Pass It On
From Myanmar to India, local non-profit organisation Raleigh Singapore has been organising adventure-based community projects whose goal is to inspire and engage the young people in each locale.
BY KAREN TEE
PHOTOS RALEIGH SINGAPORE
he year was 1999. Rae Wong, who had then just graduated from university, decided to take part in a community service project, instead of going on a conventional celebratory holiday. She signed up with Raleigh Singapore, and found herself working with a group of youth volunteers to help build a community hall for a village in Yangon, Myanmar, in partnership with YMCA Yangon.
The experience struck such a chord with Wong that when she returned to Myanmar in 2013 on a backpacking vacation, she got in touch again with the YMCA staff. On that trip, she found out that the local teachers faced difficulties in teaching English to their students, as they themselves had not received sufficient training in the language.
By then, a teacher and the vice-president of Raleigh Singapore’s executive committee, Wong wanted to help. She organised Raleigh Singapore’s long-term initiative, Project ABC, which kicked off in December 2014. Every six to twelve months, this project sees groups of eight to 10 volunteers from Singapore visiting Myanmar for about 1½ weeks to conduct English language workshops for the local teachers.
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL
Raleigh Singapore, a non-profit organisation, has been organising overseas expeditions and local adventure projects to encourage youth to volunteer in developing communities since 1996.
It has participated in various projects in Asia, including building toilets in Indra Nagar, a small village in South India; upgrading homes and constructing a new school building for nomadic children in the rural Tibetan village of Song Duo; and digging a small reservoir to provide fresh water to a village in the Riau Islands. Raleigh Singapore also holds an annual endurance walking event, Let’s Take A Walk, to raise funds for and awareness of its charitable activities.
Under Project ABC, teams of volunteers conduct English language lessons for kindergarten teachers at Yangon’s YMCA, as well as for primary school teachers in Kalaw, a village in Shan State. The expeditions are led by Deborah Low, an associate lecturer in English at the Singapore Institute of Management. Low is also in charge of developing programmes for the teachers in Myanmar.
Low says the local English teachers are passionate about equipping their students with fluency in the language, and are putting a lot of effort into strengthening their own foundation in English in order to teach it in a livelier and more practical manner. To help them reach their goal, Raleigh Singapore’s volunteers, comprising teachers who are trained to teach English as a foreign language, and non-teachers who assist during practice sessions, focus on building the local teachers’ language skills through lessons, practical games, and activities involving Myanmar’s way of life. This creates an environment where one learns to use English in a familiar and relevant context.
“As far as possible, we try to incorporate local names and aspects of Myanmar’s culture – famous locations, names of actors and actresses, and things encountered in daily life in Myanmar – into the lessons, games, and other activities,” says Low.
The biggest challenge the volunteers initially faced was in coaxing the local teachers out of their shells, as they tended to be shy and reserved.
“They are extremely focused once a lesson begins, but tend to be inhibited when answering questions posed, or in clarifying something they do not understand,” Low says. “It took a lot of cajoling to get them out of their shells.”
Low says her greatest reward is seeing the lively interactions between the Singapore volunteers and the teachers in Myanmar, both during and after the workshops.
Sun Sun Lay Lay, one of the teachers at the school in Kalaw, says: “We enjoy the language games and we use them with our students too. We have learnt useful vocabulary and also enjoy having time in class to freely discuss our thoughts. We look forward to the volunteers’ visits.”
“ We have learnt useful vocabulary and also enjoy having time in class to freely discuss our thoughts. We look forward to the volunteersʼ visits. ”
Sun Sun Lay Lay, a primary school teacher in Kalaw
While the Singapore volunteers are unable to conduct follow-up sessions through video chats or conferences as Wi-Fi is erratic in Myanmar, especially in rural areas, the team has exchanged phone numbers and are Facebook friends with the local teachers. This enables them to help with problems and questions regarding English from time to time via calls or online chats, says Low.
The volunteers also leave the teachers with coursework, which is reviewed during subsequent visits, which happen once a year. This December, a returning group will be focusing on text comprehension.
Wong, who started the programme, had been on a break since the birth of her daughter in 2014. She finally returned to the field last December and was delighted to see how the project has taken shape and evolved over the years.
“It was a fantastic feeling to be able to take my husband and child to Kalaw to meet the teachers there,” Wong says. “I would also like my daughter to have childhood memories of playing in a village, breathing in fresh air, and exploring farms – experiences reminiscent of the Singapore I grew up in.”
PREVIOUS ISSUEMORE +
2017 . Issue 3
2017 . Issue 3
2017 . Issue 2