UWCSEA Stories podcast
In celebration of UWCSEA's 50th anniversary, hosts Frankie Meehan, Rick Hannah and Nisha Farah are joined by local colleagues to talk about the College’s Service partnerships in Singapore. Students join in and help bring their learning to life and share how Service has played a vital role in the College’s history.
All UWCSEA students from K–12 are involved in some form of Service and UWCSEA has partnerships with about 30 local organisations.
Anglican Care Centre
In this episode, Rick Hannah and Nisha Farah from UWCSEA's East Campus, are joined by John Tan from the Anglican Care Centre in Hougang. This centre in Singapore supports people with mental illness in their recovery journey and UWCSEA students have volunteered here for many years through the College's Local Service programme. Also in the studio is Molly, a student volunteer, and Martin Suarez, the teacher supervisor.
PART I: ANGLICAN CARE CENTRE HOUGANG
Welcome to UWCSEA stories. In this podcast, you'll hear from people in our Service programme, both in school and our local partners in Singapore. Service partnerships have played a vital role in UWCSEA's history. And we celebrate these long-term partnerships in this our 50th year.
In this podcast, you'll hear from Rick Hannah, the head of Local Service at our East Campus and Nisha Farah, the Local Service Officer. Today, they're talking with John Tan from Anglican Care Centre Hougang, a centre that supports people with mental illness in their recovery journey and where UWCSEA students have volunteered for many years. Also in the studio is Molly, a student volunteer and Martin Suarez, our fantastic teacher who supervises the students on their visits.
Nisha: Hello, and welcome to UWCSEA stories. I'm Nisha Farrah.
Rick: And I'm Rick Hannah. We both work in the Service and Sustainable Development programme at UWCSEA East.
Nisha: People may not know this, but as part of the curriculum, all students do volunteer work. And for many, many years, we had the pleasure to help these fantastic young people and organizations to connect.
Rick: Let's get started. Our student Service programme with Anglican Care Centre Hougang is particularly important to us because it provides students with a deeper understanding of the issue of mental health and wellbeing in Singapore and the importance of creating a more inclusive society for persons with mental health issues.
Nisha: So, John, tell us about your organization. Maybe you can share with us when it was established, who our students work with.
John: The Singapore Anglican Community Services has a branch that works in psychiatric care. They have been a tenant in the Institute of Mental Health for the last 20 years. Patients go through counselling and the programs that we provide … we also support the volunteers, which are very important because they get to interact with the public people instead of the staff only, and the patients recover. We also get them jobs when they stabilize. So a lot of the patients are working outside. Basically, about maybe 80%, 90% of them are working outside. Those who are not able to work outside, we get them to do work internally and they are paid some rehab allowance.
Rick: Can you give us some insight into the students and the learning experiences that you and they have engaged in over the last couple of years?
Martin: It was a learning experience for me as a teacher. The first day I went into a meeting with the students who had chosen this Service. I was already impressed by how they wanted to take ownership of the Service. They had all these ideas and structures in their minds that they needed to organize and research before we met them. I started moving out of the centre stage and just started witnessing how these Grade 9 students interacted to organize a Service.
Martin: We started in a conference room, we started meeting there in a big room and we took some drums and we had all this plan of what we could do, but then we met the reality of what, how they could engage. And that's when they started improvising and connecting at different levels, human connections, and wanting to see who they are, what their names are. So they started inventing rhythms with their bodies and learning their names by clapping hands and this very creative experience. So I ended up just admiring my students by how they were able to connect with grownups. For them these are grownups with mental issues and it was very natural.
John: What Martin says is true. You started off with drum therapy and also computer class. And I also agree with Martin that drum therapy is fantastic because it's music; it's the rhythm. And then with all that loud sound, it brings energy to my Centre. It brings energy to my Centre and our members really, as you said, click so well with the students; your students are all fantastic; different year, different students. Everyone has their own individual talent. So they click so well. They became friends. And my members just look forward weekly to who and who is coming. They know their names. I don't know the students’ names.
Nisha: Thank you for sharing that with us, John. I think that's amazing. I want to turn to Molly and Martin. Could you share some of the special moments of learning during your time with Anglican Care Centre?
Molly: I think one really special moment was last year when we had to do virtual sessions. We did a Zoom meeting. We were able to see the members and how they were reacting to our beats and activities. We could see there was a member in an orange shirt and he'd sit in the front and he would he'd be like the most engaged and the most excited. And he'd follow everything; he'd really understand what we were saying, which is really helpful.
Molly: Obviously, there's a language barrier, but he was really understanding. We introduced drums halfway through the year. We were just doing body percussions with our hands, but we moved on to drums, but basically, he would sacrifice his drum because, at your Centre, you only have a limited number of drums. This resident would sacrifice his drum for another member to make sure they were engaged. And it was just really cool seeing how he really, it was really inspiring how he'd want to…
John: Support others.
Molly: Yes, exactly. Share the excitement and engagement and all the other students found it moving. It was really helpful for us, too.
John: I always say this, and I think I told Rick and Nisha before, that actually I'm very glad that students are involved in this kind of voluntary work because you are all the future and you are from all over the world. Can you imagine if one person from this part of the world and that part of the world, who has been exposed to volunteering work and how to love the less fortunate and you all can be a spokesperson or even a person that advocates for autistic people or people like in my centre, the people with mental illness and the students they learn to understand that these are people with mental illness, but with medication, with support, with counselling, they are just as normal as you and me and they're working outside? But if you have gone through this kind of volunteering which I am so happy that United World College advocates this kind of thing, you will be more compassionate when you meet this kind of people, wherever you go in other parts of the world, you'll be more understanding.
