Jasmine: Andrew and I went with my cell for a mission trip to Batam from Thursday through Sunday. It was not only my first mission trip, but also our first mission trip as a couple, which made it extra memorable.
I had just gotten back from bringing my Lit students on a field trip to the UK three days prior, so I was pretty jetlagged. The plan was for us to serve the church and community of a squatter village of 300 families.
These families were living illegally on a plot of land just five minutes’ walk from the highway. Walking through the village was a rather sobering experience. I had never seen for myself such levels of poverty before. The ground was littered with so much trash that the garbage itself had been composted and biodegraded into the muddy tracks that acted as "streets". A torrential downpour had washed the topcoat of silt away, leaving behind layer upon layer of slipper soles, canned drink labels and other refuse. Young children played with used plastic bottles instead of soft toys. A hut the size of a large toilet would house a family of six. It was hard for us to realise that just one hour’s boat ride away from Singapore was a community living in unlivable conditions.
And the children… there were little children everywhere.
Andrew: Before we went walking around the village, the pastor shared with us his story of how the community gradually opened up as he spent time sowing into individual households here. He told us that if we had come a few years ago, it wouldn’t even be safe to walk around the village as the villagers then were very wary and even hostile towards strangers. Walking around the village, I had a sense that indeed God had used this pastor to open up the hearts of the villagers. The families and kids greeted us with smiles as we waved at them and Dearie tried out her newly acquired Bahasa greeting phrases. She was the only one who was adventurous enough to try them out though. The kids did look bewildered. (Jasmine: Yes, I later realised I had been greeting everyone with “Good morning” when it was actually afternoon.) Heh. It was indeed a great testimony though seeing how this pastor had truly brought about community transformation by sowing his time, efforts and money into every household.
Jasmine: Over the next few days, we carried out several programmes.
We taught English to the children in the village through number, colour and animal games. Andrew and I were in charge of teaching them about animals, and I must have laughed as hard as the children at the sight of a fully grown man quacking and flapping his arms to mime the word "duck". (Sorry if I embarrassed you dear, but that really was funny… and perversely cute.)
As we’d also planned to have an activity where the children would get to make their own animal face masks, we’d also prepared about 40 templates of animal faces for children to colour. We thought that 40 would be more than enough, as the turnout estimate given to us was 20, but we ended up with about 55 children in our tiny "classroom"! (120 children in total turned up, so the entire team had to modify our original plans and split the group by age, so that the younger children would play games, whilst the older children would learn English. "Older children" was also a very loose term because we had children ranging in ages from five to fifteen.)
In the span of those 75 minutes, we managed about 3 minutes of quiet when the children were busy colouring, and then ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE.
Classroom management theories, out the door.
The seven of us (Sheer, Eleta, Joyce, Wei Lin, Yun Wen, Andrew and I) found ourselves desperately trying to sharpen pencils, cut out eyes (on the masks, not the children), give out crayons, collect them back (we were supposed to donate the crayon sets to the church after the activity, but I ended up letting a couple of children take them home because I suspected it might be the only writing equipment they would have), glue templates on to the paper plates, and attach rubberbands to the plates… whilst Andrew, myself and our translator, tried alternately to control, amuse and pacify the crowd… oh, and teach the occasional English word. Although how a word like "elephant" will possibly be useful to them in the future, I have no idea.
I also TOTALLY carved out for myself a niche job as the Roving Glue Girl. (Won’t be putting that on a resume anytime soon though.) Basically, my job was to wade in between little hands and grubby feet to help children glue back masks that had fallen apart. The best bit was getting the little ones to press down on their masks to make the paper adhere to the plate, and seeing them smile in satisfaction at their accomplishment. Also, keeping their hands occupied meant they couldn’t smack me for not having enough supplies on hand. Bad pun.
Andrew: Jasmine’s indeed right about all hell breaking loose. All 60 kids squeezing in a room about the a quarter the size of our regular classroom also meant that the room was extremely humid.
All I could remember of that lesson was frantically poking holes with scissors into paper plates while little children swarmed around me, asking me to poke eyes for their masks. We got so desperate that we ended up simply pasting random animal pictures on masks rather than animal faces.
Yes, you can see we were desperate when we even tried using a picture of an owl as a face mask. Heh.
I kept asking God what we should do next and how we could handle this crowd. He gave me the peace to complete cutting out all the eyes and at the end of it all, we got some of our girls to go around taking photos of the kids as they put on the masks. When we had finally completed all the masks, we took a group photograph with all the kids putting on their masks. Our translator then asked all the kids whether they were happy and they resounded with a loud, “YES”. I really felt joy then, because I felt that God had truly multiplied the little resources that we had brought to bring a smile to the faces of all the 60 kids in the room.
The next lesson conducted by Eleta and Sheer were easier for us as we were merely ‘assisting’. We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Eleta’s lesson on brushing teeth
All hold up your tooth brushes!
And this is how you do it… Check out the set of teeth Eleta’s holding, constructed by Eleta and Yunwen. They even made a set of ‘decaying’ teeth to show the children what would happen if they ate too much sweets (ironic since we were giving out sweets as rewards during our games). Yun Wen had a lot of fun drawing the plaque and decayed teeth.
Helping them with the toothpaste. You can see me in the background with puffy cheeks. I was trying to tell the children that you need to spit out the water after you gargle. A few of them held in the water after gargling (ughz).
Playing Games with the Kids
Giving out Gifts
Jasmine: When the children began holding out their hands to me, I thought they wanted to collect one more goodie pack. Our translator told us that they actually wanted to shake hands. Not only did they shake our hands, they touched our hands to their foreheads as a sign of respect. It was a truly moving moment.
Andrew: The kids went back for dinner after the brushing teeth lesson and came back for the games and night lesson on numbers, which Sheer conducted (unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of that!). We ended off the night by giving the kids who came biscuits, toothbrush and toothpaste, pencils and notebooks. The kids were so delighted and seeing the joy on their faces really made the hard work of this whole day worthwhile.
We left the village at 8.30 p.m. that night, exhausted but extremely joyful.
End of Day 1 and 2