GPS – Parents Briefing

by rachel

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!