Molly: That is definitely one of my biggest takeaways. Everything you said, John, about how being compassionate and being patient and even just being aware of…
John: Yes, yes.
Molly: How people have mental health issues.
Rick: Having listened to both John and Molly talk about their experiences. I think you've really captured the essence of our Service programme. It really is about people and about relationships and about partnerships.
Martin: In my experience, not just in this Service, but in all the Services that I've done in the school is the learning that I get; as John says, it's a two-way flow of gratitude. We learn from them; they learn from us. But I learn a lot from the way the students, I mean, I think the school's talking about agency. I think we have it in Service already. It's clear that the students take agency for their Service and you should have seen Molly last year; I enjoyed so much disappearing from the room.
Rick: I don't know if Molly would agree with this. Molly, I think you've been at the school for a while, right? So how many years?
Rick: 14 years! I think what we're starting to see within our Service programme is the maturity of the students who have come through the Primary School programme and had interactions, had partnerships and relationships with seniors, with people with intellectual disabilities and other community members have led to this independence that you have.
John: When Rick spoke about those Primary School children, it reminded me of about eight years ago, the first time when you invited all our members over for a Chinese New Year gathering, a high tea.
John: You had percussion s and other performances. But what impresses me until today, after 8 years, was the people that went around to welcome us and to serve our people. The people that came, the volunteers, were all Primary School children. All the little ones. I was so impressed by it. Even when I go back, I still talk about it. I say it's so wonderful to see just little ones serving all these people, getting us to go and eat first. So as I said, you are really exposed from very young to the older High School students.
Molly: John, you mentioned earlier how you said you were a people person.
Molly: I definitely think I am a people person and I am very, I am normally a very confident person, I think. John: Yes.
Molly: Maybe not in front of a microphone, but just in general. I think that's also why I was naturally able to take a leadership role in our Service. I think that I definitely most likely came from all the Service I did in Primary School and Middle School. Because in each grade, we'd go on field trips to a care centre and I just remember we'd interact with the members of the care centre and would play games with them and just chat.
Nisha: John, could you share with me a special moment from one of your members and an experience that has transformed their lives?
John: Well, the transformation happens to many of them. In fact, a lot I know are very reserved and very quiet. So some of the activities like drum therapy open them up. They become less shy. They become more engaged in our centre and they become more vocal. They used to be very quiet and very reserved; they also don't mix around much. Sometimes they just keep to themselves. But after joining all the activities that you all provide, like the swimming and the drum, and the fitness, all these things, they become close to each other and they end up supporting each other.
John: As you say, the guy in the orange t-shirt helping the others, they learn all this from you all, how they connect with you, how you connect with them, they learn to connect in that way with each other. And of course, other than all these things, those people who learn in the computer class, they improve their computer skills and then they become interested. And then in the centre, they want to learn more on about these things and then we attach them into our admin unit to help key in data, to help key in simple jobs…simple newsletters for us, and all through the experience that they have from you.
Nisha: I think the focus is definitely getting the members reintegrated into the society.
John: That's the main thing. Yes. We cannot keep them forever.
Nisha: True. John: I think Martin mentioned earlier something about residents progressing into society. The aim is actually in one to two years after they are with the counselling medication and programs and volunteers, which is, I say very important because you provide the external touch, the external experience, which is a step to the external life and external people that they're going to meet. So within one, two years, the goal is to discharge them back into society. And of course, with the work that we get them, they become self-sufficient, they have income. And then, with that recovery along the way, we discharge them. They're self-sufficient, they have work. But of course, some of them may not be able to be discharged between 1-2 years, but they progress in our centre maybe at a later stage, should we be able to discharge them later.
Nisha: So Martin, what's next for the Service? Martin: Well, hopefully this year with the other teacher that is helping us, we'll start a new cycle of Grade 10 students. And we hope we can, at some point this year, get again together in person because that would be…
John: That would be fantastic. There's a difference between online and face to face.
Martin: Yeah. John: We enjoy online very much because you have that personal touch. But the online one is…
Nisha: It's not the same. John: It's different. It's not the same, but it can actually capture a bigger audience. It's very different. So we are looking forward to coming back to United World College.
Martin: So maybe a good idea would be to have face to face if we can and keep recording some videos to share with you, to have both. John: Yes, that’s a good idea.
Nisha: I think we are also looking forward to that as a department. We realize how much our students are resilient and they have shown that through this pandemic, they're able to do virtual sessions and they've been very creative in engaging the members from Anglican Care. But we definitely do miss having the members over on our campus.
John: True, true.
Nisha: They are a huge part of our community. And we miss that. John: There are plus points to the online because of this pandemic; it had to go online. So our people there, our members, the people with mental illness, they're beginning to learn how to appreciate online things, how to appreciate Zoom and Google. So we are moving with times. So it has its benefits and privileges.
Rick: Thank you, John, Martin and Molly.
John: Thank you.
Rick: Nisha, it's always a pleasure.
Nisha: And to you, Rick.
Nisha Farrah: Visit the website www.sacs.org.sg to find out more about Anglican Care Services. And we'll see you next time on UWCSEA stories. Thank you, everyone. John: Thank you. Thank you for joining us for today's episode. The introduction music was composed by Grade 12 student Dhruv. Please join us for more podcasts in this series.
Apex Harmony Lodge
Hosts, Rick and Nisha from UWCSEA East, chat with Nikki Goh, Psychologist at Apex Harmony Lodge, a residential home for persons with dementia in Singapore. UWCSEA students have volunteered at the home since 2011 through the College’s Local Service Programme. They are joined by Eivind Lodemel '01, Head of High School Music who has supervised the service activity for many years, and Tarini, a student Service leader, who speaks passionately about the joy and connection music creates.
