In September 2017, a group of 26 youths embarked in a community project in one of the most remote parts in China. Their activites include sharing expertise to educators in Yangtzai Village on IT and interacting with children whose parents are mostly in the city in search of better provisions. In pictures -
On our last day in Guizhou, we managed to conduct a Cultural Day, just to share a little something from our tiny island. Activities include having the children assemble at the square to watch silat and dikir barat performance, class photo taking, and trying out traditional snacks like muruku, iced gem biscuits. We also woke up early that day to make ondeh-ondeh. We hope the kids had fun, enjoyed our company and treasure this moment because we certainly do!
One of the amazing things we taught was basic hygiene routine and some basic farm animals that they were accustomed to.
There, we taught the kids on how and when to wash their hands thoroughly . We had a basin of water, some soap and got them into groups to practice. While it may seem basic, it does not seem like handwashing was inculcated in their culture. We thought it was an imperative habit given their constant interaction with earth and animals in farm-living conditions. Some were excited to see soap bubbling on their hands and some were happy to have soapy smelling hands!
For us, it is important to have their hands washed properly as some of the activities we were going to have includes touching food and paint.
We had an art and craft segment where the children were given a banana and some Pocky sticks for them to create their favourite animal with. Then, they could enjoy their food. Just to be sure, we had them wearing gloves for that! We would feel so bad if any of them were to fall ill.
Then, we had painting session. This definitely brought out the mischief in some kids as they tried to paint their friends and some were overzealous they accidentally spilled the water in the bowl. Some were shy to touch the paint thanks to their overwhelmingly energetic friends! At the end of the day, everyone had a great time expressing their creativity on the blank canvas. It would have been better if the paint were water based though. It would have been much less sticky and easier to clean.
We managed to teach them some common fruits and the ABC. This was probably the hardest thing to teach because they had no exposure to the English language world! We managed to draw some fruits and broke them in syllables, then revisit the ABC in our evening programmes. Just hoping they would remember!
In Al-Falak pre-school, there were not short of amenities. Its frontage is a high full plate iron gate equipped with security camera , high walls lined on the perimeter of the school, huge square for the students to do their routine morning dance, a sheltered playground and garden (which we shared our failed attempt to grow crops in our previous post)
Physically, they are not short of amenities. The paint on the exterior walls of the school were seemingly new, there are bunkbeds connecting to the classroom and in each class there is a washroom, contrary to what we were accustomed to see.
These bells and whistles of a village school does not come without its reasons. The school which ranked among the top ten in the village is also a child care centre for parents working in the city which can be as far as one to four hours drive from the village. As such, these young and vibrant parents send their children there to help them take care of these children. They only get to see their parents when they get back to the village. Besides, due to the dispersed settlement, getting to school may not be as easy without vehicle and groovy dirt road. As a solution, kids were let to stay in school.
Each classroom is equipped with a huge LCD touch screen television with Windows and internet. Their staffroom has only one shared computer installed with MS Office 2007.
Our team offered to share our knowledge on IT and we were not surprised at how their MS Office were underutilized. While many of them know the basics of using Word, Excel and PowerPoint, they did not know the tips and tricks like using a formula in Excel to get data average, or add Animation on PowerPoint presentation that could expedite and make kids learning entertaining with animation, or taking advantage of the Table function in Word to edit or create forms for parents.
We spent two evenings after dinner at Al-Falak to give them a tutorial of what is essential and useful in MS Office and they were happy and excited to learn them! One of them actually sat at the corner of the conference table with one of our laptops creating a montage out of PowerPoint and some were enthusiastic enough by writing down the formulas for average and steps to get data percentage et cetera.
As for the kids, some of us spent the evening before their bedtime reading them stories and singing lullabies.
Clearly, language was a barrier! Our MS Office tutorial was in English and they only know Mandarin. It was like chickens talking to ducks. No matter, with the help of our Mandarin speaking participants and translator, we were able to convey the essentials to them. It was a bittersweet moment when the teachers were expressively appreciative towards us but were not able to convey in terms that we could understand. Their appreciation were strongly felt and we too appreciate that they had allow us to impart to them what was bestowed to us before.
