Many Singapore students are often offered the opportunity to go on a school-endorsed mission trip to various less-developed countries like Philippines and Cambodia. As parents, we worry about their safety and well-being, their adaptability to the harsher life conditions experienced in those countries. As students, many are hesitant having seen pictures of the standard of living and no up to roughing it out.
Having spoken to teachers and students who have been on a mission trip themselves, here are __ reasons you should go on one given the opportunity. Reading this is insufficient to enable you to entirely understand what the exposure does to you, but will hopefully give you the encouragement you need to take up this “challenge”.
- Be Thankful for the Little Things
To many Singaporean youths, eating out with friends after school or buying a new pair of shoes because the Nike released its latest collection the “Nike Air Pegasus Zoom” is considered the norm. When faced with parents’ refusal to endorse such purchases, we occasionally get upset, throw a tantrum, and the twitter rant starts. But have you seen a 4-year old Cambodian boy receive a 2nd-hand pair of school shoes? Or given a 7-year old Filipino girl a freshly-washed t-shirt? Their reaction breaks your heart. For many of us, purchasing 2nd-hand items, or receiving an older siblings’ hand-me-downs is considered “cheap” but to these kids, more often than not, it’s their 1st pair of shoes in their life, or the 1st t-shirt they’ve received in 3 years. As a city kid seeing these kids so thankful for everything they are given, it breaks out mentality, makes us less of a “spoilt brat” many of us are whether we come from average-income or well-to-do families because no matter how low of an income bracket you belong to in Singapore, it cannot be compared to what these kids are going through.
- Makes Your Smile a Little Wider
Try giving a 12-year old girl a notebook, or spend 30-minutes teaching a 7-year old boy a bit of English or how to count, or play a round of hide-and-seek with a group of Cambodian kids. Their excitement at these things that we usually take for granted makes you realise exactly how fortunate you are to be growing up in Singapore. And their excitement is contagious; you find yourself jumping out of bed at 6am, excited to spend the next 15-hours with these children when getting up for a 10am lecture in Singapore is a dreaded chore. You find yourself subconsciously starting to smile at the things that make these kids smile, a smile when they receive a hot-lunch, a smile when they are given a toy for 10 children to share and play with together. In Singapore, a “thank you” is rare even if your parents have just gifted you with a new MacBook for school, or purchased the latest iPhone 6s as an early Christmas gift and you start to realise how little is actually required for you to live with a happy heart.
- Inculcates a Generous and Sharing Spirit
“Who said you could take my chocolates from the fridge?” or “That’s my cake on the table, don’t eat it!” Sound familiar? Such squabbles are common in Singapore households between siblings and that’s how many hostile sibling relationships are birthed forth. Try giving a 3-year old boy who has 6 other siblings a piece of candy. For many Singaporean 3-year olds, 1 they are candy hoarders and 1 piece of candy for themselves alone isn’t enough, and the thought of sharing or giving that to a sibling is an alien concept; but for these children who have absolutely nothing to their name, more often than not, no food either, they learnt the importance of sharing from a young age and their selfless spirit is nothing short of amazing. They’re the kind of angelic kids you read about in story books but have never actually seen it in real life; they make sure the people around them, friends and family alike, are given priority to things even if it means they themselves have to go without. Growing up suffering from malnutrition and starvation and living off scraps found in the garbage mountain beside their “homes”, you’d think they would run and clamour when offered the opportunity for a hot meal but as we served these meals youngest first, the sight that greeted us amazed and touched our hearts. These young kids received their meals first and we had thought they’d simply find an empty spot to sit and devour it but their first instinct was to offer it to their parents, older siblings and friends to ensure everyone received one. And if that doesn’t touch you heart and change your perspective on things, nothing can and nothing will.
- Learn to Embrace Simplicity
Many Singaporean kids grow up with a roomful of toys, and in this generation, an Xbox, Wii set and the latest play station, with an iPhone, iPad and/or MacBook to call their own. In countries where mission trips are often organised to like Philippines and Cambodia, these children have nothing; sometimes a ragged piece of cloth is their only piece of clothing, walking the streets with no shoes, a 12-year old never being taught how to brush their teeth. Meanwhile in Singapore, we see 7-year olds texting on their iPhones while playing a game on their iPads and if that isn’t enough, they bug parents for a new technological device as soon as a new version is released in stores. Try signing up for a mission trip during a school holiday; see how these children find a way to entertain themselves with absolutely nothing. You’ll realise you don’t actually need the latest iPhone or MacBook to lead a fulfilling life.
- Thankful for the Education System in Singapore
Find taking the train or bus to school a hassle and envious of your classmates whose parents drive them to and from school on a daily basis? Wake up in the morning and the dreading the thought of getting out of bed for school or find the thought of taking a sick day off school crossing your mind? Some of these kids spend 2 hours to make it to the nearest village school with the older kids carrying the younger ones who can’t make the 2-hour mountain hike or cross the river using a rope as balance and you see their hunger to learn and the amount of team work and effort it takes for many of them to get to school. Feel your parents are annoying when they ask you to coach your younger sibling through their homework? The older kids take the initiative to guide their younger siblings, especially for those who come from families that can only afford to send 1 child to school and these children take great pride in sharing their knowledge.