UWCSEA was recognised as an “Outstanding Synergistic Partner” of Apex Harmony Lodge in 2019 as they celebrated 20 years.
PART II: APEX HARMONY LODGE
Welcome to UWCSEA Stories. In this podcast, you'll hear from people in our Service programme, both in school and our local partners in Singapore. Service partnerships have played a vital role in UWCSEA's history and we celebrate these long-term partnerships in this, our 50th year.
In this podcast, you'll hear from Rick Hannah, the head of Local Service at our East Campus, and Nisha Farah, the Local Service Oﬃcer. Today, they're talking to Nikki Goh from APEX Harmony Lodge, a residential home for persons with dementia.
Joining them is Eivind Lodemel, a passionate music teacher at East who has worked with our student volunteer program at APEX for many years.
Nisha: I'm Nisha Farah.
Nikki: Hi, I'm Nikki Goh.
Rick: Hi, and I'm Rick Hannah.
Eivind: And my name is Eivind.
Rick: We are excited to share our programme with APEX Harmony Lodge with you today. Just a bit of background on that programme, it provides students with a deeper understanding of the issues of an ageing population and the importance of creating a more inclusive society and for people with dementia in Singapore. It also gives our students the opportunity to develop their communication and collaboration skills with their peers, but also directly with the residents and staff at APEX Harmony Lodge. And we've been really fortunate to have a strong collaboration with Nikki. She's been able to inform and educate a lot of our students about how to engage effectively with people with dementia. Maybe we can start with a few questions for you Nikki. So, first of all, tell us a bit about your organization. Tell us a bit about APEX Harmony Lodge, when they were established? Who do you work with, a bit of background information?
Nikki: APEX was established in 1999. It's the first and only dementia nursing home in Singapore. Since then, we have expanded our care services to persons with dementia living in a community in our daycare and also community care. We support persons with dementia throughout their journey with the condition, providing a holistic consumer of care with the support of many different partners coming together to enable and empower our persons with dementia to enjoy the same quality of life as everyone else.
Rick: Thanks. And you guys do a fantastic job of that as well, I might add.
Nisha: I just want to share a bit more about the relationship that UWCSEA has with APEX Harmony Lodge. We have been working with them since 2012 and we have two programs running. Usually, they run on Mondays and Fridays. Rick leads the Service on Monday and Eivind leads the Service on Friday. I'll hand it over to them, and they'll tell you a bit more about the programme, and how Nikki supports us with student learning. We have definitely evolved over the years, but before that, let me just hand over back to Rick.
Rick: Thank you, Nisha. We have students leading these programs, and we support them with the partnership and the relationship that they've been building with APEX. For cognitive rehabilitation, the students start by listening and hearing from Nikki and are thus able to craft activities that meet the needs of the partner. And then, as you mentioned, Eivind works with a similar group on Friday and does music therapy. He might want to shed some light on that as well.
Nisha: I just want to say something about Eivind. Eivind is an alum from UWCSEA Dover. Before we started recording today, he shared with me how he did music therapy as a student when he was in High School. So its quite interesting that he's leading this Service. Eivind also played a key role in helping this programme evolve. So, maybe Eivind, you can share a bit more about how music therapy has changed.
Eivind: As a student, when I was at UWCSEA, one of the things that I was thinking a lot about was this idea of meaningful Local Service and what does it actually look like. As a student, you want to learn about the process, and you want to learn about what it means to help, and the stages that are involved in it, that it shouldn't just be an instinctive interactio; it should be something that's very thoughtful. And a few years before I came back here to teach, I had come across a couple of books. Actually, one book was called Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, which is about music and the brain and talks about all these different things in fascinating things that happen in terms of how music interacts with the mind. Then, I came across a documentary called Alive Inside and is about something called ‘Music & Memory’, which is a collaboration with Apple Music, which exists in the United States and they provide iPods and playlists in music for people with dementia and Alzheimer's. Watch the documentary; I really recommend it to everyone listening to this podcast. It’s heartbreaking, but it is beautiful and it's wonderful. And it shows ... There's a scene, a famous scene that you can look up on YouTube, which is you see this gentleman, he's not talking, he's not interacting in any way. He's confused. He doesn't know what's going on around him. They ask him questions. He can't really respond. And then, they bring him the music. And they have a playlist of music that is familiar to him. And the moment the music comes on, it's like he wakes up. It's an extraordinary thing. And what actually is happening is that it has something to do with the areas at the front of the brain that keep musical memory. This area of the brain is the last to be affected by Alzheimer's or dementia. So, it means that even when many other bits of memory are gone forever, this musical memory still sits there. And the side effect in the sense of this is that it temporarily activates the rest of the brain. So it means that the right music used at the right time can really bring a sense of dignity back to the person with dementia. My idea was to try to do something around that. We created a structure and we got some iPods from IT, and we went and we started doing it. After a year or two, the team at APEX then started really seeing this as something that was quite valuable, and they wanted to invest a bit more time in it. And that's when we became very systematic about collecting data while we were listening to the music, learning about the profiles of different residents, developing a profile for each resident. Now have a lot of data. We have a massive music collection that we've collected over the years of Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin traditional songs. It's now come to the stage where we see and not all the time, but we see quite often where you have a resident, very unengaged, not active, not talking. And we bring the music and they are singing, they are dancing, they are talking, they are doing all of these things. And we were thrilled to be recognized as an outstanding synergistic partner of APEX in 2019 when they were celebrating their 20 year anniversary. Another highlight of the partnership has been the gathering of data that actually ended up showing a statistically significant increase in positive emotions for the residents as a result of the Music & Memory programme.