Have you ever wondered, that with all the materials that they have, it would not have been useful without the proficiency to use them? Take for example, they have a pretty fast computer by village standards and equipped with considerably updated software (MS Office 2007 is just 4 versions behind MS Office 2016). Had we not known how to use it, would it be useful to us?
Here at home, we are working to be a Smart Nation. We are bound to have new technologies and innovations that will be incorporated in our daily lives. For sure, there will be the late adopters and laggards adapting to these transformations and inadvertently evolve the skillsets needed for employment. There is probably no other way to remain relevant than to be curious, just as how these teachers were keen for knowledge - even when they were already revered as knowledgeable by profession.
One of the objectives of this project was to refurbish parts of Al-Fattah (mosque) and Al-Falak (pre-school). The compound that we stayed in was Al-Fattah where they were three buildings adjacent to each other. There is a learning centre which is still undergoing some renovation, a mosque that’s divided equally for men and women, and a two-storey building where we stayed in. The learning centre and mosque were already decorated beautifully and purposefully by university students who came before us. We were in between conducting activities and classes for the kids and teachers at Al-Falak or pruning and replanting the plantations, repainting the walls that had worn out, and tidying up the stores and disposing of unused items at Al-Fattah. We also spent one of our days there dusting all the prayer mats in the mosque before cleaning the floors and windows.
In Al-Falak, we discussed and learnt what was needed to be done for the school and eventually painted the walls at the courtyard and planted current and new crops in its garden. We also spent half a day on a Sunday when the kids were not in school to clean the classroom toilets. Some of the logistical items that the team bought to execute the refurbishment activities include paints, brushes, rollers, detergents, and scrubbers.
These activities were meant to educate and inspire the children and the people of Yang Tzai, but the team were the ones whom ended up being educated and inspired. Despite the weather conditions, time constraints, and limited manpower, we carried them out diligently. Working hard under the hot sun for hours have taught us more than we expected to gain.
Before the trip, the team was already informed of these activities and we were prepared for them. What we did not expect was the hot sun during the peak of the day, and the amount of work that was needed to be done. In spite of that, proper and firm intentions were put in place before and throughout the trip. The team focused on the tasks at hand, knowing that all these contributions and efforts made will not be in vain.
The ultimate purpose was simple yet important; to brighten up the lives of the beneficiaries. These refurbishment activities were not impossible for them to do themselves (in fact we learnt that they are more than capable of a variety of skills), but knowing that there are young and high-spirited individuals who are willing to be of aid and support, it might turn frowns into smiles, doubts into confidence, and discouragement into inspiration.
For the team, it developed a greater level of trust and kinship, renewed sense of faith and sincerity, and acquired skills and interesting experiences from each activity.
Striving for Gratefulness and Contentment
On a fine afternoon the Guardians packed pomelos and mooncakes that were bought from the nearby town, Zhaotong. These gifts were to be distributed to the villagers of Yangtzai later in the day. The imam of Al-Fattah tirelessly walked us (we split into two teams to go to different parts of the village, both led by the imam) around to visit the homes of the villagers, which were built on varied levels due to the terrain. Al-Fattah mosque located on a vantage, overlooks the whole village. Undeterred by the distance and steep hills, a number of aged villagers still make their way to the mosque for congregated prayer. These villagers were often found to be contented and happy as seen from their facial expressions and body language. The serenity and peace that we felt came from both the village and the villagers.
The distribution was surprisingly fulfilling as we explored and learnt more about the daily lives of the villagers. Yang Tzai is also known as ‘No Man’s Land’ which means anyone can build a house on any available land and call it home. This is reflective of the sense of welcoming and gracefulness that radiated from the villagers as they held out their arms to receive our humble gifts. The sincerity of their smiles can be seen from how their eyes shone with happiness and gratefulness. The beautiful yet hardworking people of Yang Tzai seemed to be contented with their own lives. They grow many different crops either for sale or for their daily needs such as corn, chilli and soybean. The abundance of chicken, cow, and different plantations showed that they do not need to travel to town which is an hours drive from the village. The prices for meat in town are not cheap for the villagers. We learnt how each household have their own recipe for brewed tea. Thus, factory-made tea sachets were not found anywhere near the village.
