Monday, 9 September 2013

Community Exposure reflections (Block Party on 23 Aug '13)

As a "rather privileged" citizen in Singapore, I have been living my own life, not interacting with the full spectrum of Singaporeans. ExCEL is an eye-opener for me, because although I might have imagined the existence of people living in different conditions, ExCEL brought me into contact with them.


To be honest, I did not actually have any expectations of ExCEL prior to the session, because I really did not know what to expect. However, going down there, and actually meeting these people has made me want to know more about them. I did not have the chance to really interact with them closely, but what I had observed was a myriad of circumstances and backstories unknown to me, all playing a part in their interactions with each other. I saw a woman basking in the atmosphere of the block party, others who asked me kindly for extra goodies to give to their grandchildren, and some who were there for reasons beyond me, neither participating nor looking like they were enjoying themselves. I saw event helpers who were there purely through the good in their heart, and others who look like they enjoy socialising with one another. None of these observations could allow me to place judgements on them though, as they were just one-off happenings that could, in itself, have their own backstory.

I hope that future sessions in ExCEL will bring me closer to people, allowing me to better understand them, and perhaps even allowing me to help them if they need it.

-Stephen 

Even though this is just a short half-day event, I have learnt a lot from this experience. Despite Singapore being a relatively affluent country, there is still a percentage of low income families and less fortunate group of elderly.  


Something that Mr Marc Lim has left a very deep impression in me. He mentioned that Singapore is the first and only country that managed to develop from a third world to a first world country in a single generation. The elderly are the ones who made this development possible and yet, they are the ones being marginalised.

It made me realise that Singapore has under-appreciated this group of people who has worked so hard for the country. We are ignorant of their efforts and have taken their presence for granted. We ought to be more grateful for their efforts and help to improve their standard of living . Even though our efforts may seem minute, it definitely had a significant impact on their lives.    

This activity has also allowed me to  understand that we are very fortunate and we should always count our blessing and be appreciative of what we have. In addition, we should offer help to the less fortunate wherever possible.


-Joanne

Although I've had experience interacting with the elderly, it was quite some time ago, and this time, low income families were involved. It reminded me of what it is like for these less privileged group of society, who is very much in need of our help and should not be forgotten as the country progresses.

What struck me most was a short interaction with an elderly lady. I think that it was a pity that I could not speak dialect well when she had asked us for help. Initially, we simply assumed what she needed because we did not understand her dialect well enough. I felt a little helpless, though Clarissa did step in to help. I think that we all should learn to connect with these elderly more, so that we understand them better. It is only when we know what they really need that we can actually help them because blindly guessing would not be of any good to them.

I feel that perhaps I'm living in a too sheltered environment, where my friends and myself are from the same background. I really hope that at the end of this excel community journey, I will get to know people from the community and their problems, and truely understand the problems they are facing.

-Kathleen

We started the evening with a sharing by Mr Marc Lim, regarding the characteristics of the residents in the district. Even though I knew that some residents there were not well-to-do, the statistics presented by Mr Lim and Mr Chan were quite insightful. Knowing the socio-economic status of the people certainly allowed me to empathise with them better.


Following that, we attended a block party organized for the residents in lieu of National Day. Since I had attended similar events before, I did not take away anything unexpected but it was still a good reminder nonetheless; a good reminder that there are many other less-privileged people in Singapore. Furthermore, until Mr Lim shared, it never came across to me that it was through this celebration that they hoped that the residents would reflect about the country. I feel that it is indeed a good platform to do so.

I wish I had interacted more with the residents though, to find out more about their background as well as their lives. It is through these interactions that we will have a deeper understanding of their circumstances and how we can help. Hence, I hope the future activities will provide a better opportunity for interaction, so that I can gain a variety of perspectives.

