in silence

Month: April, 2014

take heart

disclaimer: not a CAS reflection

So I’ve decided to include a bunch of posts here and there that aren’t CAS reflections but just as a way to document my IB journey in general!

Over the past few days I’ve been growing increasingly motivated, especially when I’m in school. I’m not really sure why but I’m thankful for it. Yes, Year 5 is tough and despite this new wave of motivation, I admit I do still feel tired – I am only human. But I can honestly say I’m really enjoying this year.

As I write this post I’m just about to start on my anthro revision for CTs which are in… 2 days and I would be lying if I were to say I weren’t the least bit worried for them, because I am. But more than anything else I’m just really thankful to be where I am now. About 5 years ago, I made the decision to come to sota and it was an unexpected one for a lot of people around me but it’s a decision I’m glad and proud to have made anyway. I was talking to my mom the other day and she told me that I’d actually wanted to go since P5… I don’t even remember that!

I have zero recollection as to why I chose to come here but I have no regrets. At the end of last year I was actually feeling a bit apprehensive about school. Seeing all my friends from other schools starting afresh in new institutions just kind of made me want to do that too. Ultimately, I decided there really was no point changing and I’m glad I made that decision because I think I would have regretted choosing otherwise.

School hours are long but they’re really enjoyable. I’m so blessed to be surrounded by such lovely people, friends who will prepare exam survival kits for you and friends who will drop you a text to encourage you to press on. Psst lysha your exam survival kit really helped when I really wanted to give up on my physics IA. 

Most of all, we’re all so blessed to be learning. Despite how tough it might be at times, it really is a luxury to be able to go to school, to be able to devote time purely to things like reading and learning about the world. And sometimes I think we forget about that. Ultimately, while we do have tests, grades, exams and all, it is important to go back and remember that what is important is that we’re learning and growing through that.

I sometimes struggle with the expectations others have of me and whenever that happens I just remind myself to keep loving what it is I’m doing. Whether for LeAd, school work, writing, everything. It’s the only way to get through the immense amount of work there is waiting for us – to love doing it and love learning through it.

Two more weeks till the end of the CTs, all the best everyone ~



ExE Rock Climbing Conclusion

Ah… following that rather heavy post down below I think I’ll do a lighter one up here – fair warning to anyone who intends to read past this post!

I’m proud to say we’ve completed our rock climbing module for Year 5! It’s really been one of the most enjoyable ExE activities for me over these past 5 years. I think I can say I’ve progressed from the start of the lessons, whether in terms of self confidence or skill sets in climbing.

Before this series of lessons, the last time I remember doing any sort of ‘rock climbing’ was at this beach event in sentosa when I was 11 and they had an inflatable rock climbing wall. I recall climbing to the top of the squishy and possibly deflating structure and then shaking at the top when I realized I had to come down because unlike rock climbing in school there was no harness. Don’t worry the height was probably no higher than one and a half stories and it was basically a huge inflated platform at the bottom so it was completely safe, just 11 year old Rachel being a chicken here!

But yes I have since grown from that shaking at the top of inflatable rock walls to climbing actual walls blindfolded!! When the whole module started I was honestly rather doubtful of my own abilities, wondering whether I would be able to even get on the wall, much less get anywhere but I was glad to find out that I was actually capable of doing so! To be fair, I’m not actually that scared of heights despite the little anecdote I shared above oops just so I don’t accidentally give anyone the wrong impression of the feats I’ve scaled.

But yeah I actually do quite like heights, most of the fear on that structure stemmed from its …squishiness than anything else. I’ve enjoyed doing various rope adventure courses in primary school and over the past few years so the height factor wasn’t as big a block for me as what I thought my own physical abilities would be.

For some reason, the group I was with always ended up with the tougher walls to scale. I remember when we were trying to scale the pregnant lady (as christened by Mr Tan), the first time I wasn’t able to overcome it despite going to the side of it instead of directly over it. I felt so disappointed by myself on the wall, little more than 3m above ground and yet unable to continue moving. Being the stubborn stubborn child that I am, I refused to let myself be defeated by her plastic bulge and tried again later that day.

Before going up again, I watched various people try the same wall, noting what people did when they managed to get over and what they did when they didn’t manage to. The hardest part of going over by the side of the pregnant lady was this one segment where you have to sort of swing over or stretch over in order to get back on the climbing route because there is a lack of handholds in the area, making it hard to pull your own weight over to the left of the wall again.

In order to get myself across, I figured I just had to go for it. There was no way around it. And I was so happy when I manage to grab on to the handhold over the pregnant lady and hoist myself back into the main area of the route. I then managed to scale quite a number more panels before being belayed down.

