'Believe in our intentions... and magic will happen'

Teachers and students from Ngee Ann Secondary School involved in raising money for SPMF include (back row, from left): teacher Tan Foong Heng, Yu Haitao, Valerie Tang, teachers Ashiqin Abdul Ra'uuf and Lim Soon Jong, Casselynn Chua, teacher Sarene Lo
Teachers and students from Ngee Ann Secondary School involved in raising money for SPMF include (back row, from left): teacher Tan Foong Heng, Yu Haitao, Valerie Tang, teachers Ashiqin Abdul Ra'uuf and Lim Soon Jong, Casselynn Chua, teacher Sarene Loh, Stella Wee, Ng Kim Yi and Irene Lee. (Front row): Nur Atiqah Nasrullah and teacher Stephanie Cheng.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

In fast-paced Singapore, there are those in need - and those who go out of their way to meet those needs. This is the latest in a series on noteworthy causes that The Straits Times is spotlighting.

For two months last year, Secondary 2 student Ng Kim Yi and Irene Lim trawled the Internet to find video clips showing teachers struggling with work or conflicts with their students.

"Normally we (students) don't think teachers need to be appreciated," Irene explained. The two, both now in Secondary 3 at Ngee Ann Secondary, compiled the footage into a video that they showed their classmates.

Their goal - to inspire them to pay for certificates of appreciation for their primary or secondary school teachers, with the money raised going towards helping needy students.

For eight years, Ngee Ann Secondary has supported the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) through two annual fundraising initiatives: the Youth for Environment Day sale which began in 2009, and the Honour A Teacher initiative launched in 2012.

Under the latter initiative, which is held in August, students can choose to donate $10 as an individual or a group to have a certificate printed by the school and presented to one of its teachers or the student's former primary school.

The initiative, held in conjunction with Teachers' Day on Sept 2, raised $2,420 last year.

"Ngee Ann Secondary School's support is exemplary as it not only contributes to the fund by encouraging their students to help the disadvantaged, it also participates in disbursing school pocket money to their students from low-income families on a monthly basis," said the SPMF general manager, Ms Tan Bee Heong. The school has eight students under the scheme.

"For the past eight years, the school has raised more than $22,000 for SPMF."

SPMF was established in 2000 as a community project by The Straits Times and has provided monthly school pocket money to more than 150,000 students from low-income families.

Ms Stephanie Cheng, a Ngee Ann Secondary teacher who has supervised the Honour A Teacher initiative since last year with other teachers, said it was started not just as a way to raise funds, but also for students to show their appreciation to their teachers in a more meaningful way than with just material gifts.

"It does help students and teachers to remember where all these things come from, when you do well not just because of your own efforts but also because people along the way made a difference in your life," said the science teacher.

"When I receive certificates from my students, I feel appreciated for my efforts," said Ms Cheng, 29, who got one from her Secondary 4 class last year.

The organising team gave students more autonomy in promoting the initiative so that they will have a greater sense of ownership. So the Character and Citizenship Education representatives of each class are tasked with compiling videos and PowerPoint presentations for class discussions, as well as during morning assembly.

Said Irene: "If I hadn't been given the chance to be an ambassador, I wouldn't have felt as involved."

Kim Yi, who attended a primary school in Marine Parade, said: "I thought I should get a certificate for my teachers because they helped me settle into secondary school."

The Youth for Environment Day initiative involves a sale every April organised by the school's Horticulture and Environment Club and the Art and Innovation Club.

Ms Sarene Loh, one of the teachers in charge of the Art and Innovation Club, organises her students into teams to plan different areas of the sale.

"We want students to have pride in what they do, and to know the meaning behind what they do," said the 34-year-old art teacher.

The sale had initially begun as a way to repurpose disused items in the school's art room.

Club members were responsible for producing items such as pencil cases and tote bags from recycled materials and painting them with designs inspired by pop stars and cartoon characters.

The Horticulture and Environment Club sold potted herbs, succulents and other products such as wheatgrass juice to encourage environmentalism in students.

This year, both clubs managed to exceed their fundraising target of $2,000. The amounts raised in previous years ranged between $1,400 and $1,700.

"It felt like an accomplishment," said Secondary 2 student and vice-president of the Environment and Horticulture Club, Nur Atiqah Nasrullah. "We put in a lot of effort and worked hard to make products we could sell."

For some students, the initiatives went beyond merely fundraising. Teacher in charge of the Horticulture & Environment Club Ashiqin Abdul Ra'uuf related how she saw male students buy potted herbs as gifts for their mothers.

"In small ways, we must believe in our intentions and, along the way, magic will happen," said Madam Ashiqin, 44.

The school's principal, Mr Albert Lim, believes the skills gained by the students through the initiatives go far beyond the classroom.

"It can mean more than an A1 or A2 in an exam," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline ''Believe in our intentions... and magic will happen''. Print Edition | Subscribe