Students of Tzu Chi Great Love Student Care Centre engaging in food preparation activities at the Centre. (Photo by Chan May Ching)
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on, Singaporeans from all walks of life have been doing their best to minimise any disruptions to their lives and plough on. This has been no different for Tzu Chi Great Love Student Care Centre, where life carries on despite the various challenges. Officially opened in 2017, the Centre has served as a safe haven for primary school students in the after school hours while providing their parents a peace of mind. Education is also at the forefront of the Centre’s objectives, and students are taught valuable life lessons at every suitable opportunity.
The pandemic has undoubtedly affected the Centre’s normal proceedings, with an estimated 30% drop in enrolment figures. Some parents have pulled their students out due to concerns over their children’s health given the uncertain situation while others have decided to care for them on their own as they now work from home. There has also been a substantial change in the general protocols and overall environment of the Centre. Hygiene is the order of the day, with social distancing markers and dividers seen all around the premises. Students are also constantly reminded to maintain safe distancing as well as practise personal hygiene.
Adjusting to A New Norm
With the slew of changes being implemented, adapting to the new norm was always going to be tough but as testified by the staff, the students soon got accustomed to it.
“At the start, students found it hard to understand what COVID-19 is all about so we started showing them videos to help them understand,” explained Centre manager Ms Lim Siew Lee. “It was also difficult for them as they were not able to cross certain boundaries and talk to their friends. But after explaining about the dangers of the virus, they became more aware of the need to follow the rules.”
Her sentiments were echoed by staff teacher Ms Ding Ling Ngit, who added that despite the overall gloom surrounding the whole pandemic situation, there was still something positive to take away from it all.
“Due to COVID-19, the students have become more responsible and have cultivated good habits which they can apply to their personal lives,” said Ms Ding, who teaches Chinese. “For instance, as we have been constantly emphasising on personal hygiene, the students are now very clear on certain things such as washing hands before eating and disinfecting their own tables and chairs.”
This shows the key role that the Centre has played in the lives of the students during the pandemic, and this was further highlighted during the students’ home-based learning period in Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) from 19 May 2021 to 28 May 2021. As some parents were considered essential workers who did not have the luxury of accompanying their children at home, the Centre stepped up to support these students during this trying period at no extra cost. The operating hours were extended earlier starting from 730am, which enabled students to come in the morning to do their school work with support from the Centre’s teachers. A total of six students benefited from this arrangement and parents were generally relieved that the Centre was able to step in to ease their woes during this period, thus allowing them to go to work with a peace of mind.
Furthermore, through overcoming the numerous constraints of the pandemic, the Centre has managed to continue carrying out some of its usual student enrichment activities, albeit with slight adjustments. One such activity would be the Vegetarian Pita Sandwich-Making activity. With various safe-distancing and hygiene measures in place, students were able to make their own vegetarian sandwiches from scratch using ingredients such as tomato, cucumber and corn, just to name a few. While activities such as these might seem simple and inconspicuous, the multiple learning lessons that one can garner cannot be underestimated. For instance, through this sandwich-making activity, students were able to pick up practical hands-on skills and develop a greater appreciation for adopting a plant-based diet.
Learning from Watching “Life Wisdom” Videos
Other than striving to conduct enrichment activities for the students as much as possible, the Centre also continues to keep up with the usual daily practice of gathering the students for video sessions of “Life Wisdom”, where snippets of Tzu Chi’s humanitarian work all over the world are compiled into short clips. Thereafter, students would take turns to share the nuggets of priceless information that they picked up after watching. These daily video sessions might seem uneventful but the positive impact left on the students is unmistakable, as witnessed by Centre manager Ms Lim.
“After watching ‘Life Wisdom’, which showed the situation in India where there was a lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients, the students started to take the wearing of masks more seriously as they realised how serious the consequences could be,” remarked Ms Lim.
Besides the learning pointers picked up from the videos of “Life Wisdom” with regards to the ongoing pandemic, it was also evident that the students gained aplenty from other aspects, with one prominent area being the importance of vegetarianism. And this was duly highlighted by the students after one of the video sessions.
“I learnt that we must eat vegetables and be grateful for food. I will also encourage everyone around me to have a vegetarian diet,” shared Primary Five student Chow Shermin.
Chow is only one out of the many students who have benefited since stepping through the gates of Tzu Chi Great Love Student Care Centre. From behaviour improvements to an increased willingness to embrace vegetarianism, positive changes among the students have come in all shapes and forms. Although the pandemic has already disrupted many plans and activities, the Centre has remained true to Tzu Chi’s mission of providing a holistic education during the challenging past year.
“Despite the pandemic, the Student Care Centre has managed to continue educating the students over the past year,” added Ms Lim. “Since the parents have already entrusted their children to us, we will do our best to guide and care for them like our own.”