in silence

Month: August, 2014

Listen… again?

It’s been ages since the conclusion of Listen for Haiyan but Vanessa and I were just talking about how neither of us have actually concluded the CAS activity so… here goes! Months after the completion of the event, Nessa and I are now considering organising Listen again at the start of 2015. 

Now that we are also co-leading the Spoken Word CAS group, we hope that this can also be a chance for the new Spoken Word CAS members to perform and have something to work towards! However, I do think that it was interesting to incorporate work not just from SOTA students but also from students in other schools as well and this is something we hope to continue. Now that I’m observing the U-21 Slam for my anthro IA, hopefully we will be able to get more people on board with us on this project as well! 

I think Spoken Word is an incredibly powerful medium for the broadcasting of ideas and if we do hold Listen again, I think we might want to spend more time on the workshopping process in order to raise the bar higher for the works performed, working together to figure out the most poignant way to get the performer’s message across. In order to do so, we will definitely need to research more on the medium of Spoken Word and just get out there to perform more so we can better understand what works and what doesn’t work before trying to aid others in the process. One other possible method for us to do so could also be engaging with a mentor who could provide us greater insight on the issue.

Listen for Haiyan raised a total of $1600 for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan which we were pleasantly surprised by! Moving forward next year we might want to look at contributing to a local cause instead! Also, I’ve been wondering if we might perhaps we able to work with younger children from disadvantaged families to see if we might be able to produce work with them that could be showcased within Listen next year and then if they all work with a common organization we can then donate the proceeds to that organization(: 

All this is still rather rough and Nessa and I are not entirely sure if we will be able to organize Listen next year again or how far we will be able to push it but hopefully we manage to pull it together! More updates soon!

just keep swimming, just keep swimming

Over the course of GPS, one of the key things I took away was the importance of perseverance and how much of a difference taking time to enjoy the process as we persevere through it makes. I think the first time this struck me over the course of our trip would be our second day in the Philippines and first day out of Manila.

After a long day trekking to the top of Mount Pinatubo so as to see the lands that the Aeta used to occupy before the eruption, we were all weary and somewhat nauseous. I can still remember the feeling of lurching around at the back of the ATV, possibly one of the worst places for someone with motion sickness to be. Upon getting off the ATV, it was time for us to hike to the our camping ground on foot. However… it began to rain, first as a drizzle but quickly progressing to a huge downpour. Thankfully I had my windbreaker with me so I just put it on and continued on our trek. As we progressed uphill however, the showers just kept getting heavier and heavier and at the same time, we all still had to side step the numerous piles of actual bullshit that was all around us on the path. For awhile, I think spirits were quite low, especially since none of us had expected to face such weather on our second day. However, I think to some extent the rain was a blessing in disguise. As water droplets pelted the earth, soil and dung gave way to each other and eventually it was all just one big mess. While that might not sound like a blessing at all, I really truly believe it is. Because at that point, we all began to forget about our city-trained mentality that caused us to see dung as this huge unsanitary pile but instead as a part of nature. We began to realise that there was no point trying to avoid it because truly, there was not much we could do about it.

Understanding this, we began to have a lot more fun on our way up, no longer having to glue our eyes to the ground seeking out dung everywhere we walked but learning to embrace it all – dung, soil, nature. I think the presence of the rain at this point of our trip really pushed us as a team to band together and persevere through it all. Anyone who felt like they could carry a bit more would lessen the load of others, if anyone had extra protection against the rain (like an unused poncho) they would take it out to share it with the team and those who needed it. Trudging through the mud path, we all began to cheer each other on or sing happy little jingles (cue high school musical) to motivate each other. I still remember Mr. Fared telling us how amazed he was at how we managed to pull together and get each other to our destination. He mentioned that the conditions we went through were practically NS conditions and that he was really glad that we managed to sing through it all, finding joy in the experience as we persevered on instead of simply dragging our feet through it.