-Nicole

The first session of the community EXCEL program was definitely a fruitful one. All of us had a chance to learn more about the less fortunate in Singapore and how we as individuals can help them. Personally, I am really thankful for the opportunity provided by the council to step out of our comfort zone and reach out to Singaporeans who may have been neglected by the society. Being a leader is not just about giving orders and being authoritative, it is also about emphathizing with others, putting ourselves in the shoes of others. And I think this is exactly the purpose of this community EXCEL program - to teach us the meaning of empathy. The Block Party also allowed me to gain different perspectives from different people – the grassroot leaders, church ministries and even the residents themselves. I think this is the first step to empathizing with people as we get to understand each individual/organization’s point of view, concerns or problems. I have learnt quite a fair bit from this session and I really look forward to MPS in the future. Once again, I’m really thankful to have this opportunity. :)

-Chen Si

In the past, I always believed in the strongest of the fittest. One’s success is determined by one’s hard work. That view of mine has changed slowly over the time. I still think that hardwork is a crucial factor of success. However, EXCEL opened me to the idea that one’s environment contributes a lot to one’s success (let’s just use income to measure success). The idea of adaptability is also reinforced in my mind. Hence, we cannot be too quick to judge those that are low-income. It is important to step into their shoes and throw away all preconceived views. We owe our success to these pioneers. However, I find it hard to do this but with time I believe it will be easier.  I hope that there will be more platforms to interact with the residents. The majority of our time was spent on chit chatting or usage of smart phones. I hope that by the end of the journey I will have the ability to communicate with people of different lifestyles, better understanding of the workings of our society and be able to positively impact the people I talk to in any way possible

-Eugene

I have always been keen to study the socio-economic political environment I am in, and form my personal view on how the society functions. Gaining better knowledge of the people occupying the various rungs on the social ladder is part of my attempt to fulfil the above objective. That is what I hope I will take away from the programme, and I would say the first session was a good start of my immersion in that particular community.

Prior to that, I have attended a similar event which included performances for the elderlies. Although I found the programmes of that night familiar to what I have experienced, there were still an abundance of learning points to be picked up from my observations of the people: the organisers, the participants alike. 


Firstly I will talk about the audience. Most of them are senior citizens. At first glance, I sensed something different about them. I must admit that this can be a predisposed opinion, formulated unconsciously in my mind after Mr Lim had introduced to us the social problems of the neighbourhood. But when I looked into their eyes, and tried to feel what emotions are governing their mind at the moment, I thought many of them lacked “energy” in the look of their eye---not physical energy, but the vibrancy of spirit. Yes, we would say senior citizens are generally less active than younger people, but definitely in those elderlies I detected a stark difference from some others I have met in my life whose actions all seem radiant with energy. 

This view was challenged when I saw them stand up to sing patriotic songs and wave the flags. My initial interpretation classified that as a display of patriotism and enthusiasm (although they sang without much expression on their face). However, further analysis reminded me that the possibility also exists that it was the karaoake-like atmosphere that could have served as the main motivation for their passionate response. So are they the people who see life as purposeless, and are merely going for these events to dispel the loneliness, or still have the feelings for the community and life?

Both hypothesises are simplistic, and still largely unfounded. I would seek to vindicate each of them further in later time spent in the community.

-Bo Ning

Albeit having only spent a day with the residents, my perspective of Singaporeans has been broadened. I used to think that advancing from a third world to a first world country means that all Singaporeans are getting more affluent. However, I was proven wrong upon learning that there are still Singaporeans stuck in the cycle of poverty. I am now more aware of the socioeconomic landscape in Singapore, and that there is a group of Singaporeans whom need help. I wish I could have helped them emotionally. I understand that many elderly living in the area are unhappy as they are living in one room flats where it is mandatory for them to have a flat mate for each rented unit. The block party could have brought some joy to the elderly, but my heart sank when it dawned upon me that they would be returning to their lives when the party ended. Such short lived happiness is merely temporary and I wish that I could bring joy to the elderly so they could live the rest of their lives happily. I did not have the chance to interact much with the residents either, although I would like to listen to their life stories and in turn provide companionship to the elderly too. At the end of the entire journey, I hope to be able to empathize with others and to learn more about the residents. Being exposed to something totally out of my comfort zone, I also hope to attain the ability of adapting to my surroundings and thinking critically of events going on around me. More importantly, I hope to make an impact on the residents' lives to let them know that they are not forgotten by society amidst the nation's progress.

