The story from Ethan Leong Weiming after joining Thai-Singapore Bilateral camp, Chiangmai Thailand 26 November - 8 December 2015
“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
From November 25th to December 8th 2015, a group of Dunman High students set off to Mae Chaem, Chiangmai on a community involvement program with one question in mind – What is the heart of service? We came to teach, but the people we met taught us so much more. For us, it was not service learning but learning to serve, finding the heart of service within ourselves.
Our journey came in two parts, teaching and culture. In the first nine days, we went to Chumchomtomthapha, Mueng Wittaya, Somdejya and Mae Chaem School, conducting English, Chinese and Sports lessons. However, our voyage was not without its storms as we faced changing circumstances and fast-closing deadlines all the way. To weather the challenges, we relied on the strength of our students. Their warmth and hunger to learn ignited our hearts to give our all and take ownership of the project. As such, regardless of unclear academic standards and our inexperience in teaching, we kept fighting to adapt our lessons and stretch our students. Language was also a hurdle that we ventured to break. We are grateful for our three VSA volunteers, P’Jam, P’Oil and P’Air that helped bridge the gap between the students and us.
Furthermore, we found that kindness and sincerity acts as a universal language to cross the barrier and reach our students. It was their warm smiles that infected us and fueled us to be focused and give our time, energy and sleep into lessons for them. The struggle was long and arduous but we never grew weary of doing our best.
In addition to our lessons, we learnt from the locals here. The famous Thai hospitality taught us that warmth between people can make anywhere feel like home. This people orientation of the Thai really struck us as we truly understood how in the million little things we can do for one another, every drop counts. As thus, we are grateful to our homestay owners who treated us like sons and daughters throughout our stay. This spirit of the Thai was also echoed by our VSA volunteers, which although had no obligation to do so, supported us all the way by encouraging and helping us wherever they could. The Thai students rekindled our hunger to learn as we saw in Somdejya School, learning stripped to its bare essentials – the sharing of knowledge. There, we witnessed how earnest the students were regardless of their meager facilities, admiring how even though they were literally studying under trees, they viewed it as a privilege. Moreover, during their cultural presentation they went all out to welcome us with traditional war drum, song and dance performances. They sang one song the most poignantly which we learnt later was about gratitude to receive education. In Singapore where we are infinitely more privileged, where has our eagerness to learn gone. Finally, during trekking, we learnt how in search of immediate reward locals in Chiang Mai overtax their land with profitable crops. The trekking guide shared how the climate has changed the land was deforested. Furthermore, from picking the litter scattered along the trail, we saw how for the sake of convenience people can neglect the environment. Education is important to promote sustainability thinking and protect the long term interests of the people.
The greatest takeaway from this trip is the heart of service. To overcome arrogance and , in the words of the princess mother, to be “ humble and big headed” Serving the community is about being mindful beyond yourself and giving sincerity, kindness and more than yourself. Sincerity- to win their hearts, kindness- to benefit them long-term and giving- to be one drop in the ocean that is truly selfless service.