Of course, Mr. Tan being the really agile ExE teacher he was encouraged us to try going over the pregnant lady directly by applying the twist method as we climbed, basically using our core and leg muscles to stand up and reach over the bulge instead of going to the side of it or trying to pull ourselves over with our arms.

I did try the following week but I didn’t manage to do so. However, I’m glad that I did still at least attempt!

During the last climbing session, we did a blindfolded climb. My partner was Vanessa and between the two of us we had to choose one of us to be blindfolded and the other to guide. Initially I had my reservations about being the blindfolded climber. The route we covered was route B which was by far much easier than any of the other routes I’d tried before but I was afraid I think of looking silly on the wall as I climbed blindfolded, of not being able to find the right handholds up there. But I decided I might as well try because after all when else would I get a chance like this? So I did and I’m glad to say it was actually a very pleasant experience. I found that without the use of sight I was more encouraged to really just reach out around me and try to see what I could grab on to and use. I remember Nessa telling me after the climb how sometimes when she stopped to climb herself she would find me already moving on by myself. Being ‘blind’ can actually really encourage you to go for it and try out new things, something that we might not necessarily do while we can see.

At the same time, it’s still nevertheless very important to have someone guiding you. At times when I really couldn’t seem to find a rock myself, having Vanessa there to reassure me that there was indeed a rock to climb on if I threw myself to the left a bit more gave me the confidence I needed to keep climbing. Also important was having the belay team there and feeling the reassurance that the rope provided pulling against my hips.

The climb as a whole actually felt much shorter than I thought it would – before I knew it, Nessa was telling me to take off my blindfold because I’d reached the top! But boy was that blindfold sweaty …

As a whole I think Rock Climbing really taught me to step out of my comfort zone and always just keep trying if I can. When you’re up there on the wall and you can visually see the progress you put in and the hard work that went into that, you are increasingly motivated to just keep climbing and keep trying. Furthermore, it also taught me about teamwork and trusting the people you work with and how important that can be. Finally, it was also a reminder to trust in myself and what I can push myself to do because a lack of self confidence doesn’t get you anywhere!!

Done with Rock Climbing and looking forward to the next ExE module!


GPS – Parents Briefing

This tuesday’s parents briefing really acted as a platform for me to collate my thoughts about OSL and GPS before leaving for our trip this May and also thus allowed me to think about what my objective is for this trip.

As the LSC chairperson I had to prepare the opening presentation together with Jiayu who’s the Year 5 I/C. Thinking about what might be interesting for the parents to see, we thought it might be a good thing to prepare a short montage of photos from the OSL journeys last year along with quotes from students. I think one thing very unique about our OSL and GPS experiences is that across the different locations we do have quite different focuses for our projects. For example, in my OSL/GPS location Zambales, the issue that we are exploring is quite clearly minority rights, or more specifically indigenous rights. In comparison, the two GPS locations based in Vietnam (Mai Hich Village and Buoc Village) are clearly focused on developing the tourism of the area. Not only are the issues we explore different, but by extension the communities we work with vary largely as well.

When we returned from the trips and also when we spoke to Ms Cynthia over our Seribuat Leadership Expedition, I began to see the large disparity between the communities we worked with. The OSL team that Ms Cynthia was with was OSL Semarang. The children in OSL Semarang are street children and the sota students who went there worked with two separate villages of children. Ms Cynthia told us about how in the two villages, you could quite clearly see a difference in their behavior, with the children from one village being significantly more well behaved than the other village. A lot of this is due to the sort of environment they grow up in I believe, because these villages are homes for these street children and therefore the behavior of those around them was basically the core influence of their own behavior. I know some of my school mates recounting getting a bit of a shock at the behavior of the children, some of them younger than us but swearing rather … intensely? (hmm I’m not sure I have the right word). Every community has their own set of issues to deal with. In Semarang it was child trafficking and I believe they live in a much more urbanized environment than that of the Aeta community that we visited and the difference in environment is made tangible through the people in the community.

In Zambales, other than the chief and a number of the elders, what I understand is that very few members of the community actually interact much with people out of the Aeta village, unless they are students that come in to visit like us. It was a very different experience going into the village and living with them. And going forward this year, I’m really looking forward to doing a home-stay with the various families. There is a level of hesitation in doing the home-stay as well of course, with the vastly different level of intimacy we will be sharing with the community.

There is a distinct difference between spending the day doing workshops and interacting with the villagers then going back to the confines of our concrete white walls and air-conditioned dorms in the night as compared to spending the entire day with them, sharing our meals, having to shower and finally lying down to rest in their spaces instead of a foreign space placed within their community.

It reminds me of this one time when the kids came to our dorms to say hello and when we opened the door to them they ran in and started rolling around the beds in glee. The beds and mattresses that were so normal to us were objects of significant wonderment for them. I hesitate when I write this because I’m afraid to come across as ethnocentric, imposing what we believe as better on them? But I think rather than that, the point I’m trying to make is that the environments we grow up in and live in are so vastly different and hence I think staying with them for about 5 days in their homes will really be an eye-opener.