After awhile, I wasn’t really with the rest of the team because I stayed back to walk with my buddy as she was finding the trek up a little harder. Initially it was tough to do so because all I wanted was to get to the camping grounds as quickly as possible so that we would be able to get some rest or shelter. Staying back to walk with her meant more time spent in the rain instead. However, I think because I chose to stay back and walk with her, I might have enjoyed my trek up a little more as well! Walking alongside her at a slower pace not only reminded me that we were all really all in this together but also opened my eyes to how beautiful the place we were trekking in was. At this point, we stopped to take a little break and as the rain had also died down a bit, we were able to look out to the mountains that surrounded us and the view was incredible. I took a photo with my Diana Mini that I’ll try adding to this post a bit later but for now let me attempt to describe it.

On a slightly lower section of the mountain we were climbing up, there was a clearing that seemed to be for agriculture, with its neatly tilled land stretching from edge to edge. Beyond our mountain, a whole other cluster of mountains lay beneath the clouds, their green plains creating the backdrop for our trek, with slight sunlight that was beginning to trickle through the rain highlighting its edges. All this was accentuated by the bushes of flower that lay on the edge of our path, forming a natural barrier between us and the rest of the mountains.

I probably haven’t done it justice but it really was beautiful and I honestly think I might not have stopped to see that had we not been taking this trek up more slowly. While my partner looked really tired on the trek I’m really glad she persevered through it because at points she just kept asking us to keep walking on without her. Throughout the course of the trek, it was really the people and opening my eyes up to the incredible creations of the world around me that kept me going. It made the tough route we had to persevere through seem more like a obstacle course and more like an exciting journey. (I admit that was a weak analogy haha)

By the time everyone was at the top, we all looked really tired but I’m just glad we did it altogether and in a manner that made it much more enjoyable than it would have without the help of the team. When it comes to doing anything, perseverance is honestly so important and what’s most important is that we don’t just employ blind perseverance but do our best to enjoy the process as we push ourselves through it.

Unfortunately, I had to be reminded of this again through a counter-example on the trip. The team that I was a part of was the social enquiry team during the course of the trip and our main job was going to all the various houses and interviewing them, documenting the process. Some days when the sun was particularly hot, it was so difficult to try and get through interviewing our 20 odd households when walking from place to place was such a draining activity in itself. I regret to say that at some point, on one of the days with my teammate Hwee Chee I might have fallen into blind perseverance and that’s possibly one of my largest regrets and the thing I feel the most guilty about. In the struggle to reach our quota of the families, the process of interviewing became simply that – a process of collecting data, collecting statistics. That is not at all what it’s supposed to be – the whole point was to also get to know the community personally. And when Hwee Chee mentioned to me afterwards (thanks Hwee Chee) that I looked really tired and like I really just wanted to get through it, I think that was the point I felt the most … guilty in the course of the entire trip because if she could sense it then that means the people we were interviewing would likely be able to sense it as well. And they were being so nice in offering information to us, laughing through it, getting more family members in on the process and everything! The last thing I wanted to do was make them feel like we were doing this not because we wanted to but because we had to. I would never want them to feel like the process was a burden for us when they were doing everything in their power to aid us through it. After that, I constantly tried to remind myself why we were doing this and to do it for the right reasons, allowing that to show as we acted.

The thing about blind perseverance is that sometimes, it makes the experience not just a battle against the elements (which is bad enough as we really shouldn’t be trying to fight the elements) but as I mentioned in the above passage, sometimes we unknowingly convey the message that it’s a battle against the very people you’re working with, making it seem like a chore even if you don’t mean it. As cliched as it seems, actions really do speak louder than words so while we might have the right mentality, in any occasion I believe we must not only be in the right mental stage to persevere on but show it through our actions that we are also persevering for the right reasons, finding our personal joys in the process as we embark on our own journeys.

x

The Head & The Heart

So… I’m highly aware that I have procrastinated on these GPS reflections for quite awhile but I do (somewhat) have a reason – I wanted to take time to process everything that we went through and see how it led on to experiences after GPS. At the same time I did keep a physical log of my thoughts over the course of the trip just that those aren’t being published (at the moment anyway). Yesterday I was talking to Ashley and Regine about follow up trips to our respective OSL/GPS locations and a number of things came up that made me feel like I should write this reflection so here goes!

