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Tzu Shao Enjoys the Embrace of Nature

Tzu Chi Teenagers (a.k.a. Tzu Shao) went to Thomson Nature Park for an outdoor experience during the June school holiday. They hiked in the forest, jumped and ran on tree-lined paths during exploration, crossed deep ditches and climbed treetops with excitement and curiosity.

On the last weekend of the June holiday, Tzu Chi's Teenagers' Class is shifted from indoors to Thomson Nature Park so the youths can learn how the earth is closely related to us and learn to take care of the earth, like how we take care of ourselves. (Photo by Phang Wei Wan)

How did a group of young students spend their long school holidays? What knowledge did they gain outside the classroom?

On June 25 and 26, the Singapore Tzu Chi Teenagers' Class (a.k.a. Tzu Shao) held a two-day-one-night camp on the last weekend of the June holiday. With the theme of "Coexisting with Nature", Tzu Shao went to Thomson Nature Park to connect with nature with their five senses. Not only did they learn about environmental ecology, but they also experienced how the earth is closely related to us and learned to take care of the earth, like how we take care of ourselves.

The two-day camp commenced with the singing and dancing of the song "First Ray of Sunshine" led by Tzu Ching brothers and sisters. Everyone worked together to pass the game challenges and met new friends through three ice-breaking activities. The feeling of uncertainty was gradually replaced by bursts of laughter, and Tzu Shao began the two-day camp with joy. 

Staying Away from 3C Products and Exploring with Five Senses

"There is a snake!"
"Ah! Where?"
"On the branch!"

A small green snake was seen hanging on a branch in the distance, and you would not see it without careful observation. The teenagers’ sight and hearing heightened when they were away from school work and the virtual world. As they walked into the peaceful forest in Thomson Nature Park, they could even differentiate the sound of the wind. Along the way, coincidentally, they encountered some rare Raffles' banded langurs and macaques - their eyes sparkled with excitement and curiosity.

The Camp Coordinator, Fong Kok Kee, said, "Urban children are less exposed to nature. We want them to listen, see and feel these two days, so they will know how to care for animals and protect the ecological environment."  

After surveying several places, we finally decided to have our adventure in Thomson Nature Park, which has been open for less than three years!" said Chee Chen Sin, a member of the curriculum team. He added that the park not only allows for hiking but also preserves the historic sites of the decades-old Hainan village and various endangered animals. It is a great outdoor learning location that has both natural and cultural heritage.

Walking on the quiet forest path, urban teenagers re-explore with their five senses and reconnect with nature. (Photo by Fong Kwai Kin)

Before setting off for this outdoor activity, volunteer Tan Lee Sin taught Tzu Shao about coexisting with nature to help them adapt to and observe the fast-changing environment. A video recording of the ecology of macaques attracted everyone's attention. The monkeys are cute and playful and have emotions like humans - they can feel scared and angry too. Tan Lee Sin urged these teenagers to love and respect animals by not touching or feeding them at will and to cherish the ecology of nature.

At 2 pm, 42 Tzu Shao were divided into ten groups and departed. Thirty minutes later, the group arrived at Thomson Nature Park. Outdoor activities required physical strength and brainstorming. After getting off the bus, each group formed a circle and completed the tasks on the nine-square grid map. They took pictures, solved puzzles and guessed words to get a connected line before setting off.

Scratching their heads and frowning as they stayed focused on finding the answers, the students eventually completed a connected line and got the "ticket" to enter the park with shouts of joy!

"Have you picked up five leaves of different shapes?"
"Find two kinds of insects! Are butterflies insects?"
"Ants, ants, have you seen any ants?"

According to the given task, Tzu Shao walked on the trails and explored plants and animals in the natural park. They observed and tried to search for the target creatures, thereby testing their knowledge of natural science.

Outdoor activities require physical strength and brainstorming. Each group forms a circle to answer questions. They have to complete the task requirements before setting off. (Photo by Phang Wei Wan)

Along the way, Tzu Shao and group leaders walked and paused to observe and discuss until they unknowingly reached the end of their quest. Everyone was exceptionally satisfied after completing the task. The pleasant scenery at the reservoir made them cheerful too.

Tzu Shao Lam Jian Ping, who came to Thomson Park for the first time, said, "Today was a lot of fun! The monkeys here are very shy and don't attack people. As soon as we approached them, they ran away. We shouldn't feed and disturb wild animals when we see them. That's how we protect them."

Josh Choo said, "Walking in the woods lets us feel the charm of nature. We not only saw squirrels and monkeys but also many kinds of animals and plants. It was rewarding."

