The staff of Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool started paying close attention to the development of the spread of COVID-19 when it first arrived in Singapore. As preschool staff have to be in close proximity with young children for long hours every day, we were worried that we might become infected and unknowingly spread the virus to our students as not much was known about Covid-19 at that time. When Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) sent care packages to all the staff on 17th February 2020, all of us were comforted, knowing that we are being cared for, while we continued to work at the frontline. There was a temporary shortage of surgical masks in the market during that time, but Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool managed to source and provide surgical masks for their staff to carry on with their daily operations. Teachers felt more confident and assured to come to work knowing that their wellbeing is taken care of.
I was one of the preschool staff who received the care package from Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore). This small gesture had sparked a chain of good deeds in the centre. Ms Au Foong Yee, the Chinese Lead Teacher of Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool and I had planned and guided the rest of the teachers to educate the children about the virus and how to take care of themselves. Once the children understood how the virus is affecting people in society, teachers went on to show them who the frontliners are and how these frontliners are at risk every day when they go to work. After knowing what was going on, the children made cards and flowers to show their gratitude to the frontliners like cleaners and medical workers. The K1 children even made a video to thank these frontliners. As it wasn’t safe for children to personally send their gifts to the frontline staff, Ms Huang Chia Lin (our preschool Chinese teacher) and I personally delivered these cards and gifts to staff at Tzu Chi’s Traditional Chinese Medicine Free Clinic at Khatib as well as medical staff at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital on 2nd April 2020.
On 3rd April 2020, the implementation of Circuit Breaker in Singapore to curb the spread of Covid-19 commencing 7th April 2020 was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. In response to the preventive measure, we prepared to shift our teaching online. Preparations were made for teachers to send daily activities that parents could do with their children at home during the Circuit Breaker to ensure that learning could continue despite not being able to go to school.
I have been following the news closely and I read about the spreading of the virus in the migrant workers community due to cramped living conditions and the lack of resources. I was worried for the migrant as they are a group of vulnerable people who may not be able to protect themselves very well due to their living conditions. At that point of time, I thought maybe the staff and parents could do something for them just like what was done for the frontliners. On 7th April 2020, one of the English teachers in the centre shared an article about CYC (a local garment factory) looking for volunteers to help sew 300,000 cloth masks for migrant workers living in dormitories. Her sharing struck me that the migrant workers may not even have the basic necessities to pull through this outbreak, especially when they can't work to earn a living. And so, I proposed to carry out a donation drive to gather personal hygiene items or food items for these migrant workers. The management team of the preschool were very supportive of the idea. After discussing with the management, we came up with the idea of getting parents, children and staff to donate Jing Si Instant Rice and Jing Si Instant Noodles. It was a plan that allowed everyone to participate even from home.
The donation drive was supposed to last only a week long as we wanted to get the rations out to the migrant workers quickly. With the economic downturn and parents still needing to pay for school fees during the Circuit Breaker period, my initial expectation was to probably raise around 150 packets of Jing Si Instant Rice and Noodles due to the limited amount of time we had. The preschool staff decided that having received the kindness of Tzu Chi Foundation through the care package in February, they should also pay it forward. Most of the staff were very supportive, not only did they lead by making donations themselves, but they had also invited their friends and family members to donate. There were some very generous parents who donated over 10 packets of instant rice & noodles each. We had also received emails and messages from parents who requested for the deadline of the donation drive to be extended as they were unable to make a donation within the week. And so, we extended the donation drive for another week.
Over a span of 2 weeks, we managed to collect more than 600 packets of Jing Si Instant Rice and Instant Noodles. With such overwhelming support, Jing Si Books and Café was unable to support the cause in such a short period of time. In view of that, Ms Tai Nyeok Moi, the Head of Department of Education Development Department, and Ms Au Foong Yee had to reach out to Jing Si Books Café in Johor Bahru, Malaysia for assistance. Due to travel restrictions, the delivery from Malaysia was slightly delayed. However, we managed to send all the donated items to Migrant Workers Centre within 3 weeks from the day the donation drive started.
My intention was not just to provide material support for the migrant workers but also to let them know that they are not alone. Therefore, I asked all the preschool staff and children to perform the song “We Are One Family” in sign language to be recorded and shared with the migrant workers. The video was later edited by Ms Gan Wen Shan, our preschool Chinese teacher. Parents and children were also requested to decorate origami hearts with messages of encouragement to the migrant workers. As the donation drive coincided with the celebration of Master Cheng Yen’s birthday in April, parents and children were informed that their efforts in making the origami hearts and performing the song “We Are One Family” were the best present for Master Cheng Yen as it is Master Cheng Yen’s wish for preschool children to learn to give of themselves and to be of service to others.
"We Are One Family" MV Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXow9RFyxAY
We pasted all the origami hearts that parents, children and teachers made onto the packets of instant rice and noodles. We also made a note with a QR code that links to the video we made. The note was printed in English, Chinese, Bengali and Singhala. We hoped that anyone who received these gifts could feel the love of the staff, children and parents of Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool, regardless of which country they are from.
With the help of our community volunteers, the gifts were delivered to the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC), a non-government organisation whose mission is to champion fair employment practices and the well-being of migrant workers in Singapore. All donations from the general public are sent to MWC as a collection point for dormitory operators to pick up the rations for their workers. I was glad that the goods were finally sent to MWC after overcoming all the obstacles of not having enough stock in Singapore, delay of delivery from JB and logistical issues. Our mission did not end there after the goods arrived in MWC. Our mission only ends when the food is collected by the dormitory companies and passed to the workers affected by COVID-19.
During this time of crisis, I am happy to see many people out there who still care about others and are willing to contribute their time, money and effort to help people in need. The children are very supportive as well. It's very heart-warming to see the heart origami that they fold and how they practised hard for the sign language music video.
This is the first time that I have organised a donation drive which involved the whole school. From this activity, I could feel that we were all (as a school) working hard together to do something good for society. This activity took little effort from everyone but it accumulated into something big. I hope we can continue to do more for the community when the school re-opens.
Click on the link below to see our back story: www.tzuchi.org.sg/en/news-and-stories/video/20200408/