Jamiyah Children's Home plays host to troubled teens from overseas

For Australian student Amy Rooney, her first taste of Singaporean multiculturalism was a spicy affair. Yet, the 16-year-old said that local delicacy sambal stingray is now one of her favourite foods. "I think I'm going to be disappointed when I go back to Australia, because everything is going to be less strong and flavourful," she said with a laugh.

For Amy and 13 of her schoolmates from alternative Melbourne-based school Link Centre, this visit to Singapore is their first abroad. The students, aged from 15 to 17 and from troubled backgrounds, are here on a camp that aims to expose them to Singapore's brand of multiculturalism.

The alternative school environment at Link Centre of smaller class sizes and individually tailored lesson plans means they can learn at their own pace; having shied away from mainstream schools, many as a result of bullying.

As part of their six-day itinerary starting on Sunday, Link Centre students visited the Jamiyah Children's Home yesterday for an afternoon of interactive activities like scrapbook making and ball games with the residents. This international cultural exchange was also a first for the Jamiyah Children's Home, which has been running for 21 years. "While we have local students coming here for visits, this is the first time an overseas institution with similar outreach is here," said vice chairman Mohd Hosni Malik, 31. "This will tell the children that they are not alone and that there are others in similar situations around the world."

It is a role reversal of some sort for the Australian students - instead of being protected from their abusive pasts in a different learning environment, they are now stepping up as mentors to the younger children at the home.

Link Centre's social worker, Singaporean Ms Rasheel Kaur, 31 said: "Our students can act as older sisters and brothers to the younger kids, and with (these children) there is no discomfort and none of that teenage awkwardness."

One resident, nine-year-old David (not his real name) said he enjoyed the visit.

"They drew a flower and wrote their names on it for me to keep in my scrap book. When I grow up I will bring the it back home with me," he said.