Tzu Shaos are seen crossing the ditch with the assistance of a group leader. Through these outdoor activities, they learn to observe and adapt to the nature park's changing environment. (Photo by Phang Wei Wan)

Being close to the big tree, the kids' vision is no longer limited to the screen of mobile phones but a wider world. (Photo by Fong Kwai Kin) 

After an eventful day, the group returned happily to Jing Si Hall, where they showered and had dinner. They carefully traced the dried leaves picked up from the nature park on a tote bag and painted them with oil paint, turning the tote bags with natural patterns into unique souvenirs for free distribution.

Tzu Shao handmade the tote bags with sincere gratitude for the group of people who worked silently behind the scenes, including the Tzu Shao curriculum team, group leaders, Tzu Chings, and volunteers. Owing to their effort, Tzu Shao could join the camp and travel with peace of mind.

Before everyone went to bed, Chee Chen Sin and Tzu Ching held a warm concert where their singing, accompanied by guitar soothed the participants' tiredness and ended the first day of the camp.

Tzu Shaos trace the dried leaves picked up from the nature park carefully on a tote bag with oil paint. Each tote bag has a unique and natural design. (Photos by Chong Mong Zhuang)

A Calm, Pure and Respectful Mind Brings a Serene Environment

Although everyone complained that the floor was too hard to sleep on the first night, they fell asleep fast as outdoor activities had exhausted them. The next day, when Tzu Shaos were asked to wake up at 6 am, they got up quickly to participate in the activities with full energy.

Tzu Chings prepared four game stations called "Only when the mind remains calm, pure and respectful, would the environment be serene", "The tranquil scenery in the heart", "Absolutely beautiful", and "A full heart". As each activity had a different meaning and lesson, Tzu Shaos were challenged to remain tranquil at heart, cultivate team spirit and raise their awareness of environmental protection throughout the games.

At the game station of environmental protection, the whole group had to stand on a piece of newspaper to answer questions. Tzu Shao Darius Quah was impressed by the game and said, "If you answer wrongly, the newspaper will be folded in half. If you keep answering wrongly, the newspaper will become smaller and smaller, as if the earth is covered with water, and we'll fall into the sea eventually."

"If you keep answering wrongly, the newspaper will become smaller and smaller, as if the earth is covered with water, and we'll fall into the sea at the end." The game station of environmental protection leaves a deep impression on Tzu Shao, who experiences the urgency of the environmental crisis. (Photo by Chong Mong Zhuang)

People have to mitigate climate change by conserving energy and reducing their carbon footprint. Adopting a plant-based diet is the best way to protect the earth. Tzu Shao Aw Shao Zhan said that being a vegetarian keeps him healthy and protects more animals. He usually shares posts on vegetarianism through social media and also tells his classmates the benefits of being a vegetarian. "Being a vegetarian gives me more vitamins, and I don’t get angry or fall sick often."   

After completing all four game stations, the activities came to an end. Through drawing, volunteer Ang Lee Kuan introduced the Jing Si Aphorisms of the camp that read "Only when the mind remains calm, pure and respectful, the environment would be serene; the tranquil scenery in the heart is absolutely beautiful”. She hoped that the youths would remain calm and pure at heart at all times and face their future with respect.

Tzu Shaos practise mindfulness through drawing. (Photo by Fong Kwai Kin)

When it was time to bid goodbye, everyone recalled the activities and lessons of the camp in the past two days and was reluctant to part with each other. The youths also thanked all the crew for their dedication and hard work.

Tzu Ching Pern Li Sing, who joined the Tzu Shao camp’s organising team for the first time, said that although the process was tiring, she learned a lot. She recollected the memories of her being guided and accompanied by Tzu Ching when she was a Tzu Shao, and she was grateful for that.

"I am also a Tzu Ching now, and I want to be a good example to Tzu Shao so I can lead them!"

Camp coordinator Fong Kok Kee said with relief, "Due to the pandemic, there were no overnight camps for three years. The preparation was tedious but it was satisfying to see kids grow through activities."

Walking into nature brings hope and happiness to people amid the pandemic. It is hoped that through the camp, the Tzu Shao have enhanced their knowledge, learned to be independent and supportive of their peers, and would be able to face challenges bravely and positively in the future.

The two-day-one-night Tzu Shao camp ends successfully. It is a fruitful trip as Tzu Shao learns new knowledge of environmental protection and how to co-exist with nature. (Photo by Fong Kwai Kin)

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