Sabah quake: S'poreans have shown resolve, strength & compassion amid tragedy, says Education Minister Heng Swee Keat

Tributes left for victims of the Sabah earthquake at Tanjong Katong Primary School. The events of the last week showed that all of us are a part of something much bigger than us, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.
Tributes left for victims of the Sabah earthquake at Tanjong Katong Primary School. The events of the last week showed that all of us are a part of something much bigger than us, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.PHOTO: TED CHEN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Tributes left for victims of the Sabah earthquake at Tanjong Katong Primary School. The events of the last week showed that all of us are a part of something much bigger than us, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.
Tributes left for victims of the Sabah earthquake at Tanjong Katong Primary School. The events of the last week showed that all of us are a part of something much bigger than us, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.PHOTO: TED CHEN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

MR HENG Swee Keat very nearly did not make it to the graduation ceremony at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) yesterday.

The Education Minister had accepted the invitation to speak months before. But "last Friday morning, an earthquake of 6.0 magnitude struck near Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, something no one has ever seen before," he told graduands, parents and guests.

He thought he would have to miss the ceremony, with the grim tasks that had to follow, to search for the missing, bring home the dead as well as the surviving, and take care of families here.

He changed his mind on Thursday. "The disaster last Friday, and all the resolve, strength and compassion I've seen and heard from Singaporeans in the last week, have stirred up many thoughts in me," said Mr Heng.

He also wanted to share the "special moment" to celebrate students' achievements, he said, as he added wryly: "I assure you, I won't say anything to depress you."

He went on: "All I want to do is to remind you that you are loved, that we believe in you, and that we will give you our all to help you achieve your dreams.

"And, I hope that you will share with us too your hopes and your wishes, so that I, my officers, our teachers, we can all draw more strength and hope from you to carry on the work that we must do at MOE."

The tragedy claimed the lives of 10 from Singapore - seven pupils and two teachers from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS), and the adventure guide who accompanied them on the trip to Mount Kinabalu.

Mr Heng paid tribute to the staff of the Ministry of Education and TKPS, who showed steely determination to tackle the challenges, and do all possible to bring teachers and pupils home safe.

But the tragedy had also led him to reflect on what it meant to be a child and a parent, and how that was to be part of something bigger than themselves.

As a child, said Mr Heng, "it means that someone cares for you, and wants the very best for you.". Though parents, grandparents, and the wider family act in different ways, it comes from a place of love, from what they think is best for a child.

Children, he said, can be the best they can by learning all they can, from everyone around them.

"Learn not just because jobs are changing, not just because the world is growing more competitive," said Mr Heng. "Do it because your parents and your teachers have so much hope for and in you."

And having received care, children can give back by offering support, in word and gesture, to others who need it.

As to what it meant to be a parent, he said: "To be a parent is to be prepared to put our child's happiness before our own. It is to believe in our children - not only that you will be great, but that you can be better than us. Better in many ways - better life, better skills, grow up a better person, a better friend, a better parent, with lots of heart."

Knowing how parents, families and teachers see them, he said, children can give thanks, by fulfilling their parents' belief in them.

The events of the last week also showed that all of us are a part of something much bigger than us, said Mr Heng.

"At one level, we are all part of something bigger than us, something that is unpredictable and uncontrollable, a world ruled by volatile forces of nature that change without warning," he said.

But we are also part of something bigger at another, more hopeful level.

"And this thing is our home, our society, our country - made up of many individual children, parents, students, teachers, family members, all coming together as one," he added.

"We make sure no one walks alone. We act with love and heroism. We act to protect... Rocks may fall, but our human spirit will never falter," Mr Heng said.

ateng@sph.com.sg