By June Lee
Recently, five literature students from the Class of 2013 wrote and launched a book of stories about the lives of former drug addicts. Since May, 1,000 copies of Sense of a Beginning have been distributed to schools and public libraries across Singapore. Then, there is also Raffles Runway, a CCA that provides a platform for creative expression through fashion designing. It has since evolved into an annual fashion show cum dinner event at RI that also raises funds for charities such as the School Pocket Money Fund.
‘Our philosophy is that we should take the lead in serving the community. So the idea of community outreach and impacting the community is central to our mission and vision to be the Hope of a Better Age,’ said Principal Mrs Lim Lai Cheng. Taking the lead to engage in community service is nothing new in RI. The institution has a long-standing history of community service. Its alumni, Lee Kuan Yew, S Rajaratnam and Tan Teck Chwee, have devoted their lives to public service and administration. Its tradition carries on in the lives of current students today who regularly initiate and engage in a plethora of service projects. These projects have, so far, been partly funded by the 1823 Fund.
‘When we started the 1823 Fund, one aspect was to have people contribute to student-initiated projects so that students don’t have to go all over the place looking for money to fund their projects and they can go straight into them. So it was a very small and modest effort,’ explained Mrs Lim.
Since then, the vision and mission for this modest effort has evolved. It wants to be more encompassing with the aim of involving the larger Raffles community as well. Hence, the new Raffles Community Initiative (RCI) is a rallying call for all Rafflesians, past and present, to always give back to society, especially those who are less privileged.
‘I wanted something like the Clinton Global Initiative (an initiative to convene global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges); something global which will rally all Rafflesians to say that this is a core movement we want to create among the alumni, the alumni’s parents and parents of current students,’ Mrs Lim shared.
GROWING THE COMMUNITY CONSCIOUSNESS
The school also hopes that this initiative can help to integrate community consciousness with the school’s programming.
‘We haven’t really instituted it as a core programme so I think now we want to draw everybody together to do it as a core purpose,’ Mrs Lim reiterated.
In the pipeline are plans to fine-tune the international component of the Gap Semester that requires students to do some community engagement. ‘So, that will ensure that there is a core programme in the school that requires students to commit to community projects as part of their course work and that would be at Year 4,’ Mrs Lim expounded.
Projects initiated in RI so far have been wide-ranging and the ways students use to engage the community are getting more creative.
One of the interesting projects was initiated by the Raffles Debaters. The Rafflesians introduced the art of debating to some 250 enthusiastic primary school kids from 30 schools. They held a Debating 101 Workshop and even gave them an opportunity to interact with fellow debaters on the circuit. ‘My pupils certainly enjoyed themselves and had many takeaways. Not only did they learn debating techniques, they also witnessed how true student leaders “pass it forward” and help others!’ remarked Mrs Val Low of Punggol Primary School.
Another group of Rafflesians refurbished some homes in Boon Lay Drive estate despite having no experience in painting and cleaning. Organised by a team of five Year 4 students, the refurbishment project was a partnership between RI and Viriya Community Services. Some units were given a fresh coat of paint while others were given a thorough cleaning.
The 100-odd volunteers not only picked up a tip or two about painting, they also walked away learning that sometimes a little effort on everyone’s part goes a long way in brightening someone else’s life. ‘The act of helping someone is an extremely gratifying experience and though it is tiring, I felt extremely pleased with all the hard work I had put in. It also offers the opportunity for us to understand more about those who are less well-off in society,’ Chew Khai Syuen (3Q) summed up his experience well,
One project that has been particularly successful and is in its fourth year is the RI mentoring programme. It is aimed at nurturing bright Primary 5 and 6 students from humble backgrounds by getting proper guidance and support from the Year 5 and 6 student mentors from the Raffles Interact Club. The programme has been successful in preparing students for the PSLE examinations as well as providing them with additional enrichment support such as music appreciation and visits to educational facilities like the Singapore Science Centre.
‘Our mentee, Suvetha, has found it a very fulfilling experience. Her grades have improved significantly and she has learnt to focus and concentrate better during her lessons. Another mentee, Thiru, has found the experience enriching as he has not only improved academically but also has learnt to appreciate sports as he stays back to play soccer with the mentors after his lessons,’ said Ms Sharon Cross, the teacher in charge of the programme.
It has benefitted the mentors as well. ‘The programme is a good platform for students like me to put our talents, such as playing musical instruments, to good use by conducting enrichment programmes for the mentees. The 1:1 ratio of mentors to mentees enables us to tailor the academic programmes to suit the individual needs of the mentees,’ head mentor Claudia Koh (13S03I), expressed.
INVOLVING THE LARGER RAFFLES COMMUNITY TO SERVE THE COMMUNITY
Besides student initiated projects, local or overseas community projects initiated by CCAs, alumni and parents can also tap into t his new fund for support.
Mrs Goh Swee Hong, former Chairperson of the Raffles Parents Association (RPA), welcomes the Initiative. In 2012, she initiated and led a group of 28 parents and their children to visit the Somrong village in the Barray District in Cambodia. The group taught basic oral hygiene practices and English to about 150 school children, gave the school and its playground equipment a fresh coat of paint and look as well as distributed clothes and food items to the village families during their seven-day trip.
‘I am so happy that the Raffles Community Initiative will be supporting projects like our Cambodia trip. This will definitely defray a lot of costs and will allow more participants,’ said Mrs Goh, whose son was in Year 6 when she led the trip. ‘It was the first time we organised such an effort. I felt that parents, not just the boys, should experience it. Besides helping the villagers, it was a great bonding experience for the parents and their children.’ She hopes that the RPA will continue to initiate community projects.
‘One parent group is also helping an orphanage in Yangon. They are helping to raise funds through a project they are doing so hopefully this fund can be used by the RPA and the RPA Alumni group to start off their work in the orphanage,’ Mrs Lim added.
To review and consolidate the plethora of efforts as well as making sure such efforts are sustainable, a Community Service Council will be set up, comprising representatives from the various Institutes (Raffles Leadership Institute, E W Barker Institute of Sports, Raffles Science Institute, Raffles Debate Academy and the upcoming Raffles Arts Institute), key Y1–6 programmes (such as Research Education Service Learning and Gap Semester) and key CCAs (Interact Club, Community Advocates).
SEED FUNDING FOR DIVERSE PROJECTS
With the Raffles Community Initiative, the school hopes to impart clearer direction, greater coherence and stronger backing to its many service platforms and projects.
The Initiative aims to continue to garner interested donors, alumni and parents to provide seed funding and support, in the form of expertise and skills, for projects that will benefit different sectors of the community.
While additional sources of funding are available for students to tap on for these community projects such as the partnership set up recently between the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and the Ministry of Education (MOE) to promote youth volunteerism beyond the school years, the Raffles Community Initiative is distinct in its mission.
‘People are free to apply but we want to set up something within the Raffles community rather than rely fully on other agencies. Other agencies also have to serve other schools and institutions and the fund that they have set up is for all across the board: ITE, polytechnic, tertiary, etc. The Rafflesian community should have enough resources to provide for its own,’ Mrs Lim said confidently.