There’s something about the night-time that makes us more vulnerable and open as well. Perhaps this is my own romantic notion of the night but I do think that as dusk falls, little bits of own barriers that we unknowingly put up come down as well as we feel protected by the growing darkness around us. Unlike in OSL where we basically had a familiar space of sorts to return to and be more vulnerable, we won’t have this in GPS. I do hope that in the process I will, along with the rest of my team, be able to embrace whatever it is that we come to experience and grow from that. Ultimately, it will be a journey in continuing to learn more about the Aeta community and, especially so for our GPS based on documentation and understanding of the community, this is something very crucial to the trip itself.

And really, personally I feel like this second trip is only the beginning of our journey in understanding and aiding the community. I really do hope to be able to continue work with them post GPS. Hopefully GPS will provide me with a better understanding as to how that might work out. And I think that in some sense is the beauty of the link between OSL and GPS.  It encourages to continue looking forward and thinking about what we can do for the community. And naturally as we brainstorm and get to know the community better we begin to develop this sense of responsibility towards them that will hopefully motivate us to continue working with the community. This was something that we brought up to the parents during the learning takeaways segment of the briefing and I do think it’s something crucial. It allows us to take ownership of what we are doing and therefore progress on the trip not just out of purely doing it but for intrinsic motivations of our own.

Also, one other aspect that I believe really contributes to this intrinsic motivations is that we are allowed to choose which communities we want to serve. Causes that resonate with one person might not necessarily resonate with another. For example, I remember when my OSL location was first introduced, not many people actually selected it as their first choice (it was actually the second choice of many members within our group). But for me personally it was something that really stood out. I’m not even really sure why but the idea of learning more about this indigenous community and documenting their culture in order to help raise awareness for them was something that stood out for me. The OSL Zambales introduction by Ms. Ong Xinyi and Mr. Fared was actually one of the last presentations (the last was Pekalongan) and prior to that presentation I didn’t feel very engaged with the other OSL locations and their causes. The idea of teaching English classes to children or working with tourism did not really resonate with me personally because I think to some extent I felt like it was a bit intrusive on the community and possibly a dilution of the culture. And perhaps it was this emphasis on preservation of culture in Zambales that stood out to me.

And different things will stand out to different people. Neither of the OSL/ GPS groups are lesser than the others and I can tell people generally do feel very motivated to return to the communities that they are working with. And that’s the beauty of it all, that we can all work for causes that we feel strongly for through the platform of OSL/GPS. However, I think one thing that stood out to me was also the notion that true service does go beyond what might initially interest you. In collating the quotes for the GPS presentation I received this quote:

“As disappointed as I was that we weren’t able to go to Sumatra, I’ve realised that at the end of the day OSL and GPS aren’t necessarily about the specific cause or destination. It is about being eager to serve no matter the place, and allowing oneself to be open to different cultures and communities; so that from helping these people, we can in turn learn and grow as individuals” – Alysha Nair; GPS Vietnam (Buoc Village)

Their OSL trip was cancelled due to volcanic activity and so instead of working with environmental issues they were instead posted to do work on tourism related issues in Vietnam. And I do have a lot of respect for the team, being able to continue to carry out and plan their OSL/GPS trips which such commitment despite the change in plans.

Going into the quotes that we collated for the presentation I think reading the quotes we received from people really pushed me to think, myself, about what it is that I’m going back for. As I look through the various quotes, I notice that people actually have relatively varied reasons and goals for themselves in GPS. Someone noted leading the team and bringing them together as her goal while another noted paving the way for juniors from sota in the future.

Personally, I’m looking forward to this trip not as the end of a journey working with the Aeta community but really, as I mentioned earlier, a continuation of what we’ve been doing, still looking to understand the community better in order to continue working with them in ways that could impact them more positively. With every trip, I’m certain that our relationship with the village will grow and hence our capacity to aid them. For example, preparing for the parents’ briefing I was made to think back about the activities we planned last year and how we have grown from them. Our activities last year were a lot more vague and were generally just more ‘fun’ activities in comparison to this year where we have a more directed goal.

Going there and seeing the potential for various projects was what motivated our planning this year, from the acknowledgement of the library to that of the environment in their lives, to not wanting to conduct more futile workshops and finally choosing to have a focus for our documentary this year instead of trying to cover everything all at once.

Personally for myself I think this GPS trip will also be a process of self-discovery for myself? Ah how very zen but yeah honestly that’s something I hope to do through GPS as well. My CAS advisor, Ms. Kwok mentioned the other time how if we wanted to our GPS group could start a CAS working with minority issues in Singapore. And that got me thinking about whether minority issues might be an issue I want to explore going forward after SOTA.