Before I begin this reflection, I would like to clarify that the thoughts I represent in this post are solely my own. Reflecting on a public platform has its pros and cons but I felt like this was something I want to share and if your opinion differs from mine do feel free to drop me a message elsewhere or to leave a comment on this post!

Recently amongst my GPS team there has been a lot of talk about going back to Zambales to work with the Aeta people there. So far the consideration has been about going back post-IB when we’ll hopefully have more time to commit to planning the project and also more time to spend there. I really want to go back again as well but I find myself questioning if our reasons for wanting to go back again are concrete enough to justify us going back. As it stands I think my question is, essentially, how sustainable will what we do be and will the impact that we leave on the community actually be positive? There’s this nagging worry that our presence in the village with the villagers will end up bringing more inconvenience as opposed to aid.

Over the course of the past two trips, they’ve made so many provisions to ensure that our stay with them will be comfortable, whether in Maporak or in Alunan, especially so when we home-stayed with them during GPS. Yes, the living conditions were simple, being a bamboo or wooden platform shared across the 3/4 people staying in one house. However, because we were sleeping there, this meant that they ended up sleeping on smaller platforms like benches because that’s where they usually slept. And, on top of that, they actually went out of their way to purchase new items for us like how Nanay Delia who two other girls and I were staying with laid out a new mat to cover the platform for us. I understand that, as the teachers and co-ordinators have mentioned to us, that we do pay them to accommodate us but I do feel like to a certain extent we kind of get in the way of their daily activities.

My thoughts are so dichotomized right now. I know that we have definitely tried our best to help the Aeta community. One of the things we did while we were there on our second GPS trip was bring in new books into the library and also try to help categorize the existing books in the library. We chose to do this because we felt like, at least, with a well stocked library, the children can better practice their reading and writing skills which would be more effective than having us come in and teach them English for a week or so. But at the same time, I really don’t know how much of what we have done will actually be useful to them. There’s no way of telling at the moment whether or not the library is actually being utilized by the people. And that’s where my worries lie – will what we can do while being physically there actually help the community in the long run? If we were to go back, what is it that we can do? Because ultimately, even if we stay there for a few weeks things might just revert to how they were before after we leave. Reason being there are larger issues that we, as students, might not necessarily be able to combat yet. I believe that everyone’s heart is in the right place but I do feel like we need time to figure out what exactly this community needs and whether or not we can, realistically, provide it. I do feel like what we’re trying to do with the documentary and book will be able to raise awareness for the community if we execute it well and that is important but in order to do so we will definitely need to work with Asian Bridge Philippines again in order to get it to reach out to the Filipino community as well because ultimately that is where this awareness will matter the most.

Other than that though, I do feel like to a certain extent what we can do is limited because a lot of the issues that they are facing originate from a very structural, governmental level. Looking through Chieftain’s 5 year projection plan for the Maporak community, I felt like if we could try to help lobby for that to be viewed by more people and to be considered more carefully so that they can get the support they need from a governmental level, that would be something that would really help them. After all, they would know best what they need and Chieftain clearly has it all planned out clearly in his report. I understand that I come from a rather idealistic point of view and that there’s a lot I don’t know about these processes that I am talking about but I do feel if there is something we could do, that would be it. Definitely it would still require a lot of communication with Chieftain and the members of the community in order fully understand the context of the issues and to see whether they want our help in that way but I do think it’s something viable for us to consider. However, it does mean that us being older and better trained in issues such as these would really help. This does mean that perhaps we might not be able to do this in the very near future but thinking forward I think the bonds that we have formed over OSL and GPS are invaluable and will be able to aid us to help fight for their rights when we are better able to, and that time might not be now.

