Two volunteers who joined CityCare’s team to bring love and fresh vision to children in Cambodia and Indonesia came home transformed.
By Dawn Seow
Most people go on humanitarian trips with the aim of doing good. Many come home realizing they have gained a precious experience in return.
Such was the case for Joyce Ni, 23, a nurse, when she went on a trip to Medan, Indonesia with CityCare in July.
“This trip taught me a lot. Our team consisted of various individuals who didn’t know one another prior to the trip. But I guess we all had the same goal: to be a blessing to the children and the community in Medan,” she said.
“One of our main activities was to teach the children to brush their teeth, and to give them a set of toothbrush and toothpaste each. We learned that some of the children in that area had never brushed their teeth or owned a toothbrush before.”
The team gave 120 sets of sponsored toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children from PPA Lightstar, a not-for-profit center for children. The team also visited SOS Children’s Village Medan, where they conducted activities that allowed the children to explore their artistic capabilities, build teamwork and practise problem-solving skills. One of the volunteers, a former art teacher in Raffles Junior College, led the team in painting the SOS Village’s Nursery.
Apart from the activities with the children, the group of nine volunteers also visited 15 homes in the nearby slum areas, bringing stationery for the children and biscuits for the family.
“We visited Belawan, which is the poorest place in Medan,” Ni recalled. “It is also the place with the highest crime rates and poorest hygiene. Once a week, Palawan would be flooded with ankle-deep water. We visited the home of a little girl, and through the interpreter, we found out that she had had a fever for days, and she wasn’t getting any better despite multiple doses of antipyretic (a drug that reduces fever). Her dad is a fisherman while her mum works for a factory that makes salted fish; she earns about Rp.5000, which is barely S$1, drying 17kg of salted fish in the sun daily. My heart broke. I really wished I could bring this girl to the doctor, to receive proper medical care, or do something to improve her family’s standard of living.”
Having experienced the poor villages of Medan, Ni realized how fortunate she was. “Coming from a single-parent family, I’ve always felt I had lost so much in life. It was the interactions with the children at PPA Lightstar and the SOS Children’s Village that taught me what being grateful really is about.
“Another thing I learned was to love unconditionally. Hygiene is a really big deal to me, so my biggest challenge was to hug the kids! There was no fan in the small shelter we used to conduct activities, so it was hot and stuffy inside. After the activities, the children were sticky and sweaty when they did the salaam (a Muslim gesture that children use to show their appreciation to elders). On the last night in SOS Children’s Village, I finally overcame that barrier and began to hug the children. At that moment, I understood what Luke 10:37 was all about: not just loving God, but loving people, that includes the poor, the unhygienic and the less fortunate.
“That experience at the SOS Children’s Village renewed my mind. I was able to embrace them for who they are, and hopefully through me, they will see a little of God’s love.”
BUILDING A CARING CITY
CityCare was formed in 2007 as a not-for-profit organization to encourage Singaporeans to serve their community through active volunteerism. Its core vision is to “build a city that cares.”
Besides helping underprivileged children in neighboring countries, CityCare’s humanitarian trips are also meant to provide overseas humanitarian opportunities for Singaporeans—youth and working adults—to actively give back to the society.
“These countries are chosen as they are within close proximity of Singapore,” said the organizers. “We have realized after working with our volunteers that many of them have a desire to do humanitarian works overseas, but are unable to take long periods of leave. Thus, going to places near Singapore works out for them.”
In June this year, volunteer Praise Tan, 26, a student at City Harvest Church’s School Of Theology, embarked on one such journey with CityCare to Banteay Meanchey province in Cambodia.
Her team visited six village schools and the New Hope Children’s Home to teach the children the English alphabet and simple English songs and games. The team also taught the children about the power of having dreams for their lives, and encouraged them to work hard to attain them.
“We got each child to write his dream occupation on a piece of paper, fold it into an airplane and launch it into the air, signifying that dreams can take flight,” said Tan. “Some had big, unconventional dreams. One boy wanted to be a village chief, another wanted to be a translator of different languages. Seeing that they believed in themselves despite their limited resources and the impoverished state of their schools really inspired me.”
The team also helped One-2-One team, a non-profit organization that aids the poor and vulnerable in Cambodia, to administer deworming tablets to the children in three village schools.
The team also worked with Cambodian Children’s House of Peace, helping to paint a wall mural for its new boys’ dormitory, refurbish their existing reading corner with new bookshelves and expanded their English storybook collection with books donated by students in Singapore.
Speaking about her experience in Cambodia, Tan said, “I was reminded of what preacher Dr. A.R. Bernard shared at Bible school: that our calling is placed within us before we are even saved. I am inspired to be like these children, to dare to dream big in spite of limitations and to continue to discover my calling by serving the little ones.”