-Clarissa

I imagined the program to be home visiting to know the living conditions of the people. To my surprise, we are needed to help out in the block celebration of National Day Parade. Besides the duty assigned to us, a few of us actually attended to this elderly who had trouble walking, but wanted to queue for the free snacks available. It was regretful that I could not understand her at first as she was speaking in dialect. But later found out that she could speak some Mandarin.

It's really important for the leader to know the language/dialect his/her people speak to communicates effectively. The MP indeed knows her audience, as she gave her speech in both English and Chinese, in which she said in Chinese first so as to capture her audience's attention. She's indeed people leader.

-Zhiyan


I wish I could have talked to more residents who participated in the event.

I talked to a few of the residents briefly and I learnt more about their backgrounds based on observation and the brief conversations that I had with them. The residents, especially children and elderly, are very happy to take part in the celebration and watch the performances because they rarely get a chance to do so. 

However, unlike the children who cheered and went around to explore the food booths, the elderly would not show their joy physically, they rarely put a smile on their faces.

I think this is because of the dull and repetitive routines in their everyday life that deprived them of opportunities to celebrate, smile and laugh. Slowly and unknowingly, they are used to putting on an emotionless facial expression.

Hence, I wished I had interacted with them, not just listen to their stories but also share mine with them to picture a more colourful life for them.

I hope I would be able to empathize more with people who are not as fortunate as me.

I also hope that I would be able to be more out-spoken after interacting with the residents.

-Huizhong

Environmental Exposure Reflection by Songshan

“What exactly does this small island has to offer to the nature?” is the guiding question in my mind when I heard about the EXCEL environmental programme. As a kid, I would spend hours under the sun observing how spiders make web and ants carry food. Such little things around me intrigue me the most and that is why I chose the EXCEL environmental programme – to rediscover Chek Jawa, for all the little and not-so-little things.

Indoor Training

Do you know what a stonefish look like? Of course, by the name I bet you can already tell that they look like stones. However, spotting them is not as easy as it sounds and one can take up to 15 mins to find a stonefish in a marine life brochure, which is exactly what I did after I first stepped into the indoor training.

During the talk given by Ria, who is a very experienced guide and also our teacher for this EXCEL programme, we were given a lesson on how to become a good guide. I remembered an important point: being good does not necessarily mean that one has to have an incredible amount of knowledge on wild lives (of course this would be a huge bonus for guides), the key is CONNECTION. No matter how knowledgeable a guide can be, it will not matter if he/she cannot connect with the audience. This brings us to the importance of communication in our lives. Proper communication is so vital that we will not be able to survive without it in any environment, and this is even so for leaders around the world. As leader of an organisation, one needs to have the ability to influence others positively, which derives from the ability to carry out proper communication.

Observatory Trip

The second stage of the programme requires me to be present in an actual tour in Chek Jawa with an experienced guide to observe firsthand how to carry out a well-carried out tour (no pun intended here!)

On the boat to Pulau Ubin, I learnt something very useful – to navigate and know exactly I am in the ocean. Well actually its simple, look at the sun and you will be able to know directions. Look at the surrounding and you will be able to know your current location. I always thought that Malaysia is very far from Singapore but it is really just a swim away!

For the tour, I was grouped together with Ria and my fellow councillor, Raphael. It is Raphael’s OJT but my observatory trip, but the first guided tour in Chek Jawa for both of us. We were equally amazed by the rich bio-diversity of Chek Jawa and culture of Pulau Ubin. We were also surprised to see the enthusiasm in the tour group, especially from the younger ones in the group. Ria taught us how to guide people even if we have minimum knowledge about the place, and as I have mentioned it above, the key lies in connection. She is very good at encouraging people and motivating them after an interesting find. At the end of the day, I realised that in order to truly captivate people, we do not only need proper communication, we need understanding. Only when we understand our common goal, in this case, to discover Chek Jawa, will we then be able to devote ourselves and, subsequently, others into achieving our goal.


Who knows we can find the existence of “Student Welfare Department” in Chek Jawa!

