The kids are alright.

Last Thursday was a very meaningful day.

I played photographer at Aa’s event, Social Change in Action’s Be the Change Expo.

The SoCh team essentially comprises of individuals and interns who believe that children hold the key to a better, happier future, and run workshops that empower children to make the changes they most wish to see in the future.

It being me, I didn’t go easy on the kids at all. I love conversations and I believe being able to speak off the cuff reveals how much one knows about one’s subject matter. So I asked questions. I interrupted prepared speeches to have conversations instead. I probed. “What if it flops? Who should be responsible? What if people revolt? Do your peers hate you?” I love playing the devil’s advocate.

Most of the kids I met are amazing. They were bubbly and friendly. And were not afraid to admit that there might be flaws in their plans. They believed in goodness, in kindness. Some believed their actions can lead to great things. Others believe that small acts from individuals are what ultimately counts.

So a few kids read off their charts and Powerpoint presentations – but hey – those were beautifully done, and I say A for effort, guys! Apart from the foreseeable and understandable jitters at the start of the day; one teen who was more interested in his mobile; another who whined about everyone taking her picture (hmm)… I had such an amazing time.

The kids from Endeavour Primary, particularly, impressed me heaps. While other groups where still busy setting up, or chitchatting, waiting for more people to arrive, a young gentleman – cool as cucumbers – approached me and asked if I would like to visit his school’s booth.

Their project was simple – encouraging their peers to keep the library neat and clean. The way his team answered my questions charmed me thoroughly though. They brought up the importance of being ‘socially aware’ and ‘responsible’ when I asked them how this project is important beyond keeping the library clean. When I asked how this project would benefit students after they leave the library, they tell me that these actions ‘become habits’, and students will not stop at keeping their libraries clean – they will keep their canteens, their classrooms, their homes clean as well.

Their responses were in no way scripted at all – I threw far too many curveballs. They were sincere, honest, and they lived and breathed their projects. And it is that passion and belief that really moved me. Several groups with older students from ‘better’ schools had fantastic projects, but it almost seemed as if they felt their own projects were beneath them. They were momentarily caught off guard when I asked questions that were not expected, and sometimes, the problems in their work were so apparent, but even through leading questions, they fail to see them.

Endeavour’s teacher-in-charge as well, was a gem. She sat by her students’ booth, partially hidden by a pillar, silently supporting her kids. You can tell from her smiles that she was so, so proud of her team. At no point at all did she have to step in: not to remind them, not to coach them. Neither did she leave her spot, even though the students were brilliant on their own, and obviously needed no help from her.

And this was just one of the teams that made my day. Special shoutouts must be extended to the lovely boys and girls of Queensway Secondary and their sweet, sweet teacher; St Anthony’s Primary, Anchor Green Primary, St Anthony’s Canossian Secondary, North Vista Primary (Gorgeous booth!)…

My favourite project, “Greening for a Cause” came from a school whose identity has, regrettably, escaped me now. (Blue uniforms! Who are you guys?!) Commonwealth Secondary? I hope I got you right!

This team of teens thought that the usual song and dance items they put up when they go for community outreach projects at old folks’ homes didn’t quite connect with the elderly, and thought they’d do a bit of gardening with them instead. After pushing forward the idea, seeing through the project; the team thought that was that. Until they received a call from the homes telling them how much their elderly companions enjoyed the experience, and invited them back!

Now I’ve been on community service projects like these not too long ago myself and I could see the disconnect between the old folks and some of the activities proposed… but GARDENING? Why have I never thought of that? It involves nurturing something into maturity, and is a project that has far-reaching, long term effects. Genius!

At the risk of sounding sentimental and sappy… I walked out of the Expo with so much joy.

Now I have been in and through and around and about our education system, and I know it has many faults and areas that need major relooking. (Selection criteria for its officers, for instance.)  BUT. The naysayers who love groaning on and on about how our education system produces only robots and regurgitation… People who think ALL our kids are pampered and spoilt and self-centred… The parents who think only ‘branded’ schools can groom thinking children… Maybe… You are just hanging with the wrong crowd..?

For all the disappointments and frustrations I’ve had with people and schools; teaching and learning, I’d like to remain hopeful… Because after all, according to the lovely Kylie Minogue, “The kids are alright.”

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The French Withdrawal.

Yup. My French term has officially ended and I’m feeling so lost, so grumpy, and so terribly unhappy.

For eight weeks, I looked forward to waking up at 7am every Tuesday and Thursday morning for French Class. Even if that meant an hour-long journey. Even if that meant train rides with too many grumpy (sometimes sweaty) commuters. I fight for room to stand most of the time, and sometimes I fight for air to breathe. But always… I’ll be revising my French.

I met an old friend a month back, who was shocked that I had left work.

“To do what?” he asked. (Demanded, almost.)

“Study French.”

“What the heck for? Who are you going to speak French to? Go back to work!”

I smiled and changed the subject. How can I explain the joy that language… that learning brings? I would fail miserably. Besides, if he couldn’t see the reason behind exploring something new, how would he be able to accept my explanation… or any explanation for that matter.

Three months into my self-imposed sabbatical, I realised nothing gave me more pleasure than when I am learning, experimenting and doing something new and challenging. My days were filled with driving and French. (And I had initially intended to take either Swedish or German at the same time. Multi-tasker alert.)

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had people shudder in disgust on the train when I attempted the French ‘R’ sound. Know that awful sound some people make when they are hacking up phlegm? Yea. That’s the one.

I almost cried in frustration at home – twice – because homework was difficult. (Yes. When I told B I wanted to be the top student, I was only half-joking. What to do? NYG Syndrome.)

I am convinced that the lesson Guillaume had with us on Numbers: Seventy to One million etched permanent frown lines on my forehead.  I went home and ‘screamed’ on my Facebook status “I THOUGHT I WAS LEARNING FRENCH, NOT MATH!”

But to have the freedom to do whatever I want and learn whatever I like is such a treat… and luxury. So how can I not be thankful?

Now that the term is over, I still find myself waking up early on Thursday, all ready to go. Only now, there is technically nowhere to go to.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to register for the next term – an important journey in June will interfere with French plans. I’m going to miss Guillaume – who is everything I want my teacher to be: attentive, meticulous, and so generous with his time and knowledge… I’m going to miss my supportive classmates…

In the meantime, I’m learning phrases and sentences on my own, twice a week. I scroll through my friends’ numbers on my phone so I can practise reciting their numéros de téléphone in French. It’s an uphill battle, not knowing if I got the nuances correct; missing out on the much needed interaction.

But when I started on this journey, I had a goal: to be fluent enough to watch French movies without the aid of subtitles. By hook or by crook, I’m going to get there.