I’m in no way trying to discount the work that we have done or that service learning groups in general do. But, personally, I feel like it’s very important to acknowledge that as youths engaging in service learning, the focus for the creation of these programs is on the learning of students. To some extent, the NGOs and communities we work with do accommodate us. While we do provide service, I’m not sure if the sort of service we provide is wholly necessary?? I feel like I am walking on tenterhooks right now. But I think what I’m trying to say is that, especially in the case of Overseas Service Learning, they key takeaway is the spirit of service. And as youths, I think we should recognise that most of the time the place where we can make the most positive impact is in our own communities. Meaning, back here in Singapore. While doing Service Learning overseas can be a huge source of inspiration, we should never forget about serving our community here, taking what we learnt through those experiences to apply them back in our own contexts. When we work with communities from different cultural backgrounds, like with the Aeta people, there is the danger that what we introduce to them from our communities can have a negative impact. In comparison, working within our own cultural contexts reduces that considerably. We will better be able to understand these communities and provide the aid they need. And through the process of serving our own communities, I believe we will then learn and grow as well and perhaps one day we will be ready to return to these overseas communities to provide aid to them from a more mature standpoint.

As much as we might really want to go back and all, I think before doing so we really need to consider why we want to go back and whether our returning to the community will truly create more good than staying away for now will. For example, I’m not sure if this is wholly true but I believe the Year 4 Zambales team will not be returning to Maporak this OSL trip partially because Chieftain felt it would be too much for the community to handle. If true, this does, to a certain extent, indicate to us the sort of inconvenience we pose to the community.

I understand that everyone’s heart is in the right place and perhaps yes there is a reason to go back, all I’m saying is that for now I don’t particularly see that reason yet. Yes, there are things we could do if we went back that we can’t do from Singapore but is there not also work we can do here that we cannot do there? Ultimately, as students we also have to remember the cost behind organising a trip like that. At the moment I believe if the trip were to happen a lot of us would be “sponsored” by our parents and it wouldn’t be a small sum. I do think there are a lot of other opportunities for us to serve communities around us that could be more cost-effective and also more impactful. From these opportunities we can then learn and then finally return truly on our own terms.

When the term “sustainability” comes up, I think we have to consider if it’s “sustainable” for us to constantly return to the community at this point as well. Sigh and honestly I don’t have an answer. I do acknowledge that returning will allow us to continue building bonds with the people in order to better understand them and their needs which will aid us in working with them moving forward but at the same time so much resources are used into organising such a trip back that I honestly question if we are making the best use of such resources.

My heart really wants to go back and sees the importance of the bonds we form which connect us on a very human level but my head tells me that we might be able to better aid the community in other ways?

I’m not sure what will eventually come out of this but if anyone has read this till the end, do let me know what you think!

x

your touch drives me crazy

An old friend visits me on some nights. We share the kind of friendship that needs not be kindled by frequent meetings, daily talks. Ay, it is true I would rather not have us meet so often. Yet on the nights he does visit, he knows exactly which buttons to press, exactly which strings to pull to tease a reaction out of me. His face is not one I recognize readily – he enjoys changing up his appearance every once in awhile just to keep things … interesting for the both of us. 

He visits on late nights when I am most vulnerable, catching me unaware. There’s almost always a sharp intake of breath before I let his presence seep around me, into me, into the spaces that I thought I had long filled up and protected against his spindly hands. With a single tug at the red thread that runs, familiar, around those slender fingers, he traps my breath in the gaps between my ribcage, the unfamiliar bones threatening to strangle one another. Ready with the other hand, his next pull leaves me unravelling, a knitted tapestry that forgot to hide its end. 

I find myself laid bare for him, ripe for the picking, ready to be picked on. I can feel the scrutiny searing into me as he roams every inch of my skin, his fingers searching not only for what is on the surface but what is within – nothing escapes his routine inspections. When they run across my stomach I can feel them sieving out yesterday’s dessert latched on to the knobs along my hips, reaching out to hold on to the ribs that form above. When his fingers cup my breast that foreign warmth goes even further below, to the organ that keeps sweet, sweet blood running through me. It is crying out for all the things it has found itself incapable of doing, of all the things it cannot bare to see laid out in front of it again, a condemnation for a job poorly done. 

As he leaves, his needle fingers run red thread in and through my body, playing surgeon on a corpse he knows so well. At the end of night he snips the thread that binds me to him, leaving its frayed ends hanging limp against my being but despite their brokenness providing the facade of an end, I know he will be back again to greet the seams that are his work of art.