OJT Trip

This trip is truly memorable. I thought I would just come to Chek Jawa and do the same things as I have done in my observatory trip, but it was a completely new and astonishing experience! The biggest change from the last trip is that I will now take on a role of a “proper” guide, instead of just being a “side kick”. Despite having done similar talking before in other occasions such as school tours, I was still a little uneasy having to guide groups through Chek Jawa.



We were greeted by them—baby spiders!!

This time I was paired up with Daniel. The good thing is that I became comfortable talking to my group after just minutes into the guide! I suppose guiding is not that scary after all, and indeed as soon as you start talking, you will feel as easy. THE KEY IS CONNECTION REMEMBER? In my group is mainly made up of families so there are both parents and kids that we have to cater to. From this, I realised just how important it is to cater to different people differently. If we are able to recognise the traits of certain groups of people we will be able to better understand them and see things from their perspective. For example in the trip, we have to encourage and motivate the kids on interesting finds because this is what keeps them going, however for adults we will need another approach – to tell them about the information required. This approach is especially useful in school, since we also need to cater to different groups when we are doing events and initiatives.


What a well camouflaged crab!

The most important lesson I’ve learnt from this entire programme is that no matter what we do, we all start small. Progressively, after tasting failures and successes along the way, we will be able to truly appreciate what we have done, be it for others or for self. Isn’t this what life’s about too?

What a wonderful world!


Once in a lifetime chance of seeing Jellyfish! (Okay I exaggerated a little, perhaps once in a year?)

(Moderator: Apologies for this backdated post)

Environmental Exposure Reflection by Ming Quan

At the very start of the EXCEL programme, we were all given 2 choices to choose from: either the environmental exposure programme or the community exposure programme. I was quite torn between both programmes as both programmes had appealed greatly to me. I wanted to learn more about the life’s of fellow Singaporeans through the Meet the People’s session offered by the community exposure programme. At the same time, I haven’t been to Chek Jawa before and wanted to learn more about the environment and Chek Jawa through the environmental exposure programme. Well, I eventually answered the call of nature (haha) and chose the environmental exposure programme because I thought it was more attractive.

During the indoor training conducted by Miss Ria Tan, we were given handouts and to keep us engaged, we were tasked to find the menacing stonefish. Although it was a simple task to do, I soon realized that it was one of the many ways that Miss Ria Tan attempted to engage and capture our attention. The presentation she made covered a lot on how the trip would be like, what we could expect from it, how the trips were conducted and tips on how to conduct such guided tours. Throughout the entire course of the presentation, Miss Ria Tan was totally enthusiastic and I can see how passionate she actually was about taking care about our environment. Her love for the environment was what drove her to join the Naked Hermit Crabs and volunteer her services and teach others more about the environment. I’ve learnt quite a bit from her just through the presentation, that there are many ways to engage the attention of people and that we should be passionate and enjoy what we do rather than moan and complain and see the downside of everything.

My first on the job training was on the 8th September. I could still remember how the day started with me and Yu Lian meeting Mr Loh to at Pasir Ris before heading to Changi Point ferry terminal to meet up with Miss Ria Tan and the others. I have never been to Chek Jawa before and I was quite pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the surroundings there. I was paired up with Mr Loh and Daniel and grouped with a group of 3 families if my memory doesn’t fail me. The trip started with some facts about the history of Chek Jawa, on how it was meant to be reclaimed before some Joseph guy came around and decided to save it from reclamation. We then headed along the boardwalk towards the Jejawi Tower. I was quite amused by how Mr Loh attempted to capture the attention of the young kids and get them to participate in finding the ever elusive mudskippers and the crabs. He was real patient with the kids, much more patient then I have ever seen him and I was quite surprised by this other side of Mr Loh that I have never seen before. His constant encouragement to the young kids made me realize that encouragement is the best way to get people to cooperate. I also learnt that different people require different methods to get their attention to be engaged and this is definitely vital in our SC journey, where we must learn how to engage the attention of our fellow peers. We spotted several interesting creatures such as the mudskippers and the fiddler crabs.

