Arranged by Ms. Wu Zhen, a group of MPAM students took part in an appreciation event for foreign workers that was organized by Dr Tan Lai Yong and his team. It was an activity involving close to 400 foreign workers from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh construction workers. On 1 June 2015, together with student volunteers from Hua Chong Institution, we participated at a Chinese calligraphy booth as Chinese calligraphy teachers to teach foreign workers some simple Chinese words of wishes, and helped them take a photo of their artwork so they could send back to their hometown as souvenirs. We felt it was extra meaningful to volunteer on 1 June 2015 to spread the love and joy of Chinese culture as this day coincides with Vesak Day, the celebration of the birth of Buddha.
We anticipated for the event while having some concern and uncertainty about our Chinese calligraphy skills. We were also concerned whether there would be any visitors at our booth, and will there be any communication problem with the difference in language and culture. However, Ms Wu encouraged us and indicated that participation with love and care is of utmost important, the standard of calligraphy is secondary. We were moved by the spirit of the event, and we received many help and assistance during the event with innovative ideas sparkled along the way. We spoke to Dr Tan before the event. After hearing our concern, he gave us some tips and guidance about the details that was going to happen and charted some guidelines about the activity. As part of the preparation, we also went to Chinatown to shop for some Chinese calligraphy tools. It was not difficult to find such stationery at Chinatown which is rich in Chinese culture. The shop owner, who was also from China, gave us a generous discount and donated a large piece of poster paper. At the shop, we were surprised to hear that the foreigners also love to write Chinese words. However, instead of writing with a traditional calligraphy brush on rice paper, they write with a pen on cards. As a result, cards and pens were also added to our shopping list. Dr Tan also brought us to visit the foreign workers’ dormitory to gain a better understanding of their living environment. Words such as “fu”(fortune) , “jia”(home), “ping an”(peace), “cheng gong”(success), “xuexi jinbu”(study and progress), etc., were chosen which represents the foreign workers’ expectation and each word was assigned with a code and relevant translation in English. Gradually, more volunteers joined and finally; we had 15 of us in the team.
We arrived punctually on the 1st June morning at the Highpoint Social Enterprise Ark for the event. Various volunteers were already busy setting up the booths. Hundreds of invited guest were happily playing all the games and competition at the booths. Within a short while, we had many foreign workers gathered at our booth. Most of them were from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Despite having some hesitation, they were eager to try out the calligraphy brush. Our friends from Hua Chong Institution became our interpreters that quickly bridged the gap between us and the workers. We taught them some basic strokes and we were amazed that they could grasp the basic strokes quickly even though Chinese characters were something new to them. In particular, they love to write words such as fu (fortune), jia (home) and ai (love). After finishing the artwork, they signed on it solemnly and put it into an envelope for sending back to their hometown.
Among the participants, there were also construction workers from China. They felt at home as soon as they met us and happily started to write phrases such as “Zhongguo Hao” (Wish you well, China), “Jia He Wan Shi Xing” (A happy and harmonized family), etc. Through such words, they expressed their faith and memory towards their hometown. One of the locals even wrote several pieces of the phrase “Wei renmin fuwu” (serve the people). Our shared concept had attracted the local undergraduates to join the volunteer team. We had also shared our work experience and feelings during the event in our chats with the foreign workers. Despite the language barrier, we shared the same understanding and concern between people from different countries, races, and languages.
There were ten participating groups from various societies, charity organization and volunteer groups involved in the event. The range of activities included medical services, counseling services, training services, games, competition, cultural shows and team building games which were very interactive indeed. Some of them provided food and beverages for the workers. Such activities had effectively promoted health, friendship, communication and helped foreign works to integrate into a multi-racial and culture society like Singapore. We were impressed that such event involving more than thousands of participants could take place without the involvement and management of government departments. There is no prior planning and process control guidelines, but all participating groups simply took their initiative to join and made the event so orderly and successful. The event was organized systematically, and the atmosphere was simply vivid, joyful, harmonious and orderly. It shows that the concept of outstanding management, complete understanding and upkeep of harmony had been internalized in the mind of participants and translated into action.
The social services framework is very comprehensive in Singapore. The charity organizations is very active. Since young, Singaporean had been encouraged to participate in such volunteering activities, which has in turn cultivated the ability to organize and the spirit to contribute. Volunteering services are so common in Singapore and widely accepted by the people that they have become a powerful group. The government encourages the organizing of such activities without imposing strict regulatory measure. The aim of government is to nurture a culture of active participation, which will give strong support through various venues. As a result, this strengthens the work of social services and bring such activities closer to people. Allowing the public to engage in various social organizations contribute to the promotion of multi-racial, multicultural, multi-language, racial unity and social harmony to the country. This will serve as a good benchmark example for our country, China.
Reflection: Our team (Cai Zhibao, Wu Hongyan, Fanlei, Chen Yongjun, Ning Xinhai, Zeng Lingzhi, Gu Yafeng, Liu Zongguo, Li Yunsheng, Cai Shuzhong) found a significant boost in our confidence after taking part in the event, though our skills in Chinese calligraphy is considered basic in our hometown. Looking back at the foreign workers in the photos, we could feel the pride and happiness from their eyes and expression. This gave us a lot of joy and satisfaction. Our teammate, Fanlei, Yongjun, Zongguo and Yunsheng are practicing hard on their basketball, and we plan to have a match with them on the next visit in the hope that we will not get defeated badly. We had also made friends with the young volunteers from Hua Chong Institution. We were impressed by their courage that they could communicate so easily and freely with the foreign workers. Special thanks to Dr. Tan, who has given us valuable guidance, and also to Ms. Wu for making such arrangements for us. We also like to thank the students from Hua Chong who had interpreted for us during the event and also the active participation of the foreign workers. For sure, we are looking forward to the next event, and also hope that we could organize more of such events after we return home.
This article is written by Gu Yafeng, a student of the MPAM 2015 cohort. The article is originally written in chinese on the MPAM activities page.