Nisha: Thank you, Eivind. I think one of the things that you shared about was how the movie inspired you and then you saw the same reaction with the clients at APEX. So, this leads me to ask Rick, you, and Nikki, what are some of the special moments during this Service that you have had?
Eivind: I have two stories, actually. In 8 years, there's a lot of stories.
Eivind: The first story was one where we were working with a bedbound resident that had lost all speech and basically was not interacting in any kind of way. And we tried all kinds of music. We tried so many things, and this was over months, and months, and months. The same student had worked with this resident for all these months and nothing, no reaction, nothing. And well, we're providing wellbeing just by the music. And so, we're okay, but then in one of the last sessions, the student said, "Let's try something totally different," and we've been doing Mandarin songs and songs in Chinese and we then went with Elvis Presley, I think, something like that. And the moment this music came on, the resident turned and looked right into the eyes of the student. And this had never happened before. The people at APEX that were working with us said this was very, very unusual. The other story is one where we have one resident and he loves Deep Purple. He loves listening to Deep Purple. And then, I had one student that was working on an Extended Essay and he had brought in the same Deep Purple song that this resident sings quite frequently. But in a funny way, because students are students, and he came and he hadn't been that organized about his preparation. So, he was meant to sing him the song and play it on the guitar, but then he forgot the lyrics. And then, actually, the resident with Alzheimer's was teaching him the rest of the song. And more than anything, it gave this resident a real sense of like, "I'm doing something, I am in control. I am teaching this young man how to sing this song." And to give that experience to someone with dementia or Alzheimer's, I think it's a special thing. We were really pleased about that. It was wonderful and heartwarming. Oh, hey, look here, there's a student at the door. Oh, it's, Tarini, who's been volunteering with APEX for many years. What a coincidence. Come on in, Tarini.
Eivind: Hey, it's great to see you. Now, you've been involved with APEX for three years now, do you want to share a little bit about your experience with us?
Tarini: Yeah, it's been so great volunteering with APEX because I personally find that music is such a great way to bond with people. And I'm really, really lucky to get to do this as part of a Service. You know, sometimes it can be really difficult to approach seniors and it can be a little bit intimidating, but music therapy is such a great way to find something in common with them. And plus it's really fun.
Eivind: Yes. I agree.
Tarini: I've had so much fun in particular singing and learning traditional Chinese songs, which otherwise I typically wouldn't be exposed to. One of the resident’s favourite song’s is Tian Mi Mi. Do you know it, Mr. Lodemel?
Eivind: Oh, I do! That's one of the ones that comes up a lot. A lot of the residents love it. How does it go again? I can't remember the tune, but that's a great one.
Tarini: Yeah, it’s really cool. I really feel like I'm making a difference for people in the local community, and really connecting to Singapore.
Eivind: That's really awesome. And so, why do you think APEX, that this Service is so personally meaningful to you?
Tarini: Well, I'm really, really interested in science, and I've played the piano for almost seven years now. So, APEX really brings these two interests together perfectly. And this is fantastic as I can really see the difference music is making in a person every week.
Tarini: And although I haven't had a moment yet where the music has totally awakened or reawakened a patient, since I've been doing this for the last three years, what I've really enjoyed is developing a relationship with these residents. And I really look forward to seeing them every week and listening to music together.
Eivind: I agree. It’s those relationships, those personal relationships, and even within the strange situation that we find ourselves. You still feel that connection to another human being.
Tarini: Exactly. The effect that music has on these residents is so powerful. And even if they're not completely reawakened, they're still fairly non-responsive, and you can clearly and evidently see the joy that it brings to their day. Working with APEX in Friday's afternoons is such a fun way to end the school week. And it just makes me so happy that I can make them happy and give them a little bit of joy every week.
Rick: Thanks. That was a great, great little bit of insight. Thanks so much for stopping by Tarini.
Nisha: If you want to know more about APEX Harmony Lodge, please visit their website, which is www.apexharmony.org.sg to find out more about the services and how you can be part of this organization. That's all for today. We will see you next time. Thank you.
Beyond Social Services
Frankie Meehan from UWCSEA Dover sits down with Gerard Ee, Executive Director of Beyond Social Services in Singapore. Beyond Social Services is a non-profit organisation that helps young people from less privileged backgrounds break out of poverty. Beyond has partnered with UWCSEA to welcome student volunteers for many years. Also joining them in the studio are teacher Vicky Berman, Teacher of High School Spanish and long-time teacher supervisor for the service, and Saw Wera Kyaw Kyaw '21, a student who volunteered with the organisation. They speak candidly about the challenges and rewards of working with young children in need.
PART III: BEYOND SOCIAL SERVICES
Welcome to UWCSEA Stories. In this podcast, you'll hear from some people in our Service programme, both in school and our local partners in Singapore. Service partnerships have played a vital role in UWCSEA's history, and we celebrate these long term partnerships in this, our 50th year.
In this podcast, you'll hear from Frankie Meehan, the Head of Local and College Service programme at our Dover Campus. He's talking with Gerard Ee from Beyond Social Services, a non-profit organisation that UWCSEA works with that helps young people from less privileged backgrounds break out of the poverty cycle. Also joining him in the studio is Vicky Berman, a teacher at Dover and Saw Wera, a student, both of whom volunteered with Beyond.