A fiddler crab climbing back into its ‘home’

For the actual guiding trip, Mr Loh was heartless confident enough to leave me with a group of grown teenagers whom I have found immense difficulties in communicating with and capturing their attention. As the guiding trip went on, I realized that it was not really that difficult to be a guide. The people would just believe anything you tell them, so long as they see something. I was able to capture the attention of the rowdy teenagers with finds such as fiddler crabs, mudskippers, bees and several plants along the way. I finally completed the guided tour and I must definitely say I have learnt quite a fair bit more. We were rewarded at the end of the day with the sight of a wild boar!

I have learnt much from these 2 trips and I want to thank the Naked Hermit Crabs for taking us in and teaching us so much about the beauty of everything that surrounds us. I’m really grateful for this memorable chance that they have presented me with.

(Moderator: Apologies for this backdated post)

Environmental Exposure Reflection by Yu Lian


Murderous mosquitoes, freaky flies, mud, high humidity, searing sun: not the most ideal setting you want your weekend environment to be like. And yes this was what I had to enjoy on 2 weekends during my trip to Chek Jawa. 

Nevertheless, I certainly remember the numerous tiny organisms that I certainly would have overlooked if I did not embark on this journey. I really enjoyed getting closer to the nature and its little wonders and I definitely learned much more about the environment.

Indoor Training:

I tried my best to remember all the pointers that were given to us during the indoor training but who knew that just guiding people around is not a simple task. No you must not be discouraging in your words, especially when people are trying their best to answer to your questions and be enthusiastic; no you can't exactly mention what you did not see if not you will disappoint them, and the list goes on and on and on.

Oh and be extremely patronising. Ok scrape that, I meant be extremely encouraging and nice because this is the way where we can get people to be more enthusiastic and happy during the trip. Let me give you an example.

Black pepper crab: Eh red, is that human over there called Mr Low?
Red chilli crab: good try! You're extremely close! He's called Mr Loh but MANY people always accidentally spell it wrongly because Loh and Low sound alike. But good try!

Outdoor Training:

Following the indoor training, we had the guided broad-walk tour, where we are the guided! Basically other than trying to drown myself in mosquito repellent, it really was very cool to see for the first time the whole of Chek Jawa. To be frank I thought Chek Jawa was an island on its own somewhere far away. Close enough, close enough. And wow, Chek Jawa is pretty. And rich with mosquitoes. But other than that, really you see many plants that grow your attap chee (though I am not a big fan).

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and oh rubber. Like seriously, you see rubber sap hardened to form something like rubber.

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Then I saw so many stuff. Mudskippers ranging from XS to L. Crabs from XXXXXS to XS (I think the huge ones are avoiding us). The tiny dots on the photo are ALL FIDDLER CRABS. Now please don't think that you can just come here to take them home and keep them.

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Really, what I have learned is to really appreciate the nature much more. I mean have we ever bothered trying to care more about the nature? When we are exposed to advertisements telling us to not litter, blah all the litter will destroy marine life and stuff, yeah totally effective. 

But when you really see an awesome view at Chek Jawa, and suddenly your photo is ruined because you noticed the extremely annoying piece of litter that happens to appear in the foreground. I mean ok besides that you realised that it really just destroys their habitat. It's like putting a giant trash bag beside your HDB flat, SO STOP LITTERING. Go help pick litter now!

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Oh and another thing that I would take my hats off to nature is that MOTHER EARTH IS SO RESILIENT. I mean really, you see barnacles growing at the side of the pillars and different creatures that you find there using every single man-made feature that was introduced by us humans and made it part of their home, their surrounding. While I dare not say they didn't whine because I really can't communicate with sea creatures (unlike Percy Jackson from my favourite book series), they definitely took it to stride as they changed to suit the environment. And we humans should stop whining about every single thing that changes in life and move on! Or well if you going home then move back or something.

And finally, we moved on to the...

Guiding!!
Basically while I was extremely shy to guide them, I refrained from giving information that I am not 100% sure. There were only adults in my group, which is good and bad at the same time. Adults are nice and cooperative but not enthusiastic, while kids are enthusiastic but extremely agile and hyper.

