Homeground 2019

by Aaron Tan (19A01B)

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning at the Gardens by the Bay. The sun is shining. A cool breeze rustles through the air, birds chirp, and thirteen (or so) kilometres away, buses are carrying Rafflesians, RI's term contract staff, and anticipation towards the Supertrees. Homeground 2019: Gardens by the Bay, is underway.

Homeground, a yearly event organised by Raffles Community Advocates’ Doveswarm (an interest group within the CCA that advocates for migrant workers), is an opportunity to express appreciation towards the cleaners, electricians, gardeners, and all the other non-teaching term contract staff in our school. As Phebe Koh (19S03B), the overall event IC says, ‘To me, Homeground is the embodiment of "charity starts at home". When people think of advocacy and volunteering, most hope to make an impact outside [through] external organisations. But sometimes, the smallest things you do for the people right beside you in your immediate community speak the loudest.’

The previous iterations of Homeground were held in school. This year, however, Doveswarm has opted for something a bit more adventurous—a trip to Gardens by the Bay.

The Doveswarm members and student volunteers reach the Garden's Visitors’ Centre at 9am. The staff are split into groups, each led by two to three students. First up is a visit to the Flower Dome. To spice things up, the groups are tasked with taking six pictures with six flowers of six different colours.

It isn’t long before I learn that I am to be assigned to Group K for a scenic morning in the Flower Dome with Auntie Paw and Uncle Tan. A cool blast of air and a dazzling array of colour greet us as we enter. The enthusiasm is palpable. Cameras unveil themselves and selfies are taken as the staff marvel at the sight. 'Want to come together?' asks Auntie Paw in English. 'Come join, come join!' She beckons, beaming, for all of us to join her in a group photo.

No matter which sight she stops before—whether it be blossoming orchids, or the glass that overlooks the cityscape—Auntie (as she soon becomes affectionately known to us) insists on taking a picture with the rest. 'In two years I’ll look upon these as beautiful memories,' she tells us in Mandarin while scrolling through the photographs we have just taken.

photo by S Rahul of the Raffles Photographic Society

Next up is the Cloud Forest. Staff and students alike gasp in awe at the streaks of sunlight that filter through the mist. (‘Like a wedding photo’, someone is overheard saying). The task we are assigned for the Cloud Forest takes the form of a ‘Word Cloud’—a crossword puzzle that involves careful observation of the surroundings to complete.

Despite its good intentions, the task is soon forgotten as we find ourselves lost in conversation and marvelling at the sights. Group M turns heads as they pump their fists in the air, letting out an exuberant ‘yeah!’ as they snap a photo. In a corner, Rebecca (19S03E) has a quiet chat with Mdm Tan. ‘The auntie didn’t want to go because she has been there before, so I just accompanied her while the rest went up!’ she tells me later. ‘We talked about the last time she came—which was with her grandson—because her daughter’s family lives in the UK. So when they came back, they all went to the Gardens by the Bay together.’

Meanwhile, the rest take a lift to the seventh floor Cloud Walk, where one can look through the glass upon the sprawling city, or down to the misty bio-paradise below.

photo by Dylan Siew of the Raffles Photographic Society

The two hours we spend in the domes pass in a flash. All too soon, Homeground 2019 draws to a close. As we gather beneath the Supertrees, Doveswarm members hand the students and staff snacks from Old Chang Kee—just the nourishment we need after a two-hour amble (though Auntie Paw insists that she is not tired at all). As I eat my spring roll (delicious), I think about the memories we have made, the conversations we have had.

Most of all, I felt Homeground 2019 drew us closer to the non-teaching staff. ‘It’s an all new experience to me,’ Li Qinan (20S06P), a fellow member of Group K, shared with me after the event. ‘I think in school, most of us may greet them or thank them, but we wouldn’t really try to get to know them.’ To her, talking to the staff and hearing their stories was what made the event meaningful. ‘Even though I was watching [from] the side, I felt a lot of joy seeing the school term contract staff happy,’ Phebe added. ‘I truly understood at that moment how doing something meaningful is the most rewarding experience you can gain.

‘I saw quite a few uncles and aunties that I often see around in school, when they are always wearing their blue uniform, but today they were dressed in their own clothes... Every worker, they’re someone’s daughter, someone’s parent, someone’s best friend.’

And indeed, it was a sense of community we found in the Flower Dome in Homeground 2019. Perhaps it is safe to say that our understanding of Raffles grew a little larger that day, that beautiful memories were made under the glass and sunlight, among the mist and flowers, between the smiles and the chatter. ‘Being in the same school, we should be a family. Homeground, to me, is an opportunity for us to feel together, to feel like one, and to feel like a family,' emphasised Doveswarm member Shao Chi (19S06K).

‘When I got off the bus reaching back to school, I thanked a school term contract staff for coming to join us today,’ Phebe told me later. 'She held my arm and thanked me instead, saying she really enjoyed herself today. The fact that we could be part of her smile made me feel that we achieved our aims.’

As I bid farewell to the staff, the volunteers, the members of Doveswarm at the bus bay, as I watch them board and take off, back to school where they will be dismissed, where they will go their separate ways and return to Raffles on Monday with pieces of each other in their memories, in their hearts—the Sun is still shining upon the Gardens by the Bay. The birds are still chirping. As I settle myself and my laptop in a quiet corner to write this article, one of them lands before me, and sings a song.

Tagged Topics

#Community #Raffles Press #school happenings

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