Frankie: Today, we're talking with Mr. Gerard Ee, Executive Director of Beyond Social Services, a very impressive non-profit organization that helps young people, from less privileged backgrounds, break out of the poverty cycle. Gerard, you're very welcome. Can you start perhaps by telling us a little bit about Beyond Social Services and what you do?
Gerard: Well, it's an old organization, we're more than 50 years old now. We work in public rental housing. There are 278 housing blocks like that in this country, and we have a presence in about 65 of them. We lead community development processes in these blocks, which basically means we organize the residents to work on their aspirations and challenges.
Frankie: I'd like to get personal for a moment if you don't mind.
Gerard: Oh God. Where are you going with this, Frankie?
Frankie: Well, The Straits Times once described you as a social work veteran. I'd like to hear a little bit about your journey into the kind of work that you're doing now, and I'll match you, by the way. I will tell you a little bit about my own journey.
Gerard: I hope so! You know, I was very young. I didn't know what I wanted to do and my first job, or rather a proper job, was working at the YMCA. I was just very young, energetic, and one of the first projects that I had at the YMCA was to organize a flag day. I think I did that quite well. And I mean, it was a long time ago, but we brought in a record amount of money. I can't remember how much, but it's close to a hundred thousand and back then it was a lot of money. Then when I left the job, I continued to volunteer. And one of the projects that the YMCA still had was a youth centre in Ang Mo Kio. And a real social work veteran, his name was Dr. Vasu, he had a connection with the project that was once Beyond. And he kind of plucked me off the street, and he said that, "You know, this place, it's populated by a lot of young people who are a little bit, shall I say, too rough for the people who are working there." Actually, I think I was employed as a bouncer! But yeah, but when I went there, I went for the interview and the truth is I didn't want the job because it was scary. I mean, I walked in there, the kids were climbing through the window and there was a nun, she was going around saying, "No, sit down, sit down." I was like, "God what's going on here?" And look, and the worst thing was when she took out their annual reports and she put all the objectives there, "instill discipline and make them good citizens." And all those things. And I was looking at all that and I said, "God, nobody could do this. You need a miracle to do this. And that's not me." I kind of walked away and said, "Sister, I'll call you, okay?" But yeah, eventually I called back, and I said, "Can I have the job?" And she said, "Yes, no one's taken it so far." So, I got it, and it's been quite a journey because I kind of discovered that this was not something you do. This was something you become. And I started becoming someone I kind of like a little bit better after the first few years. I didn't realize I could be like that. I honestly, I think, I wouldn't know what I would be today, but back then, because you're surrounded by all the social mission and you have to try and talk to people who are difficult to talk with, and you pick up all the skills, many skills that I didn't realize that I actually had.
Frankie: I love that expression you use that you have become the person you are now.
Gerard: Yes, it's the job you become. It's not something you do.
Frankie: I think it's something our students often don't realize. They assume that some people are just born with the right qualities to do Service, and they think, "Oh, that's not me." But I think it's more an experiential thing is what you've discovered. I think my own journey has been somewhat circular, but in a very satisfying way in that, when I was as young as 16, 17, 18, I believed that I wanted to be a social worker. And I started doing a Social Sciences degree at university, but for various reasons, that became an English degree afterwards. And I spent a year in London after university doing adult literacy, volunteer teaching. And then, I went off to Nigeria in West Africa as a volunteer teacher. That led to me spending eight years in Nigeria and Kenya working with an organisation called Voluntary Service Overseas. But after all of that, I decided to go back to teaching, which is what I'd done as a volunteer in Nigeria. And I could never have guessed that further down the line, I would have an opportunity to connect with that interest in helping other people in some way. And it was UWCSEA that provided the opportunity because, of course, it's central to our values and our mission. I've been here for 23 years. And every one of those years, I've been doing some kind of Service with groups of students. And then, more recently, I've become Head of Service. Again, I could never have predicted that I would be in the position I'm in today. I have become that person. We have with us Saw Wera, a scholar from Myanmar who did Service last year with Beyond Healthy Start Child Development centre. It's good to see you, Wera. Can you tell us about the Healthy Start Service and your experience?
Saw Wera: Healthy Start is a child care centre, a kindergarten for kids who come from low-income families. The parents can not afford to pay for a normal kindergarten, but Beyond Social Service provides the service at no cost. Before we met the kids, before we went to the centre for the first time, we did a lot of research. We read about Beyond Social Services. What are they, what do they do? And then, we also learned about how to teach preschool kids. We had five members in our group, and we took turns planning and leading the weekly activities. Basically, we have to come up with activities that will help the kids develop their reading skills, basic numeracy, or social skill. And we tried to make those activities as hands-on and enjoyable as possible.
Frankie: What was it like when you actually got the chance to work with the children? Was that challenging?
Saw Wera: Sometimes when you are dealing with kids, it can be very tiring, especially when there are kids of different abilities in the classroom. I remember one kid who I worked with was quite weak in English and unlikely to catch up. He could barely understand our instructions. And the reason behind this was that he didn't come to the class regularly. It was a bit challenging for us to include him with other kids in the class, but I encouraged him to keep up and try to motivate him all the time. And I learned that people come from different backgrounds and have different needs and abilities. You just have to know how to communicate with them at different levels and make them feel included and confident.
Frankie: Thank you, Wera. We have a teacher here as well. Vicky Berman, Head of our Spanish department and who has been leading groups of students to Beyond Healthy Start for the past 10 years. Vicky, Wera has talked a little bit about meeting challenges and needing to be adaptable. Do you have any other example of how a student can grow as an individual through that experience of doing the Service?
