) initiative where students can acquire and apply leadership skills in real community service settings.

Illuminati’s objective was to develop “A Peacock’s Tale” as a competition and exhibition that would boost the profile of OnePeople.sg among the younger generation. “OnePeople.sg’s work is important as racial harmony is a cornerstone of our society, yet it can be taken for granted especially in times of stability and prosperity,” says Gilbert.

Malay student holding Chinese calligraphy

The second prize went to this photograph of a Malay student holding up her work of Chinese calligraphy.

According to Rashimah binte Rajah, an SMU undergraduate who advised the team, Illuminati hoped that “photos could more vividly describe the concept of racial harmony, compared to writing essays.” So apart from submitting an image, participants also had to write a brief explanation describing how their photographs were relevant to the theme.

Getting things going

To carry out the project, each team member took on roles according to what they were good at. Nguyen Phi Phi Anh from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) designed the posters, banners and slides, Ray Tan of Hwa Chong Institution took charge of decorations and printing, while Michelle Kang of Nanyang Girls’ High handled administration and letter-writing.

A keen shutterbug himself, Gilbert managed the photography aspect of the competition, while Kim Hutchinson from Raffles Girls’ Secondary School served as the liaison with Illuminati’s partners in the Community Development Council (CDC) and the National Library Board. Overseeing the whole operation was Brenda Tan of NUS High School.

Apart from sending letters to all secondary schools across Singapore, the team emailed their friends to drum up publicity for the competition. “We also posted a publicity poster on popular websites such as STOMP,” says Kim. Teen-friendly networks like Friendster and Facebook were also part of their publicity blitz.

Besides roping in participants, the team also had to drum up sponsorship, which was one of Kim’s responsibilities and, in her opinion, “the most challenging part” of the project. “Within such a short timeframe, many potential sponsors could not reply to our requests. Fortunately we got a reply in time from the CDC.”

All in all, more than 70 entries were submitted and the photos were judged by a three-member panel: Maria Sin of the Photographic Society of Singapore, Mike Thiruman from OnePeople.sg and Professor Ma Kheng Min of SMU. “A Peacock’s Tale” culminated in an exhibition at Jurong Regional Library, showcasing the top three entries and 16 other photographs.

Celebrating students

The 3rd-prize photo captured the shared jubilation at Singapore winning its bid to host the Youth Olympics.

The first prize went to a photograph of a group of boys from St Joseph’s Institution loudly cheering on their schoolmates at a sports tournament. Of different races, the boys stood side by side, united in purpose. Notably, their outfits - red shirt and white pants - evoked the colours of the national flag, representing a Singapore united despite its diversity.

The second-prize winner was a candid portrait of a Malay teenager holding up a piece of Chinese calligraphy she had executed, while the third prize went to a photo of a diverse group of students celebrating after hearing of Singapore’s winning bid to host the Youth Olympic Games.

Learning from experience

Looking back on the project, Kim notes, “We’ve discovered what are the important qualities of a leader: a good listener, able to earn the respect of followers, focused, organised and responsible, proactive, determined, good at delegation and adaptable.”

Gilbert feels likewise, as he relates what he gained from the experience: “At times, I overestimated my capabilities and placed too much responsibility on my shoulders. In the end, nothing was achieved.” Instead of having to do everything, he found that leadership was really about passion, vision, sensitivity and the maturity to “think under pressure and come up with the right decisions.” He summed it up, “Be confident. But don’t be overconfident.”