Trisha Reloaded

Dedicated to Trisha, as always. Dedicated also to L, my source of inspiration, and the reason why I choose to see the bright side of teaching.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A student does CIP

“If you don’t go in now, she’ll think you’re looking down on her!” I hissed at A, a student among a group of 8, who were doing their CIP (Community Involvement Project) and whose turn it was to visit the 1-room flats the school had adopted. They came armed with monthly supplies of food items, plus an ang-pow for the lunar New Year, ready to present to our adopted families and the owner had opened the door cheerfully to welcome us in. We had all gone in, except for A.

Student A was wearing my patience out with his exaggerated air of snobbery. I could understand it if he was visibly shocked at seeing the inside of a 1-room flat for the first time in his life. Even if he had wrinkled up his nose at the unfamiliar, musty smell that some of these flats exuded (which he did in a very dramatic way), I would hold my tongue. But no, he had to be larger than life, he had to pretend to throw up along the corridors after the second house we visited. As he bent over just outside someone’s flat, trying to bring up his breakfast, his friend went over to console him, crying out to us, “A can’t take it la, ‘cher!” But I was not fooled. It wasn’t that A couldn’t take it. A was simply making a loud statement that he hated this visit, and he would rather be anywhere than near poor people.

After the first house, A had pronounced pompously to everyone, “You know what I would do? I would give this house a makeover, man!” I kept my cool, and explained to him that if we all had the means, we would love to have interior decorators for our homes. But not everyone is so fortunate. The message didn’t get to him though. Throughout the entire visit, he feigned a vomiting episode, leaned far over the ledge at one point to show us how much he needed a breath of fresh air, and had to be persuaded to sit down on a chair offered by the owner of a house.

At the end of the visit, he filled in the Reflection Form with all the politically correct answers any student doing CIP would know by now. He had just completed 3 hours of CIP for the year, which was 50% of the quota. As far as he was concerned, his mission was accomplished. He went back home to his executive mansionette just 5 minutes away, to a home where, he claimed, 2 maids were waiting to serve him.

* * * * * * * * *
Since my last entry about my visit to the 1-room flats, a few things had happened. Some people had written to me, offering various forms of help. I was touched by the kind gestures and had followed up with regular visits in the month of December since I knew it was the school holidays and the CIP visits from the students had stopped temporarily.

I asked Mr Y twice about fumigating his home to get rid of the bed bugs, assuring him that he didn’t have to pay a cent for it. He had rejected my offers, saying the bugs did not bother him. Last week when I visited him, he was as scrawny as ever, but friendly and we chatted for a while. He told me of his leg problem and how he was just diagnosed with diabetes. Walking can be quite painful for him now but he is determined not to give up walking for fear that the feet would atrophy even more.

At the end of 2006, 92-year-old Mdm C, who had earlier signalled to us that she wanted to die, finally got her wish granted. She had had a fall in late Nov and stayed in hospital for a while. While hospitalized, her neighbour, Mr C (who is also one of our adoptees), had taken the initiative to clean up and paint Mdm C’s dreary flat. What is remarkable about his gracious act is that Mr C himself wears a prosthetic leg. He took 3 days to paint Mdm C’s flat, a feat which gave him severe back ache that necessitated a visit to the doctor subsequently. Mdm C was able to come home later to a sparkling clean, freshly-painted flat, although by then she was bed-ridden and had to depend on her neighbour, Mr C, to check in on her everyday. Then, just before we crossed over to 2007, Mdm C was gone.

When I saw Mr C last week, he was sitting on the floor in his flat. For the first time, I saw him without his artificial leg. When the students had shuffled out of his house, he turned to me and said, “She’s gone! I had just painted her flat and she’s gone!” I nodded wordlessly. I wanted to tell him that he has truly been a good neighbour, in every sense of the word, and that Mdm C couldn’t have asked for a better friend. But my words remained caught in my throat. I looked at this one-legged man and thought of his magnanimous deed, and I saw my own weedy body and pathetic piety.

I’m reminded, that sometimes it is the simplest deed, done with the sincerest of heart, that has the greatest impact, not the glitzy, flamboyant and sophisticated mega-dollar makeover that some of us seem to favour. Mr Y doesn't want the town council, or the professional pestbusters to take over his house and turn over his things. Instead, he appreciates the bread that kind neighbours pass to him, and the $2 that a lady who had just won in the chap-jee-kee slipped into his hands. In fact, if we can be like the kind of neighbour that Mr C is, we would indeed make a difference in a huge way.


At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am humbled by your article. I realised the lifes of teens are in your hands, their value system. I guess you can only do so much to make them socially aware and the rest is up to their family and God. And I salute you teachers. God bless! TC

At 3:24 AM, Blogger Ensui said...

Its frightening to know that a person can be so snobbish at such a young age. Especially in those teenage years, the rebellious spirit is hard to discipline. Hopefully, there will be ten good people for one snobbish person.