Vicky: Yes. I have many examples. I think it's a really meaningful Service and all of our students grow doing it, but I think some of them, at the beginning, face more challenges than others. One example I can think of is a student of mine, who's now graduated and is at university, but who I remember because it was in the introduction session that he came up to me. He said, "I'm really worried about doing this Service. I want to do my best." He was very keen to do well, but he said, "I'm really nervous. I've never interacted with kids of that age. I don't know to teach." He said, "I've never taught before. I don't think I'd be a very good teacher." And I was really impressed with how he opened up.
Frankie: And you yourself, you've been leading student groups to Healthy Start for over 10 years now. What keeps you so committed to this particular Service?
Vicky: I love the Service. I look forward to it every year. First of all, it's just an incredible centre. You walk into this centre and you know that the students have very challenging backgrounds, but when you walk into the centre, all you feel are happy children who are being really well looked after by people who really care about them. It's not just that there's good teaching. There's such a level of care and commitment and it's a safe environment. The Healthy Start students are not just being educated in reading and writing. They're being taught social skills. They're being taught how to interact with each other kindly. And they're being given a chance, for when they go to primary school, they are being given the chance to have a good start. It's a really special environment. And my students feel that as well.
Frankie: Many thanks, Vicky. Gerard, you write an excellent newsletter and blog every week, and I never had a chance to speak to you like today, but I feel like I know you because I've read the blog for so many years. The blog always features a story. Could you perhaps tell us about one of those stories?
Gerard: I would. One of the stories I would like to tell would be one during the circuit breaker last year, when we were looking for computers, and suddenly UWCSEA just showed up with lots of computers. And I remember driving the lorry and coming to pick it up at Dover and Tampines.
Frankie: How has the pandemic affected the families that you work with?
Gerard: It was quite bad, actually. I think we couldn't really imagine the extent of it. Recently we produced a study of those who applied for financial assistance and found a 69% drop in income. And I think there was a sizable number, about 30% of them, who actually had income at zero, so it was quite bad. Imagine just staying at home, not knowing what to do and getting worried that the virus will infiltrate the neighbourhood and not having an income. And in a very crowded work environment, it was quite tough. And this whole thing about homeschool learning does not work when you are living in a room smaller than this, and everyone's competing over one or two computers, you know?
Frankie: Do you feel that the partnership between ourselves and Beyond, and between yourselves and other organizations, can survive this pandemic? You know, we've had such a long hiatus. Do you see a way forward?
Gerard: I am hopeful with UWCSEA because we've been together for 20 years or more, and it has not always been smooth. Even when it was very difficult, I think we came together, and we tried to problem solve, and I think that's a very realistic way of keeping a partnership.
Frankie: Gerard, it's been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much. To find out more about Beyond Social Services, visit their website, www.beyond.org.sg.
In this episode, we hear from three Dover Campus High School students, Calista, Karen and Yueyang, who started HER Journey, an advocacy group for migrant domestic workers in Singapore after identifying a need in the community. The students talk about the challenges they have faced, how their project has evolved and the nail-biting experience of answering a tricky question, live on camera, from a member of the House of Lords.
PART IV: HER JOURNEY
Welcome to UWCSEA Stories. In this podcast, you'll hear from people in our Service programme, both in school and our local partners in Singapore. Service partnerships have played a vital role in UWCSEA's history, and we celebrate these long-term partnerships in this, our 50th year.
In this podcast, you'll hear from Frankie Meehan, the Head of Local and College Service Programme at our Dover Campus. He's talking with three high school students, Karen, Callista, and Yueyang. They started their own advocacy group for migrant domestic workers after identifying a need in the community.
Frankie: Callista, your group is called HER Journey and it aims to raise public awareness of the struggles faced by migrant domestic workers and help those workers themselves understand their rights. Where did your own journey begin? How did you become interested in the situation of domestic workers here in Singapore?
Callista: My own interest in domestic workers started when I was a child. So growing up, I've always had domestic workers come and go, take care of me. And I remember each of them had distinct personalities and they were all very interesting, very kind people. But as a child, I've never thought about asking about their own personal lives. It would be kind of a shame for me as someone who has experience with domestic workers, who have known them personally before in my life, to not truly understand the kind of situation that they're in here in Singapore.
Frankie: And Karen?
Karen: My personal contact with domestic workers actually came from a Service I did in Grade 10, HOME Cooking. HOME is a Singaporean NGO that provides shelter for domestic workers who have been maltreated by their employers. And we learned that a lot of domestic workers actually came to Singapore, not voluntarily, but in order to earn school fees or medical fees or to support their kids and siblings back home.
Frankie: So, Callista, that was when you came up with the idea of a card game?
Callista: Yes. The game that we came up with is called the Empathy Challenge, which is meant to garner empathy for domestic workers because we noticed that even though domestic workers, their roles in children's lives and families' lives, they're extremely personal, we noticed that people still did not really understand what kind of challenges they faced, which was the same as me when I was little. So this game was kind of like a source of redemption for me. Within our game, you play the character of a domestic worker, or you play the character of an employer. And through that, you end up empathizing with them because it's very easy to just demonize employers or victimize foreign domestic workers or even the other way around. We just really hope that through this card game, especially for children, we hope that the new generation of employers will be a lot kinder and more empathetic towards their workers.
Frankie: I'm just thinking, could we perhaps test it ourselves? Could we actually have a look at the game? We obviously won't do a full-blown role play, but let's read out a few of the role descriptions and get a feel for how it works.
Yueyang: I'm drawing an employer card. So at the top of the card is a description of the character. It says that he or she is capable of speaking many languages. At the bottom of the card is a list of tasks that the worker is required to complete. This includes a list. It says: household chores, cooking, and managing the house while the employer is overseas.
