At 17, Mr Ikram Daeng was “scrawny but very cocky”.
In 1985, the Secondary Five student at Bedok View Secondary School was a holy terror — the prefect was sacked for misconduct and neglected his studies.
Scouting was his only passion.
“It was a way to get away from home and escape to the great outdoors,” he recalls.
He decided to embark on the challenging 21-day Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) course, which was one of the prerequisites to attain the President’s Scout Award — the highest rank for scouting in Singapore.
It turned out to be life-changing for the rebellious youngster.
The outdoorsy scout found all the physical activities — dinghy sailing, canoeing, abseiling, rock climbing and jetty jumping — a piece of cake, but he lacked social skills.
He felt superior to the other participants and preferred to do activities on his own.
This led to his instructor pairing him with a Bruneian participant who was afraid of water.
At first, Mr Ikram treated him with scorn, but gradually started empathising with him. He encouraged his peer and helped him develop water confidence by demonstrating how to capsize a canoe.
During Mr Ikram’s solo night activity, in which participants are left to survive on their own in the forest for two nights, he overcame his fear of the dark and began reflecting on his life.
He emerged from the experience more grounded, mentally resilient and compassionate towards others.
“OBS really brought me back on the right path. It kickstarted the next phase of my life,” he says.
Passing on the passion
Thirty-two years on, Mr Ikram, now 49, is a father of two, and heads his own video production company.
A committed Singaporean, Mr Ikram still volunteers as a Regimental Sergeant Major with the Singapore Armed Forces.
Last year, his 16-year-old son, Aiman Jianhao Ikram, participated in his first OBS five-day camp.
The Secondary 4 Raffles Institution student says: “During the camp, I learnt more about my strengths and weaknesses. I discovered that I’m very positive, and capable of cheering people up.”
This attribute came in handy after the campers kayaked for 14 hours straight around Pulau Ubin. “At the end of the voyage, everyone was super tired while putting away the kayaks. My friend and I went around helping out and lightening up the mood,” he says.
Aiman also returned with tales of how some watch-mates expressed surprise that seawater is salty and did not know how to peel oranges.
“Kids in Singapore focus too much on studying these days, they need to get out more,” Mr Ikram says.
The proud father has noticed subtle changes in his son since he returned from OBS. These days, the rugby player volunteers more readily to be a leader.
To parents hesitant about letting their children participate in OBS, Mr Ikram’s advice is to “let them fly”.
“At 15, it is a good time for children to get exposed and discover themselves. They will come back to the nest as better people who can contribute more to the family and society,” he adds.
Mr Ikram is keen for his son and daughter to follow in his footsteps and go for the OBS 21-day classic challenge.
He says: “OBS challenges you to do things you never thought you could. With the support of instructors and watch-mates, you are pushed to keep trying till you succeed.
“It conditions you mentally, and imparts foundational skills that will get you through life.”
Ms Tay Zhen Ping (below, with her husband), also known as Zippy, left OBS more than three years ago.
But that has not stopped the keen artist and stay-at-home-mum from designing the organisation’s 50th anniversary logo.
Ms Tay, who also designed OBS’ 40th anniversary logo, explains her design: “I used fluid strokes to symbolise the dynamism of OBS. As every OBS programme has sea and land elements, I also included images of a cutter (a small sailboat unique to OBS) and of people trekking.”
The 34-year-old, who is married with two children, joined OBS in 2006 as an instructor.
“When you join OBS, you don’t just get colleagues — some of us are like family,” Ms Tay says, attributing their strong bond to their shared experience of undergoing the 21-day instructor course.
She recalls: “The course really pushed us out of our comfort zone and depleted all our energy. We had to wake up at 5.50am every day to run 2.4km; at the end of the course, we had to run 15km.
“During the challenges, we saw the best and worst in ourselves. My patience was particularly stretched during the kayaking expedition with my watch mates — and I didn’t know I could survive so many days without showering!”
Her stint as an instructor taught her to see the best in people.
Once, she had a male OBS participant in his 30s who challenged her authority repeatedly.
Ms Tay tried to find common ground, and chatted with him to find out his struggles. She also wrote him an encouraging note during his solo night activity. A few weeks after the camp, the participant sent Ms Tay a Facebook message to thank her, and said that the OBS experience had changed him for the better.
“I hope OBS continues to impart good values to young people and inspire them to make a positive change in Singapore,” Ms Tay says.
What's your OBS story?
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