For quite awhile now, I’ve known that I generally would want to do something related to words and the humanities. But doing something like creative writing in the university was never really something I considered, creative writing has always been a leisure activity for me and not something I want to.. study? But yeah that got me thinking about whether minority issues might want to be something I want to explore because I have briefly explored perhaps doing social work but at the same time I think I might want to explore doing something research based? And I think this could perhaps plot a common ground for me. I don’t know, I’m still just 17 (ah sweet youth)  but I do hope to get a better sense of whether this might be something I want to explore through this GPS trip.

Oh look how I have digressed from the parents’ briefing…

Anyways…. I’m grateful for the chance that the parents’ briefing gave me to reflect on my OSL/ GPS journey from the point where it started and looking forward. A month or so more till we leave for Maporak again and I’m really looking forward to being with the community again and learning with and from them.

If you’ve finished reading this entire reflection from the start till the end… I applaud you. I also thank you for spending the time!


Spoken Word CAS

Spoken Word was a CAS activity that I joined before CAS started for me actually. It is also one of my favourite CAS activities, one that I look forward all the time, that gives me a bit of peace each time I go.

Throughout the school week, I find it very hard to find time to really sit down and write. There always seems to be something else ‘more important’ (ie. graded) to do. So just the opportunity to take 1.5 hours aside purely for writing is really therapeutic. Add in a highly supportive community and it really is the best best best.

The key exercise that we do involves each person writing down a prompt based on a category, then putting the scrap of paper into the centre of the circle for each writer to draw one so we can all exchange prompts. Elaine then sets the timer for anything between 3 minutes to 12 minutes and we just write for that duration before sharing our pieces with each other.

This practice of exchanging prompts really does leave us with some of the most unexpected topics to start writing from. And being forced to write in that time frame then also pushes us to try it anyway. For example, one of the prompts I got a week or two ago was ‘cocaine’ from Diego (I think the category was food or something along those lines). ‘Cocaine’ isn’t exactly up my usual train of thought and when I first received the prompt my thoughts went something like ‘oh damn. How do I write about something I have absolutely no clue about??? Oh nooooo help meeee~~~~’. But then this happened:

I have never tried cocaine.
But if I did I imagine it’d taste something like your blood
Pooling in circles around mine,
a colour I’ve almost forgotten how to see.
I imagine it would feel the way your nails do,
when they scratch beneath the surface of my skin,
pulling layers of wednesday, tuesday, monday, off off

I have forgotten the way your bloodied tongue lingers on my cracked lips,
Iron smarting the tiny lines I scratch out
in hope of finding something –
in vain of finding –

People tell you not to try it,
that it gets you addicted, that you no longer know what you’re doing.
They say it can take you and break you,
It can also bring you to impossible highs and lows.

I’m talking about cocaine of course,
I’m talking about cocaine.

It’s definitely still very much a draft but I quite like the direction it took especially since it’s something I never would have thought of writing about before.

I’ve never been the kind of person to write in a group – writing was always something to satiate the 2 am buzz, something hidden in the corners of my room, something left crouching over the table. But in spoken word CAS I’ve slowly begun to come out of my shell a bit more with the things I write, daring to share them with people, daring to let it be a communal act and not another wall in my hermit’s abode.

And at the same time, it’s also been useful for when I want to write alone. Occasionally there are things I want to write that just won’t get out and using the speed writing exercises that we do in Spoken Word CAS helps with that. A few weeks back we did an exercise titled “An open letter to ____ “, all of us eventually deciding that our siblings would be the subject of this open letter. I won’t share that piece because it’s something I would prefer to keep private for now.

However, when I went home I used the same “An open letter to ____” prompt for me to write. While again I won’t share what initially came of that prompt, I will share the final piece I wrote.


Your eyes located mine on a latitude
of trust, longitude of curiosity.

But the truth is your compass never pointed straight back at me –
I was a magnet for misplaced affection,
A changing field. Not (now nor then)
your home point, your north peak.

I am the needle that swings through north
and south and back
again, stitching your name across
the rim of my mouth my
tongue wraps around on nights I
am loath to forget.

You told me “with me around you’ll never be lost”
In truth, it was in you that I lost.

I apologise for the teenage angst oops but this was something I’d wanted to write for quite awhile but never got around finding the right words for it. And it was through the open letter exercise that I eventually pieced together a number of images that formed the backbone for this poem, the key image being that of a compass and direction, something I hope comes through.

As the term progresses, I do hope to continue utilising things I pick up through Spoken Word CAS for my own writing out of the CAS activity. Also, I hope to work on the pieces that we speed write during CAS so as to form more concrete pieces out of them instead of leaving them in the draft stage.

