Home away from Home
Do you remember a scene from the movie Ice Age where Scrat, the cute little squirrel, clings onto the edge of a cliff for dear life while attempting to plug the leaking holes springing up on the cliff face and prevent his precious acorn from falling? That was how I felt working at my first job in Singapore.
In June 2008, I sent out CVs to several construction firms, crossing my fingers for an Engineering post, but luck was not on my side. So, I decided to give teaching a shot— thinking that this would just be a temporary source of income to support myself and my wife back in the Philippines. Just like that, I landed my first job in sunny Singapore as a private student care teacher in Jurong West.
I’d dreamt of the job as a walk in the park, but in reality, the exact opposite was true. The first four months was an uphill battle as I struggled to fit in— language and culture were communication barriers, unfamiliarity with the Singaporean curriculum proved an obstacle, and little to no skill in class management made the job even more difficult; it was the perfect recipe for failure.
But I wasn’t going to give up that easily. Just like Scrat the cute squirrel, I chose to stay and face the not-so-cute challenges. I was determined to swim rather than sink. I remember spending hours doing Math sums in my free time and walking past a colleague’s pristine classroom to observe how she managed her class. I started engaging the kids in casual chats to learn more about their interests and challenges in school. These drew me closer to liking what I had started out with.
About five years ago, I caught a break and got a chance to be part of Morning Star Community Services. I was posted to the then newly-opened school-based centre in SJIJ. I was nervous yet ecstatic to lead a team of three student care facilitators to care for sixty students in an all-boys school. Reminiscing those days gives me such positive feelings and a sense of satisfaction and self-fulfilment. I was so fortunate to be surrounded by many wonderful individuals: my kids (the students), school staff, parents, supportive colleagues, my immediate superior and the Morning Star management.
On top of this great experience, I got to upgrade myself and develop an arsenal of skills through a series of in-house training programmes sponsored by Morning Star, such as Common Sense Parenting, Incredible Years, Attachment Theory, Arbinger and WSQ, which were instant confidence builders. The seemingly insurmountable task of dealing with difficult children (and sometimes parents) became less and less challenging as engaging the children with a positive non-threatening approach really worked. Gee, I would’ve been Super Scrat if I had only learned these skills before!
Last year, I was offered a role in the CareNights programme. With all honesty, I had reservations and self-doubts on whether I would be capable of managing children with more challenging behavioural circumstances. As I examined more closely the underlying issues that these children faced at an early age: being raised by a single parent or grandparents, being a witness to domestic abuse, having one or both parents in incarceration, and little to no academic support— I realised that these exhibited behaviours were just a part of their coping mechanism, which can be guided, with gentleness and care, towards more positive outlets.
Being part of a team that advocates for the vulnerable and less advantaged makes the late nights working with the children all the more meaningful and worthwhile. I have come to appreciate the countless blessings that I have received throughout the years. As I reflect upon my intentions and myself as a person, I have found that spending time with the children has shaped my character and given me a clearer lens to view life through: to be grateful at all times, regardless of the circumstances.
Ten years and counting, I can say that I am happy to have taken this path in Singapore and am glad that the last five years have been fulfilling. Although terming this path “my calling” would sound really noble and is rather compelling, I believe only time will tell. But one thing I do know for sure: Morning Star has become my home in a land far away from home.