Taking Root Here: Appreciation Week 2016

by Deborah Lee (17A01D) and Carman Chew (17A01D)

Appreciation Week 2016 is a collaboration between Raffles Press and Students’ Council that aims to recognize and appreciate the non-teaching staff members who do a lot that we often don’t value enough. Though we do not normally see them around, the impact they have on our school lives is indispensable.

Chances are, most of us don’t have the time or opportunity in between lessons to stop and smell the roses. We rush from classrooms to LTs and LTs to classrooms, hardly stepping out of our concrete havens. Even when we do venture out, how many of us can really say we’ve stopped to appreciate the nature around us and cherish the efforts the gardeners put in every day?

With a team of 6 foreigners and 3 Singaporeans, the 9 RI gardeners carry out maintenance of the greenery across the entire campus, from Year 1-4 side all the way to the Year 5-6 side, Boarding included. Given the sheer size of the campus and the amount of maintenance required for each zone, it is obvious how heavy the workload is and having to split it all between only 9 gardeners is almost unimaginable.

Meet Kalam.

Meet Kalam.

For one of these gardeners, Kalam, pruning, watering and fertilizing the plants in RI has been his daily duty for the past 5 years. Regardless of how hot the weather is or how uncomfortably the sun beats down on him, he can be seen diligently carrying out his job around the campus while dressed in a green long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Be it showering plants with water from a hose or snipping away in an impressive feat of landscaping, you name it, he does it.

A typical day for Kalam begins at 7 in the morning when he wakes up and subsequently makes the journey from his accommodation at Kaki Bukit to school. His work starts at 8, a time where students would usually be flooding the various lecture theatres or classrooms and proceeding to spend the next few hours in varying stages of boredom and unconsciousness. But for him, he faces his work with astounding verve and spirit, an admirable feat to those who possess the impression of gardening being a boring and tedious task. “I like gardening,” he replies simply, as though that was the redeeming point of such tough labour that most of us would probably shy away from.

Just one of the many areas of greenery the gardeners tend to.

Just one of the many areas of greenery the gardeners tend to.

While we have the privilege of spending majority of our school hours in a blissfully air-conditioned environment, a much-welcomed respite from the recent heatwave, Kalam does not get to experience that. The atmosphere is humid and muggy, leaving us constantly complaining and delicately fanning ourselves during our short recess and morning assembly stints before we retreat back into our fortresses that are considerately kept below 25°C, but he has to brave the heat while on the job. Yet, he does not mind the scorching sun or the pouring rain that sweeps fallen leaves into the drains and interferes with his work. “It’s all okay,” he smiles and shows no annoyance or complaint about the sometimes merciless weather.

In his 5 years here, Kalam has also forged friendships with the other gardeners and even a symbiotic relationship with the cleaners and the stall vendors. When it rains, he can often be seen in the canteen having “kopi time” and chatting away with his buddies. He says, “We can help or anything. Plus working all together lah, happy happy or talking is very nice.”

However, while most of us can return home to our families after a long day of school, Kalam’s family is miles away, back in his hometown, Bangladesh. He hasn’t been able to return home once in his 5 years, but hopes to do so next year or in another 2 to 3 months. Still, he does call them every day, sometimes sneaking away during his breaks to spend some time with his loved ones on the phone. Through the wonders of technology, he can also video call them, reaching out to his brother’s family as well. When asked if he does have children though, Kalam broke out into awkward laughter, “No, I haven’t married.”

Our writers posing with Kaplam at the end of the interview.

Our writers posing with Kalam at the end of the interview.

Apart from gardening, Kalam also indulges in the other simple pleasures of life, one of which is being able to help other people. He says that the RI population is always free to ask him for help, “gardening something or ask me [go clear something], I can help.” He also mentioned that one of the other things that keep him going are how the students and teachers greet him with a simple “hi” or “hello” in the mornings. But of course, his biggest joy is something that we can never take away from him: his pride in gardening.

Even if he could choose to do something else, Kalam grinned, “I would do the… still gardening.”

As students caught up in our ever so stressful and demanding schedules, it is difficult for us to take a moment to think about the people around us that serve the environment that we live in. So the next time you stroll past the shrubs on the way to Raja, play sports in the second field or take group photos at the biopond, stop and take a moment to breathe in the beauty meticulously crafted by the guardians of the garden.

Students’ Council will be setting up a booth in the canteen for students to write notes to non-teaching staff. Do come down to the booth and participate in this to show your appreciation!

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