Karen: Let's now draw a challenge card. The scenario says, your employer's child isn't listening to you. You are frustrated and are physically exhausted from your other housework. How would you manage the situation? You've got two options. You could either choose to use what you've learned from experience to manage the child, or you could choose to ignore the child, focus on other tasks. However, this risks you being caught out by your employer.
Callista: This is a negotiation game. So I'm going to take a look at Yueyang's card, and Yueyang will be looking at my card. So based on the information on the cards, we see that the employer is actually very flexible with work time, and the character is also capable with children. So it seems like they would have a very peaceful relationship. So in this situation, it seems the first option is the best, which is, to use what you've learned from experience to take care of the child because my character is already capable with children. And anyway, it doesn't seem like my employer would be very likely to call me out for not doing my work very well. So yes, Karen, we choose A.
Karen: Great. So the ‘consequence’ is plus one well–being point.
Callista: Okay. I got one extra well–being point. Nice.
Frankie: Would it be true to say that the card game not only encourages empathy, but also encourages negotiation skills?
Callista: Yes. Because we realize that every single employer-employee relationship and kind of household conditions are pretty different, we kind of want our players to understand that different employers have different expectations, have different backgrounds, and so do foreign domestic workers. We kind of have the system of randomized picking up the cards because we want this element of unpredictability. We want readers to understand that no matter what conflicts can ensue, no matter how much you try, there's always kind of a chance that you can work through it by looking at what each other is like.
Frankie: Another local organization you contacted as part of your research was HOME. And of course, you were already familiar with them, Karen, because you did Service with them in Grade 10. So you now had connections with three established organizations and you had formed a student group in school, which you called HER Journey. And by the start of 2020, you had a clearer understanding of what you might be able to achieve as a group. You already had a card game, but now you added on two extra elements, podcasts and videos. So let's listen to a segment from one of the podcasts.
Podcast host, Yueyang: Hello, and welcome to HER Journey. Her Journey brings you the real stories about foreign domestic workers in Singapore. Like many other migrant workers, Rusti struggled in her transition to Singapore. The first job she got was to take care of an elder in the household who was paralyzed from the waist downwards.
Rusti: I must carry her. I must then get her everything like do everyday activity. I must help her.
Podcast host, Yueyang: This exhaustion was further intensified by the cultural barrier Rusti encountered. The elder she was taking care of did not understand any other language except for Cantonese. To make it worse, the rest of the family lived in a separate house, leaving Lucy entirely on her own.
Frankie: I believe you interviewed another domestic helper and you felt really inspired by her story.
Yueyang: Yes. Her name is Sri, and in her experience, she met an employer who asked her to work in two addresses, and that is against the law in Singapore. So what she did in response to that was that she negotiated with her employer. And when that failed, she asked for a transfer to another employer. So I asked her how she had the courage to do that.
Frankie: I can see how that message might inspire other domestic workers to speak up for themselves and insist on having their rights respected. Now, there's a kind of parallel story to everything we've heard, which is that you ended up in the final of a very prestigious international competition for student projects that address humanitarian issues. It's called Young Aurora, it's open to all 18 United World Colleges, but then the final itself involves a live presentation to the judges. In a normal year, you would've flown to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, but in 2020, the final had to be held online. Still, it was live and, I imagine, rather stressful. So tell us about it.
Callista: One thing that we really took away from this was that when you want other people to get on board with your idea, you really have to learn how to present it.
Frankie: I watched the final and there was a heart-stopping moment when one of the judges, Lord Darzi, he's a very eminent surgeon, asked a really tough question, but I thought you handled the question really well, Karen. You had all the relevant data at your fingertips. Do you remember what you said?
Karen: Yes. The Lord asked us why we chose to advocate for labour rights issues in Singapore as he seemed quite surprised about such violations occurring in a country with such a robust legislation system. And this is a normal reaction we normally receive, even from local Singaporeans. Many of us weren't even aware of how little migrant workers are legally entitled to in terms of working conditions under the Foreign Employment Act, which is not the same as the employment act for local workers. Therefore, I compared the legal situation between the two acts and also talked about government policies for foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, which help illustrate the discrepancy between the perceptions and reality. We also have one of our non-government organization partners, HOME, who took eight years in order to advocate for the addition of a legal clause creating one–day of legal rest for the domestic workers. Could you imagine, it's eight years of advocacy for one change?
Frankie: Yes. I know that your journey with HER Journey is really only starting and there will be many challenges ahead, no doubt, but what you've done so far really is impressive, and it should be inspiring for other students. So what's next for HER Journey? What do you hope the project will look like in one or two years' time?
Callista: First things first, we need to talk about the sustainability of HER Journey. One of the issues, when we were trying to start this up, was sustainability because there were doubts of whether we were going to be able to continue when Karen graduates, when I graduate. But now, I feel a lot more secure because Karen is Grade 12, I'm Grade 11, and Yueyang is Grade 10, and the majority of our group is Grade 10. When Karen graduates next year, there will still be a generation of students with a passion for continuing the project.
Yueyang: I also hope that we'll be flexible in the way we operate. So after COVID, we want more face-to-face interactions with workers and more real-life interviews so that we can establish emotional ties with them.
Frankie: Karen, Callista, and Yueyang, thank you very much for telling us about your journey with HER Journey.
Callista: Thank you so much for having us.
Karen: Thank you.
Yueyang: Thank you.
Frankie: To find out more about HER Journey listen to their podcasts at https://herjourney.sg/podcasts/ or visit their Instagram page, herjourneyuwcsea.