Over the course of this year in general, or at least the 4 months or so that have passed, I think I’ve begun to see the importance of drafts more and more in writing. I never used to be a person for drafts, spending ages agonizing over the single word, single stanza. But I have come to find that a lot of the time it could be more conducive to just write and get the general idea of what I might be trying to say out first. For all I know, what I think I want to say and what I actually want to say might be two completely different things and I wouldn’t know unless I just let myself go with it and write it out.

If anyone out there seems to be hitting a little road block in their writing, feel free to try speed writing, maybe in a group! Alone there isn’t that pressure to keep writing so it could end up a bit futile (as I myself have experienced in the past). But there really is nothing to risk with sharing little bits of yourself with a group of friends you know and trust! Hope this helps, see ya~


Seribuat – Part II

Part II of Seribuat Reflections!!

Here are the learning outcomes that I will be covering in this reflection:

  • Working collaboratively with others
  • Planned and initiated activities
  • Consider ethical implications
  • Engaged with issues of global importance
  • Increased awareness of your strengths and areas for growth

I will probably in the course of this reflection group a number of them together!

Working collaboratively with others

Basically stranded on a series of islands together, as a group all of us instinctively grew closer. Without each other, we never would have made it through, our common presence encouraging each other to keep the morale up and get what needs to be done, done.

I think one point during which this particularly struck me was on the last day. The last day was one of the hottest days that we we experienced while there, and it was also the day we needed to clean out all the kayaks, fit them back into the bags etc. It was so hard to get ourselves moving to do the work but honestly what motivated me more than anything else was seeing other people trying their best to work and get the job done despite the heat as well. So broom in hand we got started sweeping the sand and dirt off the kayaks, drying them and then rolling them under the over-zealous smile of the sun.

Perhaps due to a combination of heat exhaustion as well as growing familiarity with the way each other worked, we begun to do all this nearly soundlessly, other than the words of encouragement that piped up every once in awhile to keep us going. Truly, without the presence of the rest of my teammates I think I would have been a lot more likely to succumb to the sun and the heat, giving up on the kayaks. But working together, we managed to get the job done quickly and soon we were all ready to head back home!

Planned and initiated activities & Consider ethical implications 

The reason why I’m joining these two categories together is because there was one particular activity I initiated as a result of some ethical considerations. On Day Four we were stranded on the island when kayak after kayak capsized on the way back out into the sea. Unfortunately, upon capsizing the trash on the various kayaks also spilled out. By the time we gave up trying to kayak out into the sea, the entire beach was littered with trails of our rubbish. Initially we thought that perhaps it wasn’t our rubbish and had been left there before we arrived but upon closer inspection… kong guan biscuit wrappers, sweet potato price tags, muesli bars… it had to be us. Looking around at the trash on the beach I felt so bad. We definitely didn’t do it on purpose but nevertheless all the leftover wrappers, plastic,  foil were all going to stay on the beach or in the sea for a long time to come. Because of this, I began picking up the wrappers around me, asking people to join in as I went along. Wrapper after wrapper, all the people left on the beach began to join in, walking across the shore picking up the trash that lay all around. Many hands make light work and soon we managed to pick up hopefully every piece of trash that we had accidentally left behind. Looking at the beach that was back in the condition we had found it in, I was so glad that as a team we’d taken the effort to pick up the rubbish we’d almost left behind. Also, in that moment I realised that a lot of the times, you don’t have to overtly give instructions to the entire group, coercing them to work with you. Leading by example, starting a positive movement will eventually rub off on others whose actions will again impact others and eventually as a group we would then be able to make a real impact.

Engaged with issues of global importance

Of course, one global issue that an incident like this alerted me to was pollution of our environment, whether land or sea, natural or constructed. Over the course of our trip there were so many times where I begun to see just how small we were in the context of the world, whether when we were stuck out at sea drifting on waves we had no control over or simply bobbing around near shore listening to Mr. Rezal give geography lectures in the midst of everything that he was talking about – shores, caves, rock formations etc.

Seeing all this and seeing how beautiful all this was and then seeing rubbish float around in the sea, bottles strewn recklessly in the sand was a stark reminder of what we were doing to our environment. Admittedly, sometimes despite trying our best to keep our trash together, things can happen causing them to be littered all over again. Whether this means capsizing or an animal coming in the middle of the night and ripping our trash bag open. Each time, it isn’t pleasant picking up the trash all over again but it is important. Over the course of this trip I seemed to have a special affinity with trash hahaha, packing it up again in the morning after our trash bag had been ripped over at night and picking the perishable apple cores out of the non-perishables trashbags. After 5 days of being around nature, things that I normally would have considered gross became things that were necessary to do.