My old friend never forgets to drop by for a visit when he’s in town, and every time he does it’s like he never left. 

the sun still rises

It’s strange to think that, suddenly, we’re grown up and ready to be thrown into the world. A world where Independence, Maturity and Responsibility manifest themselves in neon signs that flash relentlessly as we find ourselves walking down unfamiliar roads under the cover of night. 

“Mommy! Mommy! The sun is up and that means it’s time for me to be up!”

I was a child that grew up along the safe lines of the equator, protected from winds, storms and tremors by land masses that shrouded the tiny island I knew to be home. At 5 years old, it never quite occurred to me that somewhere else in the world, the sun didn’t always rise at 7.03 am nearly every day of the year. It never quite occurred to me that as our small space stayed anchored to the core of the earth’s axis, the rest of the world was spinning around us, drifting through seasons as we passed along from day to day, slowly slowly. 

The child ran with her hooded red windbreaker trailing out behind her, like the canopy of a parachute, catching air under it as she flew across the beach, breathing in the sunrise that fell around her. The mother strolled a little while behind her, smiling as she watched the child giggle her way with dizzying intensity across the beach. She never knew waking up at 4 am could make anyone this happy. And while she might have considered it for a moment there, she probably also never expected that the child would grow up to look just like her. 

Time passed, pausing to amble through some stages then kicking off in a blur at others. The child’s hair grew from a little mushroom bob that fell just beneath her eyebrows and just above her cherub’s chin into a mess of waves that settles on her chest till the time comes to cut them off.

I find myself struggling in the space between adulthood and childhood. I wonder if it is normal to feel this way, dichotomized between the two facets of myself. One half sits in front of a familiar silver screen churning out essays about “How one’s own acceptance of Self-Identity empowers the individual” or “How xxx’s identity as a female is crafted out through her poetry in xxx”. The other half is outstretched on the floor digging through a box of forgotten letters cumulated over the paltry 17 years of her existence or dancing wildly to music that plays on in her mind.

And maybe, this dichotomy is the essence of what it means to grow up. I can’t imagine myself ever truly letting go of what it means to be a child, letting go of those little moments of exhilaration and natural ecstasy. These are the moments I never want clouded by synthetic memories of hazy, drug-induced nights and choking adrenaline that can so easily be mistaken for the rites of Growing Up.

Down the path where neon signs continue flashing and flickering through the night, I see the little girl with the red hooded windbreaker running towards me. As the cover of night wraps its quiet arms around us, I take her hand in mine as we revel in the sights together. 

—-

I haven’t attempted to write anything like prose in a really long time and for some reason I really wanted to today despite the mountain of work that balances itself on my table next to me. I hope this isn’t too paltry and you enjoy it!

IBWSC – putting thought into action

Decided to do a post amidst all the IOP preparation – on a side note, to everyone having their IOPs soon, all the best!! We can do this guys!

Soo… finally decided to churn out a reflection on IBWSC. Every single time I’ve done this before, wordpress decided to be a brat and lose my entire reflection so I’m just crossing my fingers it’s not going to happen again!

Before leaving for IBWSC I was filled with a number of doubts and uncertainties, about whether or not it would be worth all the time and money etc. that it cost to go on the trip. Coming back, I do think it was a worthwhile trip and given the chance to choose again, I would still choose to go. 

To be honest, I would say my main takeaway on the trip in terms of in what I can apply and put to good use coming back to school, was not about diversity but was about the structure of the conference as a whole. Unlike in a number of other conferences I had been to before, what set the IB World Student Conference apart from them was that this time I actually felt pushed to make a difference with what we were being taught at the various plenary sessions and keynote speeches. I felt like as a group of conference attendees we were being pulled together to and motivated to create something. This not only engaged us with each other but also with the topics being discussed. 