The colourful and vibrant flowers found throughout the village bloomed like the spirits of the villagers. There was an instance when I saw in a distance a mother piggybacking her child. The mother stopped when her child saw a pretty flower and let him down for awhile to pluck it. The mother smiled as she observed her son carefully admiring the flower as they continued their journey. More often than not, I unintentionally made easy comparisons to Singapore where everything has been made easy, yet harder to achieve.
Gardens are artificial and trees were uprooted for more buildings. Basic necessities can be acquired at the touch of a smartphone’s screen. Our place of worship can be located just across the street, yet it is so difficult to even leave the comfort of our homes. Factory-made foods are sold everywhere some do not even know or want to know what is organic and what is not. We do not need to know how to grow our own food. Some do not know what tea is supposed to taste like. A percentage of the children of the current generation appreciate an iPad more than anything else. Yet, all we see in public trains and buses, morning or evening, are sad and tired faces. Time is always of essence. There is always a race for a reward. But then again, I guess different places pose different challenges. After realising their worth from the contrasting experiences I’ve gained in Guizhou, I think gratefulness and contentment are goals one should strive for everyday.
Hello fellow readers! Project Peduli recently embarked in an overseas humanitarian project in Guizhou, China and here we are having so many stories to share! There were many activities planned for the children, teachers and the villagers in Yang Tzai - the village we were in. The takeaways are aplenty and one of the many activities we did was gardening.
Here in Singapore, growing a plant has never been easier. Drop by to any nursery today and pick up a readily potted plant. All we have to do is to put it where the sun shines, water it religiously and there you have a garden. Our tropical and humid climate has made plant growing a conducive one.
The plan in Yang Tzai was turn a little plot of land into a garden or at least a small farm for the pre-school's own produce. The school has a plot of lawn with flowers and some chillies growing sparingly. The intention was well because we wanted a sustainable pre-school that could grow its crop. God forbid Earth would be starved of food due to population explosion one day and the kids in the pre-school whom stayed in would need to survive.
The gardening team came ready with all its gardening tools. Spade, seedlings, and gloves were all ready to be utilised so that the team could get down to business.
They started plucking all these beautiful orange carnations in hoping to replant it in a more aesthetical manner. Lo and behold! The principal's wife (apparently it's like a family-run school) stopped us because she really wanted to keep the flowers that way. Woops! Damage was done so we had to plant back the carnations.
As for the vegetable seedlings, we marked out a tiny plot on the soil to plant these vegetables. The soil was compact and scientifically it would be hard to plant seedlings. Not impossible but the seedlings were thin and the soil that we dug out came in blocks. Despite the soil conditions, we resolutely planted in the seedlings. Till today we still hope for divine intervention to revive those flaccid seedlings.
The hilarious part was this. After gardening, we went to the fourth floor of the school to see the view surrounding the school. It has this panoramic view that only urban dwellers like us would aw upon. How amusing it was to see the school surrounded by acres and acres of crop! Here we are trying to be the 'good guy Bill' helping them grow a crop, yet we forget the people in the village were better off growing crops and even flowers on their own. They probably do a better job than us.
As funny as it was, it makes us ponder that we urban dwellers are lacking in knowledge and skills that are probably useful in times of distress. In Singapore's context, we live in a smart city that is binded by binary codes and decks of server racks. Everything gets digital and at some point we miss the fact our needs like food and water are mostly imported. How can we develop survival skills that allow us to sustain ourselves, given certain dimensions in our lives like trade policies are beyond our locus of control?
On another note, this incident humbled us to continue learning even from the rural dwellers because knowledge knows no boundary. We were probably blinded by their living conditions and their lack in our ideals as an impediment to survive. Ironically, throughout the week, we were somehow depending on them for our meals.
Hope you have enjoyed our sharing! Stay tuned as we update you on our education enrichment activities!