It makes you wonder, if we find it so gross to have all these things lying around, touching us, why do we find it okay to leave them all over the spaces that have no use at all for these pieces of trash and can do nothing to remove them? Going out on these trips, nature with all its wild ways provides us with the opportunity to grow but at the same time we must take care not to spoil it for those after. I remember something that was distinctly repeated over and over again from green beans meetings – It’s not about going out there and conquering nature, it’s about going out there, working in tandem with nature and learning through it.

Increased awareness of your strengths and areas for growth

I think over the course of this trip I’ve witnessed so many different styles of leadership that I really want to learn from, for example being more approachable and being clear while not stringent in times of stress. I also have this tendency to cut people out a bit when things get tense or I’m really tired so that’s also something that I hope to be able to work on over the course of this year.

But through this expedition I’m also glad to have pushed myself to persevere and to be able to do what feels right to me despite it being out of my comfort zone. This is something that’s very important to me and that I hope to be able to continue developing.

Seribuat has been such a valuable experience and despite the fact that we never actually made it to Seribuat, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Seribuat – Part I

I have never seen the sea do that before.

For 5 days during the march holidays, I set off on a kayaking sea expedition in the Seribuat Archipelago in Malaysia from the 15th to 19th of March. I have to say this was possibly one of the most unexpected trips I’ve had, in that so many things did not go according to plan, but it was, definitely, also one of my best trips.

I have to say, it was on this trip that I felt more helpless than I’ve felt in… perhaps ever. But this was only at a few points and ultimately I’m immensely grateful for the experience and having gone through it with the various people who were with me.

For the purpose of CAS, I will be organizing this (and subsequent Seribuat reflections) according to the various learning outcomes, the 3 that I will be covering in this reflection being:

  1. Undertaking new challenges
  2. Show perseverance and commitment
  3. Develop new skills

Undertaking new challenges

Seribuat really was a series of one new experience after another for me. Firstly, this was one of the few activities I participated in without taking up a leadership role. Secondly, it was also expected to be intensely physical, along with a 5 day camping component, something I’ve never done before!

During the very first meeting for Seribuat, we were asked to volunteer ourselves for the various leadership positions if we were interested – Leader, Co-leader, Navigation and Logistics. Despite having picked Anthropology over Geography as my group 3 subject for the IB, I still do love Geography very much. Physical Geography especially, in its exploration of the world its various natural features that seem to encircle us everywhere we go is something that has fascinated me since I was a child – it was not uncommon to see me hidden behind a fortress of little encyclopedias for children. Hence, the notion of being able to understand how waves work, tides, currents etc. was very exciting for me. With that in mind I volunteered myself for Navigation. Eventually I was assigned as Second I/C for Navigation but I later found out that another team member had actually also volunteered for Navigation but did not get a slot so I decided to let the Leaders know that I wouldn’t mind pulling out and giving him the opportunity since I’d already been given a number of other leadership opportunities.

And in some ways stepping out of a structured, provided leadership position was very refreshing. And it gave me the opportunity to lead in other smaller more specific areas, such as teaching people how to tie the knots for the boat lines etc. It was a really good experience taking a step back and watching the different ways in which people lead as well. I personally really admired Na Won for her very charismatic leadership style. Despite the situations sometimes being very tough, I felt she was able to convey her instructions in such a way which was enjoyable for the rest of the team.

Even more though, I felt this trip challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and, being more a part of the team instead of leading the team, re-asses my own style of leadership. I think I sometimes have the tendency to get quite stern in messy situations and perhaps I could think of ways to be able to be clear but not overly aggressive instead.

And of course, on a kayaking expedition, undertaking new challenges would not be complete without addressing the challenge that the waves posed. Before leaving for the expedition, I never expected the sort of waves that we went through when we were out in the open seas. We encountered waves that were about 3m tall and just the realization that we were out in the open was… wow. I’m really glad that we managed to make it as far as we did. Although I have to say I did wish we tried to paddle forward in the open seas a bit more because honestly I really enjoyed it. It was about the most exhilarating thing I’ve been through and while we were actually paddling against the waves I didn’t get hit by seasickness yet so there wasn’t an overwhelming sense of discomfort or anything. It was only upon rafting up and going back that sea sickness started to kick in when we were no longer quite going against the waves but along with them on a diagonal. In that journey back, it really felt like we were going nowhere. Or even worse because we had to turn back. While I do understand the rationale behind turning back because the waves would only have gotten stronger, I did feel like our team was strong enough to keep going for a little while more at least!

I guess this brings us to the next learning outcome…

Show perseverance and commitment

It was so daunting when we first hit the large waves. I distinctly remember the first time a wave collapsed over our kayak, and me turning around to look at my partner Sim See as our kayak tilted about 50-60 degrees upwards. We honestly honestly thought we were going to capsize right then. The relief when we didn’t flooded our faces (and our kayak hehe) upon getting through that wave. After that, it was just a series of waves after waves but I’m so proud to say that we kept trying.

