by Joyce Er (15A01A)
Photos courtesy of Gabrielle Jeyaseelan (15S06A)
One of the most important things I heard last year was, “People don’t want to be led by leaders. They want to be led by people.” Having spent the past five years of my Singaporean education in the hallowed and (some say) idealised Raffles system, this saying hit me with a great deal of force. After all, we students, too, frequently question the rather aspirational school mission of moulding ‘Thinkers, Leaders, Pioneers’. What does leadership entail? Why are Rafflesians alone taught to believe that they are entitled to lead, and others, to follow? Can leadership be taught in the first place?
As a Y5 sizing up the myriad enrichment programmes and other opportunities for personal development up for offer, these are undoubtedly some of the worthy questions on your mind. The Leaders for a Better Age (LBA) enrichment programme is better at raising questions than at providing answers, but as LBA teacher-in-charge Mr Kuak Nam Jin told me, if there’s one thing the programme tries to do, it’s to catalyse the development of self-awareness – understanding one’s strengths, weaknesses and preferences in various situations. Only when you are comfortable with who you are, can you venture outside yourself to help others.
The programme, now entering its third year of implementation, is structured to facilitate this personal understanding and self-improvement. Each batch of eligible applicants (possessing any prior leadership experience) is whittled down to a team of 20, give or take. You are then catapulted into the packed LBA calendar, which comprises activities and projects aimed at inculcating reflection and self-awareness, personal effectiveness, and ethical leadership. Be prepared for Monday mornings dedicated to journaling and introspection along the MacRitchie reservoir, presentations by eminent guest speakers who are leaders in their own varied ways, and weekend hikes at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
In term 3, you’ll also be given the chance to plan and execute a small-scale service learning project. My batch was involved in the Home Improvement Project (HIP) in the Sin Ming area, where we worked with families living in one-room flats to refurbish their homes. The experience was deeply humbling for all of us, and taught us the importance of knowing our beneficiaries’ needs when shaping our vision and determining the changes we wanted to see. It was also a chance to develop our organisational skills, and ultimately showed us the importance of leadership with a social responsibility.
All this culminates in the highly-anticipated year-end hike, which involves a nine-day trek across the beautiful Australian Alpine National Park to reach the summit of Mount Bogong. Out there, it really is just you, your backpack, your tent, and your teammates. Your days are spent walking up to 15km carrying 20kg backpacks loaded with food, equipment and clothes, and evenings are when you pitch your tents, send people out to collect water from the nearest water source, cook a hearty dinner, and mend your injuries. If you’re alarmed by how physically daunting it sounds, be assured that my batchmates, though of varying physical aptitude, all pulled through just fine.
Besides which, you’ll find that mental strength counts for much more than physical fitness in the great outdoors. Rukmini Roy, who plays centre for Raffles Netball, observed while we were in Australia, “Hiking requires a different kind of fitness, and being a sportsperson doesn’t mean you’ll have an easy time.” Even the fittest sports-person might not be prepared for extreme weather conditions. My teammates were caught in an unexpected hailstorm on the fifth day of our hike and had to flee to the nearest hut, leaving all but our most valuable possessions behind. But such times of adversity also created fond moments for us, and through the smallest of gestures – a glove lent to a friend in subzero weather, taking over washup duty from an exhausted teammate, a word of encouragement – our team grew stronger as the hike progressed. As student councillor Bernard Boey said during one of our hikes, ‘May we learn to find joy in adversity!’ Nobody is immune to injury, and we safely completed our journey only with our strong teamwork, concern, sacrifice and fortifying resilience.
In deciding whether to take up LBA as your enrichment programme, I’d like to borrow the words of Photographic Society chairperson Gabrielle Jeyaseelan: instead of thinking about what LBA can offer you, you should think about how much you’re willing to give and invest. This attitude holds true for all other enrichment programmes or, for that matter, opportunities you apply for in RI. After all, LBA isn’t a subject with a fixed curriculum, nor are there particular learning objectives to take away. If you’re hoping to get out of your comfort zone, build lasting relationships and reevaluate your concept of being a leader and (more importantly) a person, LBA may be just the thing you’re looking for.