Before all the partying and unwrapping of gifts begin (if they haven’t already), let’s all take a moment to reflect on what we’ve done through our the past year.
Indeed, Christmas has arrived all too soon and living in a bustling city like Singapore doesn’t make time slow down when we want it to – like dragging the weekends a tad longer or that holiday overseas stretched by a couple more days. The Christmas season is going to end soon, like the year.
While awaiting for Christmas to come, Christians go through a season of Advent where we wait for the coming of Jesus being born again. It seems like He gets reborn every year but each Advent is a preparation for the second coming, be it in our death or the coming of Christ.
This Advent, I spent a week in Phnom Penh on a mission trip under ACTS (A Call To Share), a catholic organisation under CARITAS Singapore. I was assigned to the high school education to conduct team building activities. Not knowing what to expect even though I’ve gone on one during secondary school, I had no idea on exactly what I would be bringing for the kids there and what way I could help them.
Throughout my time there, I visited some of the student’s houses and the killing fields, which led me to a deeper insight into the lives of Cambodians. The bus journeys from the hotel to the school offered much to look at: shops (including Pepper Lunch, Koi Cafe, K-BBQ restaurants), international schools, local bakeries, various types of housing and lastly flooding.
Being in a third world country, I could see the large gap between the rich and the poor, unlike in Singapore where even the poor have proper roofs over their heads. The rich live in big houses and shop at tourist markets while the poor have wooden planks as floor with a train passing by right outside their house every few hours.
The students at Don Bosco are financially poor, and depending on their family circumstances, some do not pay school fees at all. I felt that the team building activities really helped them in terms of life values and traits – which was what the sisters wanted. Instead of teaching them the ABCs which the teachers themselves can teach them, providing some leadership skills and enabling them to work as a team would be much more beneficial to these teens, seeing as we’re only there for a few days.
It was loads of fun, interacting with the students, talking to them and understanding a little more of their lives. For the lower secondary students, there was a bit of a language barrier but I learnt that teenagers all over the world are similar. They’re all cheeky and playful, and want to have some fun (I also facilitate 13 y/os in church). The upper secondary students were a lot easier to talk to, especially the Grade 11 where their English proficiency is excellent! I was slightly surprised at first but they were of great help when trying to get the whole high school to listen up.
There are so many things I’ve experienced during this mission trip and a single blog post cannot explain everything. But the biggest takeaway I have is that despite the horrors of their history and situation they are in, they are very generous and have big dreams. This Advent season, I learnt the gift of giving.
If you’re interested in overseas volunteer programmes, sign up with ACTS next year as we go to Phomn Penh, Battambang (Cambodia), Philippines and Myanmar. Even though it may be a Catholic organisation, all are welcome (met some non-Christian friends too so don’t worry!) Registration opens in June every year. Find out more at: http://acts-singapore.com