For me, the hardest part to get through was definitely the journey back to the island of Acheh. Sea-sickness washed over me and there was just this feeling of dread and emptiness, the waves tossing us around like weightless bobs.   There were so many times that I really really wanted to give up and just collapse in my kayak and give in to sea sickness. But at the same time, the understanding that we really had to depend on ourselves and be strong in order to keep going on dithered at the back of my mind. Right there in the open sea, though our friends were just a few metres away, we were all so drained and it was all we could do to keep ourselves moving, even if it felt like we were going nowhere. Continually pushing towards the island while we waited for refuge that came in the form of the safety boat, that period of time that passed in the kayak passed in a hazy blur clouded by sea sickness and destitution.

Emotionally and physically, there were definitely points where it did feel as though we’d given up. When a large wave hit us from the back, threatening to flip our kayak over, there came a point where my partner and I really had no energy to try to prevent it from happening anymore. Thankfully we stayed afloat because I do doubt either of us had the energy to get back onto the kayak. However, I’m glad that each time we gave up a little, we would get back on our feet again and keep going on a few minutes later. There were lapses but in the end we held on and eventually made it near the islands and onto the safety boat.

As a team, I think our morale really did drop somewhat after not making it to seribuat because without that part of our journey, the rest of our trip was completely derailed. And after the experiences of the second day I think many of us in the team were slightly afraid just thinking about going back out to the open seas again. While I do wish we got the chance to attempt waves like that again, I am glad that our team continued with the trip and pushing on in order to try to make the most out of what we had around us, whether screaming our heads off with laughter in the middle of breaking waves, taking the time to enjoy the area around us or attempting to snorkel even in the midst of murky waters. Despite the circumstances, we made the best of it.

I’m not sure but I think in some senses perseverance isn’t always about fighting our way against the currents (in this case literally) but it’s also watching the circumstances, adapting and persevering in order to make the best out of the situation we had at hand, which is something I believe we did and I’m glad we did so.

Develop new skills

And of course through all of this, we grew, developing new skills along the way. Kayaking in an environment that was so different from the reservoirs and calm seas that we’d trained in before taught us things about kayaking that we didn’t know before. Paddling into the waves for example, we learnt that to keep moving on and not capsize it was key for us to stay low and just keep paddling into the waves, pushing our paddles into the waves and pulling ourselves over them.

One particular set of skills I picked up over this trip was also that of tying knots! When I was younger my dad used to teach me how to tie knots because he used to be a scout but over the years I’d forgotten. But over the course of this trip I slowly begun to pick it up again! Some of the knots I learnt how to do:

1. Fisherman’s Knot – taking the two ends of string, hold one running into your fingers, your thumb sticking out. Take the second end of the string and wrap it around your thumb about 3-4 times before pulling it through the loops from the back to the front, tying to secure.
2. Clove Hitch – mickey mouse knot! Make two loops on the string and cross them in such a way where they do not undo themselves but are instead interlinked, allowing the knot to tighten
3. Half hitch – hmm hard to explain but basically pull one end of a string over and under the other end of string, pulling it through the loop created and then repeating many times down in order to secure string while making it easy to unravel.

So glad I had the chance to learn all these new knots over the course of the trip!

And with that ends my first Seribuat reflection, see you guys in a bit for Part II!

rachel x


your eyes located mine on a latitude
of trust, longtitude of curiosity.

But the truth is your compass never pointed straight back at me-
I was a magnet for misplaced affection,
A changing field. Not (now nor then)
your home point, your north peak.

I am the needle that swings through north
and south and back
again, stitching your name across
the rim of my mouth my
tongue wraps around on nights I
am loath to forget.

You told me “with me around, you’ll never be lost”
In truth, it was in you that I lost.

Zambales – What counts as ‘right’?

Spent the afternoon trying to brainstorm various ideas for workshops to conduct with the Zambales Aeta Indigenous community of Maporac. I’m finding it very hard and so I’ve ended up here to question as well as perhaps seek some answers, whether through the process of writing or if anyone would like to comment and help me out here.

The indigenous aeta community of the philippines is a community native to the lands of Mount Pinatubo. After the 1991 eruption however, the community was displaced to lower more urban areas of the philippines and therefore removed from their ancestral areas. The aeta people are highly skilled in jungle survival skills as we observed while on a previous service learning trip with the Maporac community last october. They are also very deft with their fingers and do a lot of weaving work, producing large bags, baskets etc. from rattan.

So the main issue that (we believe) they are facing and that they seem to have communicated to us is that of a loss of cultural heritage. And also this discrimination towards the indigenous people of the philippines in general. I remember this one afternoon with the chief where he shared with us how difficult it was to get the area that they were living in now (in the area of Cabangan, Zambales) to be officially recognised as their ancestral domain so that they could be given the security that future generations would not be forced to relocate again.

