By Edna Lim (22S03F), Faith Ho (22A01A), Matthew Ethan Ramli (21S03F)
Have you ever thought about starting your own service project?
The Community Education Programme (CEP) is currently the predominant service framework in RI. Part of this framework is the Community Education form 1 (CE01), where students interested in initiating a service project of their own can apply to be endorsed by the school. This programme is introduced to Y5 students during the JIP/JAE induction programme, though students can opt to start or join a project at any point in the school year by filling out an online application.
As a CE01, teams are assigned a teacher-mentor for counsel throughout their project. CE01s usually collaborate with external organisations to carry out initiatives for their beneficiaries – commonly seen ones in RI are those that target the elderly as well as children.
This framework was developed with the intent of encouraging students to translate their passion for particular causes into service to the community, honing their social consciousness, leadership, and civic responsibility in the process.
”Through the programme, [the students] will be more aware of the needs of the community and develop a better understanding of authentic problems, issues and concerns that affect us today. This will help them become strong leaders with a heart for service.”
– Mr Daniel Wong, a CE01 teacher-mentor
Providing students with the liberty to expand their service beyond pre-existing initiatives, CE01s are a key platform for students to step out of their comfort zones to contribute meaningfully to issues faced by the larger community.
However, for 17 and 18 year-olds with hardly any experience in the service sector, the idea of starting and planning initiatives from scratch may be daunting. The presence of a teacher-mentor to guide teams can thus help to bring ideas into fruition, without compromising the element of independence on the students’ end.
Mr Wong also highlights the role teacher-mentors play in opening students’ eyes to “the contemporary realities of what’s actually happening at the ground level, be it the operational challenges to be considered, meeting the real needs of those being served, or leveraging on the power of networking with key stakeholders.”
Commencement of Projects
Most students join CE01s because of their personal interest in helping a particular group of beneficiaries. “It’s really important for me to do something meaningful and I found that meaning in being able to help children who need the help,” said Mirella Ang (22A01C), who is part of The Project Éclat, a CE01 project that works with Rainbow Centre, a school specialising in special-needs education.
Some projects are also started as a response to a lack of advocacy – Vienna Anong (22S06Q), whose CE01 Project Down To Earth focuses on the environment, said that “[RI] didn’t have any prominent group doing environmental work”. This was a good opportunity for her and her teammates, who were all very interested in environmental advocacy, to bring the message of environmentalism into the school community.
There are also a few who start or join CE01s mainly for their portfolio or to gain VIA hours, but more often than not, the volunteering they do also results in a change of heart towards service.
“I do know of friends who started participating in projects just to add to their achievement list, but once they came into contact with the beneficiaries, they started seeing volunteering in a different light,” says Aerin, an RI alumna, when reflecting on her volunteering experience in JC.
A final reason for students to start a CE01 is friends – like-minded friends can come together as a group to serve the community.
While some students choose to start a CE01, others join pre-existing ones later in the school year, either as core team or subcomm members. The large number of CE01 groups in the school means that there is a multitude of opportunities to join groups that help different beneficiaries. These groups often call for volunteers through different platforms such as our school’s student portal Stamford, Instagram or WhatsApp.
Experiences of Students
As for the running of CE01s, most groups said they appreciated that their teacher-mentors generally took a hands-off approach. “With that came a lot of freedom and creativity, [such as control over our] Instagram page as well as initiatives we wanted to push out!” Vienna said.
Besides assigning students teacher-mentors, another way the school provides support for CE01s is through the funding of initiatives, though CE01s must apply for such funding separately.
Reflecting on her experience of being in a CE01, Mirella affirmed that it was a “very fulfilling experience”. Vienna echoed this sentiment, talking about how it was very heartening to have had much support, whether it be her friends’ participation in clean-up initiatives organised by her CE01, or seeing students reusing plastic bags, all of which were small milestones achieved by their campaign.
“I was also able to reach out and learn so much more about the different initiatives in the environmental advocacy scene which I don’t think I would have learnt/ discovered without planning such initiatives.”
Many also felt that interacting directly with beneficiaries through their CE01’s initiatives made it more effective and fulfilling. Pritam Saha (22S06B), a core team member of Project Honey & Bread, said, “Our project aims to raise awareness of the issues the elderly face through face-to-face, heartfelt interactions with them that don’t just involve us serving them but learning from them too. I personally believe that our project gives students the platform and opportunity to interact with them so it is effective in that sense.”
Volunteers interacting with senior citizens at Project Honey and Bread.
You can find out more about their project on their website: https://www.projecthnb.com/
On The Other Hand…
That being said, helming a CE01 is no easy task. As Amanda Lok (Batch of 2017) puts it, students in RI are “largely very focused on A levels and would hesitate from joining or initiating projects that would require a long period of commitment”. Given the hectic schedules, recruiting enough people to carry out a project could potentially pose difficulties.
Be it due to CCA or academic commitments, students might be unable to fully commit to their projects. CE01s often halt planning and operations during busy periods, leading to some inconsistency in their project timeline. CE01s that involve direct weekly service to their beneficiaries usually have to cancel sessions near exam periods.
The process of coming up with and refining service initiatives is also a difficult one; inevitably, some ideas have the opportunity to be actualised while others meet with a less cheerful fate. However, it is often through the ideation process that students learn how to best target their plans to meet their beneficiaries’ needs. As Mr Wong commented, “it is the doing, failing and trying and eventually succeeding that makes it all worthwhile.”
Furthermore, the structured nature of the CE01 programme may limit the fluidity of the service project’s structure, as it demands having a fixed core team each batch, and Y6s are expected to step down by May.
On the larger scale, the short two years of JC means that the ability of a project to mature is constrained. Amanda explained that “developing a project from its infant stages, following through with it and modifying it based on the experience that you’ve had is quite crucial to ensuring what you’re doing is really helping the community effectively.” The relatively short timeline of CE01s often results in students having to preemptively limit their plans to fit a very tight timeline.
In spite of all this, some CE01s continue to be passed down. In fact, a few current projects have been running for as long as 8 years ago, such as the RI Habitat for Humanity chapter. Such long-lived projects have the benefit of a strong partnership forged with the social service agencies involved.
However, according to Mrs Poh Shu-Jia, CE01 projects are meant for students to determine which social or community issue they are passionate about. As much as the school encourages future cohorts to continue previous projects, “not all CE01 projects can be sustained and handed over.”
1 Last Note
While the CE01 programme offers a framework for students to carry out their own projects, it is ultimately how students plan and execute their projects that determines its “success”. Behind layers of structures and planning down to the nitty gritty details, projects that have a real impact are fundamentally those propelled by students’ shared passion for a cause bigger than themselves.
If you’re thinking of starting or joining a service project, take up the challenge! Like a ripple, an idea, no matter how seemingly small, could potentially result in significant contributions to the community, or even touch the heart of the beneficiaries involved.
*Note: All pictures were taken before Covid-19 Heightened Alert measures.
A previous version of this post did not include the name of all CE01 projects involved.