By Chern Huan Yee (22S06A) and Mirella Ang (22A01C)
This year, Raffles Press invited eight accomplished Year 7s to share their experiences in JC. We hope that all of us can see a piece of ourselves reflected in their stories of leadership, service, and above all, resilience.
This is Part 4 of our A-Level 2021 Student Feature.
To Summer, JC life could be “rather monotonous”: lectures, tutorials, CCA. Rinse, repeat. At times, her life seemed meaningless. However, volunteering allowed her to relieve the tedium and find purpose beyond the daily grind, especially through her interactions with people outside of school. Volunteering kept her “sane”.
“Serving others to the best of my abilities and seeing how appreciative and happy they are is a privilege that I am grateful to have. Knowing that I have had and am continuing to make a difference in someone else’s life, regardless of extent, is an extremely rewarding and invaluable experience.”
Summer engaged in multiple community service projects during her time in RI, most notably spearheading Project We Care from 2019 to 2020, where she provided lessons to less privileged children at Marymount Convent School. Leveraging on her sporting and musical abilities, she sang to patients at Singapore General Hospital to spread Christmas cheer and taught children floorball.
Interacting with the kids especially required her to pick up a whole new set of skills, such as patience, effective communication, and versatility. It helped her hone her communication skills as she had to learn how to explain complex concepts more comprehensibly. But beyond her role as their tutor, she was also their friend. Summer forged close connections with the students through playing with them and talking about shared interests during break time. Some of the children even playfully called her their ‘favourite’ amongst her project team.
Her dedication to service is all the more admirable in light of her heavy school commitments: she admitted juggling her volunteering activities with academics and CCA (which involves training thrice a week) was “definitely not easy”, but it was “still manageable upon planning ahead and managing [her] expectations.”
Besides the team’s decision to serve at least once every two weeks, Summer made sure that whenever she served, she was in the right state of mind for service. If she wasn’t free or clear-headed due to her busy schedule, she would opt to go another day. While this was done with her own well being in mind, more importantly it was to ensure that she could consistently give her best to those she served.
When asked for advice for juniors interested in starting service projects of their own, Summer replied that “choosing who to work with for community service projects is extremely vital.” She believes “going with like-minded friends who are as passionate as you are when it comes to serving the community really helps to keep the momentum going, even in the most trying of times.”
Through her projects, she has gained a deeper understanding of the fact that it is not only possible, but vital for everyone to put their differences aside and communicate. Whatever apprehensions she had about being able to talk to people with different life experiences melted away when she actually started interacting with them. As long as there is an effort to communicate, differences in age or background can easily be bridged.
She believes that learning to communicate and maintain an open mind can tear down the arbitrary fences by which we segregate ourselves, a step toward a more cohesive and happier society.
Before we call them disabled children, we must remember that they are children first.
This was something that struck Manish when he first began volunteering at Rainbow Centre as a teaching assistant in 2018, a charitable organisation that aims to enhance the quality of life of autistic children.
Manish remembers his time at Rainbow Centre fondly, but acknowledges the difficult moments when he came close to giving up. He recalls becoming overwhelmingly demoralised after a student whom he had taught to write his own name ignored him the very next day. Teachers would sit next to students for hours on end just so that they could complete a simple task—which often would not be completed by the end of the day.
And yet, in spite of how tiring and thankless the work sometimes seemed to be, the students there always managed to bring a smile to his face and relieve the stress from school. He remembers always leaving Rainbow Centre happier and more relaxed than he had been before, saying that his time there made him “understand that it’s the little things that matter.” For posterity, he also adds that “the children are incredibly cute!”
Continuing on, he recounted a particular incident with a boy named Jake (note: names have been changed to protect their privacy). He came into school complaining about a stomach-ache that became so severe Manish had to bring him down to the school nurse although he had no other physical ailments. It was discovered that Jake, who had an avid interest in anatomy and medical procedures, had been watching videos on pregnancies and deliveries the previous day and was trying to mimic what he had seen. Laughing, Manish “[remembers] that memorable day because of how much these kids can absorb despite having special needs!”
Perhaps what most stood out to him was the spirit of Rainbow Centre—a place where children could be children no matter their disabilities, where adults looked past their disorders to see their greater potential. His observation of the teachers working overtime on a regular basis to prepare for lessons motivated him to go beyond his duties as well—when a student had broken down in tears for not being able to swim, he sat for hours consoling him. The teachers’ awe-inspiring dedication to their students taught him that doing what you love to the fullest is key. This is something he himself has emulated, volunteering every week without fail.
It is this warm-hearted, compassionate, and stalwart zeal that helped him manage his day-to-day commitments: he never saw his volunteer work as a chore or another item on his to-do list; rather, his sessions with the children were something worthwhile and important for him to partake in. fun and meaningful to him. He deliberately set aside time meant for volunteering that he would not otherwise compromise, even planning tutorials around it to ensure a well-balanced schedule each week.
However, the toughest parts of his volunteering experience weren’t the difficulties in managing his school work, or the unforeseen incidents random, unexpected situations he’d face. Rather, the overwhelming stigma preconceived notions about autistic children were what wore him out.
He cited public ignorance of these invisible disabilities and general aversion to such sensitive issues as key reasons behind such prejudice, thus strengthening his resolve to raise greater awareness and advocate for their needs. The indiscriminate acts of prejudice these children faced, like the withering looks they often received, strengthened his resolve to advocate for them. Thus, Manish made it a point to spread awareness about his students by taking every opportunity to share with people his personal experiences with them.
Actions speak louder than words, and Manish’s scream of empathy. His compassion and gentleness shine through, and will hopefully inspire future batches of RI volunteers to follow in his footsteps to “treat them as children first”.