Time and again, he also stressed to us the importance of education for the children in the village. It was because of education that he himself was able to go out of the village and stand up for the aeta people, securing them what they have today. But education in the village doesn’t come easy. While they do have a school within the village, there are not enough classrooms in the school to accommodate for the kids in the entire village – while the government will provide teachers to the school, they will only do so if the village itself is able to provide for a classroom for teaching. Hence, children in the village stop going to school around the age of 12-15 years old.

I remember one evening when we were walking to the river with a few of the kids – most of the children hadn’t been dismissed from school yet. But a few of them came and found us and wanted to walk down to the river so off we went with them. On the way there I was talking to Hazel, who is about 13 years old. I don’t remember her exact age (though oddly enough I remember her birthday without the year). But the point is, she is young. She’s definitely younger than me (I am 17 this year) and of school going age. So Hazel usually hangs out with a group of about 4-5 other girls but that day none of the other girls were around. This was our conversation:

me: “Hey! Where are Theresa and the others?”
her: “uhmm… school! They’ll come later, school finishes at 5!” (albeit in slightly less fluent english)
me: “oh you don’t have to go to school?”
her: *shakes her head*

While she shook her head she was smiling slightly and looking down at the gravel path. I don’t know if I’m just being sensitive but I felt a tinge of sadness in her smile. At that point I didn’t know what to do, whether to ask her more about why she didn’t have to go to school or just switch the topic since it didn’t seem to be a topic that made her particularly happy. I ended up talking about other things, like her birthday etc. but I still wonder about it. I’m sure she’s not the only child her age who doesn’t get the opportunity to go to school anymore.

I feel like enabling these kids to get the education they deserve in order to represent their own community in this rapidly changing world is really important but at the same time I don’t know how much we can do for it? We can and we have started raising funds for their new classroom block but other than that we’re not so sure what to do. Come June we will be spending 14 days with the community and I just hope those 14 days will enable us to help them better. Some of the other GPS (Global Perspectives) groups in various other areas are going in and teaching english to the youth etc. But I don’t know, I question the sustainability of doing so? If we go in once and try to teach them english, what happens when we leave? And if they already have another teacher teaching them english on a regular basis what is the significance of us disrupting that? It’s my own personal take I guess but during one of our discussions another member of my team brought up how someone once told her friend who did a service learning trip something along the lines of “When you come you disrupt all our lesson plans and when you leave the children just keep crying about you. Maybe it’s better if you just give us the money.”

I don’t want that to be the case. The community we’ve been working with has honestly been nothing but sweet to us. Sometimes I feel so bad like I wonder whether we are disrupting their usual activities, having to work with us. The elders were always so willing to talk to us about what it was like to be an Aeta and the children were absolute angels, making us flower crows, walking us back to our hostel and everything. These people are some of the most genuine people I’ve met and I really don’t want any of what we are doing to have a negative impact on them instead.

Which is why I feel at such a loss as to what to do right now.

I was initially the co-leader for this trip but due to my other commitments (LeAd), I stepped down to be a project I/C for the workshops segment instead. What we initially intended to do for workshops was to work with the women of the village over the last few days of the trip, using the first few days to interact with them and break down barriers. We wanted to do Playback Theatre with them in an exploratory way to try to delve into the various issues of their community or just the stories that they had to share. However as we were unable to find a suitable supervisor for the project and we are most certainly not qualified to carry out playback by ourselves, we are unable to do this.

So now the question is – what do we do? I spoke to a number of the NGO workers that accompanied us on the trip last year and will be accompanying us this year as well and they suggested teaching the women some form of an alternate livelihood in order to empower them and also possibly bring in some form of income. I hesitate as to what kind of alternate livelihood though? Because it has to be something that is representative of but at the same time does not commodify their culture whilst being economically viable? Ahh… it’s just really hard to think of something.

I did some research and chanced upon these two pages:—tjanpi-professional-development

The NGO involved has basically used grass weaving as an artistic platform to engage the women in these communities in order to raise awareness for the community while raising funds for them through the sale of these artworks. I’m quite sure the women would be highly capable of doing something similar but on our side I don’t know if we would be able to raise similar awareness of their work through it? But we are an arts school and we do have the privilege of having our own public gallery in which we can display the various artworks in order to raise awareness but it’s all so tentative!!!!

If anyone has any ideas please please do comment and let me know, all ideas are welcome!

A bit of background about our team, we are a group of 26 students from School of The Arts (Singapore) and as such we have a certain amount of ability in the arts, from visual arts to music to dance, theatre and film. We do hope to be able to bank on our skills to aid the community.

All ideas are welcome and I do hope to see some comments, thank you for reading all this!!


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