Despite all that, i must applaud you for your efforts. Well done! :)

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its not surprising that there are obnoxious and spoilt brats like A as witnessed the disgusting wsm episode last year. My eternal optimism said that there are more decent, compassionate and empathic teens out there than teens like A and wsm.

Trisha, you are a good person with a heart of gold & I hope your students and their parents realizes that they are very fortunate to have you as their teacher.

At 5:27 PM, Anonymous jamie said...

I agree with what anon 7.17 said. You're truly a great teacher, and performing a great social service.

At 9:01 PM, Blogger kwayteowman said...

Hello Trisha,

The KTM cannot help but feel that there's something wrong with the quota system for the CIP. Of course, we shouldn't kid ourselves to think that dragging these kids down for visits to the poor will be 100% successful -- but the question is: while we are not 100% successful, how successful has the programme been in achieving its objectives (which the KTM would venture to guess is to inspire our young more compassionate and sympathetic to the plight of the less fortunate)?

At 11:32 PM, Anonymous thebro said...

You speculate that the objective of CIP is probably to inspire compassion & sympathy, and also ask how to measure the success of CIP. My question would be: how do we measure compassion & sympathy?

The way I see it, if doing CIP has touched a student's heart in a positive and lasting way, then it has achieved its purpose for that student. There may not be immediately visible effects of that to be measured right now, but if, say 10 years from now, the student's memory of what he saw & experienced in CIP moves him to befriend a less fortunate person in his neighbourhood, or adopt a stray animal, or regularly donate to some charity, or even to just say a sincere 'thanks' to the elderly staff cleaning up after our meals in food courts, then I say that counts as 1 success case.

At 2:04 AM, Blogger trisha said...

Kwayteowman & thebro:
I agree with you that having a quota (which is set by MOE, not the school) for something like community service is not ideal. But we've come to a point in our education where almost everything needs to be measureable before school leaders and teachers can claim to have achieved something. Hence the mandatory 6 hrs/annum of CIP for every student.

Thebro is right about the impossibility of measuring compassion and empathy. So schools can only report figures for CIP compliance and rely on students' reflections to measure their achievement in this area.

If MOE doesn't set a quota, would schools and students still be so committed to doing community work? That would be interesting to find out.

At 1:41 AM, Anonymous netlander said...

First, I would say that you have a good heart. I am amazed by A's reactions to his CIP visit, I think he has seen too much movies. It is so threatical, maybe you can recommend him to the Drama Club.

Did any of your students see through his "reactions"? I hope that he does not provide his "reaction" knowledge for others to learn.

But, I am more saddened by what his parents have taught him about life. Going forward, I hope that he is not a candidate for any future tea party when he moves up the ladder in life...

At 8:48 AM, Blogger kwayteowman said...


Thanks for sharing your views. No lah, the KTM is not suggesting that we try to quantify "compassion" but in some ways, this entry does seem to highlight that perhaps for some kids, the CIP doesn't quite "work"?

The KTM has been ambushed more and more in recent years by donation-can-carrying school kids at the MRT stations and bus stops. The KTM will always ask them what the money they are collecting is for. The answers are not always forthcoming. Some will just say "CIP" or something of that nature. Somehow, it just doesn't feel quite right to the KTM.

Just a quick clarification then: would it be right to say that you think the CIP is a "good" thing nevertheless, despite its obvious shortcomings?

Warmest Regards.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Jazz101 said...

keep me posted on the funding issues of the cip program, k?

At 12:29 AM, Anonymous David said...

Trisha, surely there is something you can do to mend the ways of the snob? How about docking him on the CIP hours earned i.e. negative points for behaving so boorishly. I hate to see the brat grow up into a monster. When Hitler was a youth, he actually threw up when he came across a Jew - now, do you see why I'm worried?

At 9:57 AM, Blogger lakeside girl said...

I just found your blog, dear teacher, and i absolutely love it.

Thanks for that glimpse into what you face on a daily basis and continue to fight the good fight for the SG education system. ;)

At 1:54 AM, Blogger harpist said...

Hi trisha, i stumbled onto your blog and your entries were so real and beautiful i had to leave a comment. Like you, i don't think i'll ever forgot the first few classes i taught as a relief teacher for 2 terms. Your entries are inspiring. Thank you for being a teacher, and i look forward too to the day where i can write like you do.

-erica (:

At 6:00 PM, Blogger trisha said...

Understand where you are coming from. I have given feedback to the CIP teacher in charge. Docking his CIP hours is not exactly the only solution. I think education & counselling the student is also important. At the end of the day, we know that mandatory CIP will not work for everyone. But some students will remember their CIP experience in a positive way and hopefully, learn to be more compassionate. There will always be some hardcore, un-touchable types who will carry on with their egocentric life.

Lakeside girl & harpist:
Thanks for visiting my blog. And thanks too for your encouragement. Do visit whenever you're free!

At 1:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Woot woot hello people have a nice day

At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL, nice visiting the needy, but student A really sucked to the core.

At 7:29 PM, Anonymous MOTHER F***ER said...

Student A roX!!!!!! IF i were him i would have done the same thing! ITS SO LAME TO DO CIP!!!


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