St. Joseph's Home for the Aged
Hear from Dover Campus teacher Michèle Pirson who has supervised UWCSEA student volunteers at St. Joseph’s Home for over 30 years. Joining her is Yuval Chen '19, an alum calling in from Israel. In conversation with Frankie Meehan, they reminisce about their friends at St. Joseph’s, the deep connections they have made and how service has played a meaningful role in their lives.
PART V: ST JOSEPH’S HOME
In this podcast, you'll hear from people in our Service programme, both in school and our local partners in Singapore. Service partnerships have played a vital role in UWCSEA's history and we celebrate these long-term partnerships in this, our 50th year.
In this podcast, you'll hear from Frankie Meehan, the head of Local and College Service programme at our Dover campus. He's talking about our connection with St Joseph's, a nursing home and hospice in Jurong. Joining him are Yuval Chen, an alum calling in from Israel, and Michèle Pirson, a teacher at Dover who has worked with St Joseph's for over 30 years.
Frankie Meehan: Hi Yuval.
Yuval Chen: Hi, good morning. I'm very happy to be here.
Frankie: Yuval, when you started Grade 11 back in 2017, there were dozens of Local Services to choose from, so what appealed to you about St Joseph's Home?
Yuval: I read it was a nursing home. Also, I heard from a friend a bit about one of her friend's experiences at St Joseph's Home. Also, one of the other reasons is before coming to Singapore I used to work in a kindergarten in Israel, so I felt like I wanted to experience something a bit different, not work with children again, maybe try to work with a different type of community. I didn't know that I was going to stay there for two years and how much I would enjoy doing the Service.
Frankie: Are there particular friends who stand out for you?
Yuval: Well, of course, I actually have quite a few friends that I remember having a strong relationship with them back in Singapore, but I think the two main ones are Amy and Philip. Amy was a special lady. She was very sad most of the time when I first got to know her. She used to sit alone and watch TV in the common areas. In the beginning, I used to sit with her. She didn't really communicate, and then I realised that the type of relationship that I'm going to have with her is just spending time with her and just joining her, doing what she's already doing, which is usually watching TV or watching prayers from the church who used to come and visit, so I just joined her. I sat with her. I spent time with her. Normally we didn't even talk about much, I just sat next to her, but it was so meaningful for her, those visits. She used to always tell me how much she's waiting for me to come, and in the beginning, it was very weird for me because I thought, "She's waiting so much for something that... we are not even doing anything, we're just sitting together," and I think that's what gave me the perspective of how important it is to just spend time with someone.
Frankie: You said there was another person that you have a fond memory of?
Yuval: Yes. Philip was another one of my closest friends at St Joseph's. We used to have long conversations. He used to tell me about his past life. He used to live in different places, so he has a lot of interesting stories about his life. We had a very close relationship because he was very excited. Every time we came, he already planned what we were going to do a week earlier, and I think Philip is one of the friends who I actually kept in touch with. We're friends on Facebook. We have a close relationship, so we keep each other updated, and it's very nice to know how much my visits meant to him as well as how much my visits meant to me.
Frankie: What do you think you learned from the experience of working with St Joseph's Home?
Yuval: I think the main thing I've learned is having perspectives about life. I think, especially as I said with Amy, sometimes we don't value enough how meaningful it is to just be there. It gave me a whole different point of view of life.
Frankie: Many, many thanks, Yuval. Hi Michèle. You've worked with St Joseph's for over 30 years. Is there any story that comes to mind about the residents and our students? I remember you mentioning the name Joey once.
Michèle: We spent one year with Joey, his last year. Joey was an international affairs journalist and he worked overseas all his life. When he learned that he was terminally ill, he decided to come back to Singapore. We befriended him through music because he was a good musician and a good singer. He developed a very strong relationship with a student of ours, Luke, because they had quite a few points in common. They loved mountains, both of them, and writing. They compared their travel logs. Joey felt that he had to give some advice to Luke, how to write. I had my relationship with Joey as well. We had many things in common. He was sharing his past with me and he was helping Luke grow, and before passing away, he knew he was passing away; he asked me to take care of Luke. Luke and I attended Joey's funeral. He made a strong impact on Luke, I'm sure.
Frankie: I seem to remember that you've often had students singing French carols at the home around Christmas time. What's the story behind that?
Michèle: As a teacher, I like bringing outside activities inside my classroom, and because it aligns well with the cultural living in France, so before Christmas, with some French students we went to the Home and then we treated them to some goody things and then we sang French songs as well, and the residents seemed to enjoy the French songs as well.
Frankie: Final question was going to be about the pandemic. How has that affected your friends at the home? How has it affected the way that you do Service?
Michèle: Well, how it has affected, as it has affected most places over the world, is that they've had very, very, very few visits. We're lucky to be in Singapore and that restrictions are less strict now than in many places, so I think they can have visits from very close relatives but nobody else, so we've not been able to go for more than a year. We try to recreate the same relationship over Google Meet, so now we see our friends over Google Meet and we have conversations, and we can flip the screen and do some games as well. I'm very pleased that we've managed to recreate the same type of closeness. The residents know it's Friday, they know it's three o'clock, and when I connect, if I'm two minutes late, they tell me that they've been waiting for us. I'm very pleased that technology allows us to maintain a certain level of relationship, and I can't wait to go back.
Frankie: Well, I hope this happens soon. Many thanks indeed, Michèle.
Michèle: And thank you, Yuval, for joining us from all the way over there, early in the morning.
Yuval: Thank you, Mr. Meehan. It was really nice jumping back to the memories of St Joseph's Home.
Frankie: My pleasure. To find out more about St Joseph's Home, visit www.stjh.org.sg