One thing about guiding is that you really must know your content well and how you will actually engage the audience and capture their attention. Nope I didn't exactly do very well though, but I just hope that Chek Jawa's beauty was enough to dazzle them. Luckily with Mr Loh's help as the guide, he managed to fend off some weird questions and difficult times during the guiding.

Overall, it definitely was an extremely enriching experience for me, my eyes and my mind. Lovely experience admiring at the little wonders in our life.


(Moderator: Apologies for this backdated post)

Environmental Exposure Reflection by Ruo Ting

The Environmental Exposure Programme was one of the things that I look forward in council as it gives us a rare opportunity to barge into the highly knowledge-based nature circle.

Being much of a outdoor person, I am naturally drawn to being given the chance to learn from experienced nature guides as well as getting a taste of being a guide myself.

Our environmental exposure programme started from an air-conditioned room with Ms. Ria Tan. All of us enjoyed the short sharing that she gave us. The zeal in she has in her work is in itself a great inspiration to people who were given a chance to interact with her.

My first trip was in November, halfway through our Project Work schedule. I was accompanied by several other Student Councillors on the trip, having much fun learning alongside them. :) When we arrived at the pavilion, Mr Loh then drew us to a nest of weaver ants and shared with us the ingenuity of their method of weaving nests.

I was given the chance of following Ms Ria Tan on my first trip. She took opportunities to share with me stash of tips and tricks of interacting with audience and engaging tour members. She is able to match herself to the level of the audience, from young children to adults and engage in talks that will appeal to all of them.

As Ms Ria Tan is highly familiar with Chek Jawa, she was able to know what to look out for at each point in the boardwalk, allowing her tour members to have many interesting sightings along the way.

It was also a lucky day for everyone as there is a large number of jellyfish along the boardwalk at the sea! (picture credit: Mr Loh)


 My heart was won over by a little boy named Dalvin, who is my best friend at the trip that day!


 Here is a group photo of all 4 of us that day and dalvin in it as well! :) (photo credits: Mr Loh)


There was quite a break till the next time I was at the guided tour :) On that day, there was such a large group of audience to the point where Ley Kun has to turn down people who signed up later. There were a number of guides who gave up the chance of being at NPark’s volunteer appreciation day to continue giving guided tours to interested members of the public. This is a true portrayal of selflessness.

They were also rewarded for the sacrifice as we were greeted by Hornbill’s cries (which was of course not identified by me) the moment we arrived at Chek Jawa. We caught the hornbill taking over the nest box to be his new home, where he will house his bride and children. We were also welcomed by a few wild boars at very close distance. The guides also shared with me about the generations of wild boars and about how they swam across the straits to be in Singapore. We must never underestimate the possibility of nature.

Ley Kun assigned me to tag along Ivan’s group for my OJT. It was a large group compared to the last time I was with Ms Ria Tan. I benefited from the sheer amount of knowledge from Ivan. He was able to engage his audience with many stories and interesting scientific knowledge :) I was also able to share about some of the knowledge I have gained through reading and the previous trip with the audience as well. As the group was quite big, I could catch up with group members who are either going too fast or lagging behind to interact with them. Although I wasn’t given specific stations to guide at, it was still a great trip where I could put my past knowledge into use and share with the tour members.

The tour members were very excited by each sighting they had, enjoying the nature and bonding with their family members. This is one of the gifts of nature which we should protect and preserve for the generations to come.

At the end of each trip, the children were all engaged in documenting their experiences through art and colouring :) It is always very heartwarming to see that even the youngest of tour members have gained something from the trip.

The environmental exposure programme allowed me to see a world that I would never been able to see on my own and expanded my perspectives.  It is not easy to keep up with a non profit programme, up keeping blogs, documenting environmental related data and happening without out a true passion and belief in the significance of the work you are doing. It is the kind of passion and belief that I am still lacking of. 

The environmental exposure was a great feast of knowledge, experience and of course, crabs. Of which, the last point can only be understood by people of Naked Hermit Crabs. :)

(Moderator: Apologies for this backdated post)