Written by Diyanah Hadfina Azaman
On day 6 (17/6/17), we started the day off with an over 3 hours bus ride to Aceh's Tsunami Museum which was in the city area of Aceh. The long bus ride was accompanied by nature in its purest form - breathtaking for sure. All the hills, mountains, rice fields. I managed to snap some pictures but I have come to terms that nothing - not even the latest iphone 7 or canon DSLRs - could capture the true beauty of something like our eyes could.
Nothing beats the creation by Nature Himself.
I was feeling jittery when the team and I entered the Aceh Tsunami Museum. The idea of a natural disaster that resulted in a 230,00-280,000 death toll scared me. We entered a dark alley with water flowing by its sides and the walls - sort of like a mini simulation of what the tsunami must have looked like to the victims. It is sufficient for me to say that it was the worst 1 min of the visit.
Then there were some infographics about the tsunami, what to do to when hit by it, a documentary on the whole natural disaster, how did some fishermen survive the tsunami etc.
The museum visit experience made me really appreciate the livelihood I have in Singapore - safe, comfortable. I would rather not lose any of my loved ones, but to lose them in such chaotic state.. I would not even go beyond picturing it.
This brings me to another point - the value of life and trials.
I feel that this whole experience has taught me to value life and all the gift of trials I have been receiving. This life that I have, albeit with so many trials coming my way, is the best form of life gifted to me.
Everyone has their own way of getting through life - tailored to their own needs. People often question me why do I choose the busy life when I could easily lounge at home, go out with friends if I chose to. Most times I would just brush off the remarks, other times I would try to explain to them that this is how I get through life.
I have always believed that life is more than just about me. I have a responsibility towards my fellow humans. And when I carried out these responsibilities, I find my purpose. I choose to think I am not doing anyone but myself a favour when I do all these community service because I am in need of it.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
I managed to find so much truth is that saying. Finding myself through reflections. I for one, cannot imagine even trying to fit into the shoes of those Acehnese, especially the family of victims of the natural disasters. We may have it hard now, but trust me - there are others who have it worse. So much worse. But the beauty in these Acehnese is how acceptive they are of the trials and tribulations that come their way.
And when I see all these, a thought crossed my mind, "I am okay."
If there is one thing that I have learnt about this is that, sometimes accepting is the first step for everything. Accepting that no one promised this life was going to be all rainbows and stars. Accepting that trials and tribulations do us more good than we acknowledge. Pain is truly a gift no one wishes for but holds so much value.
If there was no sickness, would anyone appreciate health? If there was no natural disasters, would anyone appreciate safety? If there was no failures, would anyone appreciate successes?
Everyone has their own struggles. The least we could do as a fellow human is to spread some kindness to each other. And of course, they say, prayer is the best gift we can give to someone.
I left Aceh with a very heavy heart. I wished I managed to do more for them because of all the life lessons that the land and its people have provided me with - more than I expected.
Nonetheless, I am very much thankful for this valuable opportunity. My first overseas humanitarian trip, hopefully not the last. And who knows, maybe you would join us in future trips organised by Majulah Community? 😉
"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth." - Muhammad Ali
P.S. We managed to visit the city's beautiful mosque, Masjid Raya Bandar Aceh too on day 6! Definitely another highlight for the trip! Enjoy the pictures!
Team Programmes! Thanks for planning all the activities that encouraged the team to contribute our energy towards something beneficial!
Team Finance $$$!! The masterminds behind all the fundraisings and whatnots. Thanks for making sure we had enough resources for such a meaningful trip!
Team MEDIAA; the peeps behind all the photos, videos, postings and blogging (hehehe)! Thanks for being such supportive souls to each other, to me especially!
(Missing out Admin team in the pictures, but you guys are in our hearts k! There are also other home team members who are not shown here. Thanks for all the hardwork guys!)
PPROS Aceh team signing off ❤
I am not selling this as a spiritual-koyok, nor some sort of holiday package! Know that when you embark in this kind of trip, you can always plan. You can always reaffirm your intentions when it feels repudiated but you can never change the course of things that was meant to be. In fact, pushing it further could just aggravate things.
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The last day of this humanitarian project left us with some time before departure, we had the chance to visit two major landmarks in Banda Aceh namely Aceh Tsunami Museum and Baiturrahman Grand Mosque.
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