On late Saturday nights, I would usually be on my way home from Westlite dormitory, after Happy Happy English (HHE) class. I am a volunteer teacher with Goducate. HHE is one of our expressions of encouragement to those less privileged in education -- to bring a learning journey, not just of English, but really of friendship, of life.
Just like us, a number of our students graduated with diploma qualifications or higher. One student, Mamun, holds an MBA. When I asked him what he did, he chirped “Piling, madam!” Another student Saidul who later came back to volunteer to teach, asked if he could study here, because he wished to finish his diploma course. He had to disrupt his studies to work in Singapore so that his siblings could continue to go to school, as his dad fell very ill. Many of them are young, single and full of dreams — like you and me.
There is always a time at the end for café time, when we chat, snack and share our lives. And so, we became friends. Moti was one of them. He was always smiling. When we asked if he had any challenges, Moti would smile and say, “No problem, madam. Singapore is very good. I am happy I have work to do.”
When Moti knew that I didn’t have any children, at the ripe old age of 44, he was surprised. Later on he told me that he sees me like his mother, and he wished for me to have children. Well, shortly after, I did conceive baby Noah! We rejoiced in the good news together. When he knew that baby Noah in the tummy was diagnosed with heart and brain defects, he was worried and prayed for us. He even gave me his newly-bought hat to cheer me up. When the baby died from a rare genetic disorder, Moti grieved with us. When he found out that I was unwell, he checked in regularly with a simple, sweet SMS: “Hello mom, how are you?”
The joy of sharing comes not just from teaching, but also of learning from our learners, who taught us the good old values of life.
We have learnt so much from the sacrifices and risks undertaken by our foreign worker friends. They paid exorbitant agent fees to come here to earn a meagre living, in the hopes of bettering the lives of both their immediate and extended family.
Here are some of the good, old values: Work hard; major on grit, not gripe; respect people; honour parents; take care of family; look out for others; live life with gratitude, commitment, self-improvement and generosity.
COVID-19 shut the doors for classes in the workers’ dormitories. Nonetheless, prior to the pandemic, we had already brought learning out of the classroom, to where we were sharing life. We connected by group chats, on social media, cozy meetups and our latest platform — Zoom meet.
During COVID-19, our learners taught us Resilience. Despite being confined to their rooms for months, they kept learning, searching for new knowledge on the Internet, and sharing with others. Some contracted the feared virus, yet they took it well in their stride. They assured me, “No problem, the doctors and nurses are very good!”
They also taught me Gratitude.
While the rest of Singapore was busy griping and criticising, our foreign workers like Roy, shared their thankfulness and hope for Singapore, for our government. Moti even attempted to write a song for PM Lee! But soon he was called back to work; his song not yet done. Nonetheless, his joy of resuming work sings a lovely melody to Singapore, echoed by his fellowmen, who sent us happy pictures of their first day back to work.
Learners are also our great teachers. O, what joy, what privilege, to journey in life together. Even though the classes have ended, the relationships we have built with our friends will go on.
To Moti and all those like him who helped build Singapore, doing the work which locals shun — thank you! I hope they can all resume work soon. I pray their country will have a strong and good government like Singapore, and do more to alleviate their people’s sufferings — unemployment, homelessness and starvation, especially in the COVID-19 times. I wish them and their loved ones well.
Life for Mey Chan has been largely smooth sailing. Sundays are happy days – growing up and discovering God in the big church family. She is blessed with a loving family, good education and stable job. She enjoys volunteering: visiting the elderly, serving in church and other volunteer groups. She is on the board of Care Community Services Society (CCSS).