How the structure of the IBWSC worked was that each day we would attend a talk in the morning which either consisted of just one guest or a panel of guests who would be sharing about one particular topic. Some of the topics broached were asylum seeking in australia, dealing with disabilities, the processes of empowering marginalized communities, how prejudices are formed etc. I have something to say about the various speakers as well but I’ll leave that for a later reflection

After the first plenary session, we would then split into our various Global Action Teams (or GAT groups for short) to brainstorm and work on our projects that we would plan based off the theme of the conference – Empowering Diversity. The idea was that in the course of the conference we were to come up with ideas for projects in our groups. And at the end of the conference, we would then share them with each other and Post-Conference we were all free to adapt the various ideas that had arose from the conference and perhaps adapt them in a manner that would be fitting in a local context for our particular community back home. This is in line with the IB CAS requirements whereby every IB student participates in a variety of Creativity, Action and Service based projects as part of the IB requirements. 

Following the GAT session, we would reconvene for lunch and a second plenary session again! And… the cycle continues. The fact that the participants of the conference, i.e. us, were required to come up with projects was something that I felt was very crucial towards the effectiveness of the conference as a whole. As participants, it ensured we were engaged with the topic and ready to take what we learnt and attempt to put it into action.

However, the key operative word here is attempt. I understand that the point of us not having to commit to these projects we conceptualize is to allow participants the freedom of taking ideas from each other in order to apply it in their own contexts since it being an international conference means that a project conceptualized by a group of students from all around the world might not be particularly relevant to every student when carried out back home. However, I do feel it is a pity that actually a majority of the projects that we conceptualized from the conference do not seem to be taking off now that all of us are back home. And I myself am guilty of not putting into action my group’s plans despite the fact our group deliberately conceptualized it such that all of us can continue working on it as a team even though we’re all from various parts of the world.

To share a little, this is our project’s tumblr! The Mixing Bowl was a project conceptualized by our team based off the rationale that food is something at once unique to different cultures but yet with the ability to bring different people together as it is still something we all share in common. More information can be found on our tumblr site!

Returning to what I took away from the conference, the whole structure of the IBWSC influenced me in my decisions as we returned back to school to continue planning for a conference the LSC will be executing for the Year 2s – 4s at the end of the year. One key thing that we have incorporated is the creation of projects for every team within this conference. However, we also wanted to try and rectify the issue that the participants did not continue their engagement with the conceptualized projects after the completion of the conference. In order to do so, we plan to mandate that all projects must be executed after the conference. However, we will not be throwing all the participants into cold water with the projects in that these projects will then be handed over to the Gotong-Royong Arts Fund team through which project groups will receive the necessary funding and mentorship. We really hope to be able to ensure sustainability in the creation of projects. Because unlike the IBWSC, this is a conference that will be happening purely within the SOTA community and hence, they all share a common cultural context and will hopefully be able to craft a project that all of them will be engaged in and able to continue work on.

Attending the IBWSC was really and truly a privilege and I hope that coming back with these experiences will enable all of us who were given the chance to attend to continue serving the school community through it. Because as clichéd as it sounds, ultimately as a school community we really are all here to help each other grow and I think through the process of supporting others, you yourself will experience personal growth as well and as a community, as a family, we will then be able to learn together.

There’s still much much more I took away from the conference but my main line of thought for this reflection was about how I could use what I learnt in the conference in order to empower the community around me despite not (yet) continuing on the projects we conceptualized there. Hopefully the conference LSC organises at the end of the year (the name of which is still kinda a secret, unless I’ve accidentally revealed it already) will be successful in starting off the juniors’ arts based service learning journeys and supporting them as leaders.

Anndd… I’m done, good night friends!

x

with love, medea

The fiercest anger of all, the most incurable,
Is that which rages in the place of dearest love.

And there is little I loved more than the way your
lips traced out the shapes of continents I’d never been
to across my chest. Your voice crashing against our tongues,
like the waves that sent me scrambling across foreign
shores, sea legs struggling to grip on to grains of
memory that scratched away the skin upon my soles.

But I am not a stone –  willing to be thrown over and
over till your waves carve me into a shape that fits neatly
upon your banks. I, am not that pebble hidden in the crevice
between your infidelity and shame. I, am not yours.

I am the ship that brought us to your golden shores, mast 
deck and bow supporting you the only way I knew how. 
But on rocky land no ship stays anchored forever. And when
I leave,
            I take all you love with me. 

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