2021 in Review: Spirits of the Macaque

Our famed long-tail macaque is one of the most prominent wildlife we encounter in Forest School in Singapore. It is almost a certainty that we will see the macaque in the forest. But do you know that the Long-tailed macaque is capable of going hungry for almost a month? They are known to be a resilient bunch that can endure and adapt in nature. This year in 2021, we have endured very challenging times, facing multiple changes internally and externally. It has been a whirlwind of a ride, much more treacherous than the last two years. 

In the beginning of the year, we warmly welcomed a new batch of coaches who were deployed into our weekly sessions. They show a high level of potential in the Forest School ways. 

We were also honorably mentioned by Rachel Ong, a Member of Parliament, in the Parliamentary discussion on the Green Plan in February. She mentioned Forest School as a way that education can evolve amidst the Climate Crisis. In a meeting with Rachel, we found out that the Forest School that she brought up is actually our very own Forest School Singapore, as her god-daughter attends our weekly sessions. 

During the first quarter, we also enjoyed the acknowledgment of the work of Forest School in Singapore, when many organisations started to engage us in discussions for ideas and projects for their organisations. We engaged with Outward Bound Singapore (of National Youth Council), Children’s Museum (of National Heritage Board), YWCA and many more. It was an exciting time for us.

Like a movie, it starts with an all-blossoming introduction, coupled with tough instances in the storyline, where the protagonists experience challenging episodes that they have to overcome. 

Land Erosion in September 2021 after Torrential Rain

From April to June, we experienced the second wave of the COVID-19 spread in Singapore. It led to the first semi-lockdown of 2021. We were complacent during this lockdown, thinking that we were well prepared, from the 2020 experience and contingencies that we prepared then. But as Nature teaches, it is not all about planning and management, sometimes we have to endure, learn and adapt on the fly. 

In the first semi-lockdown of 2021, we spent too much time planning a Scaled-Down version of FS. This led us to be unprepared for the re-opening, where we restarted too early in a hurry. The whole flurry of rush and confusion caused much stress and pressure upon the coaches and community. It even came to a point, where the coaching team and the manager team felt a disconnection. 

Drama also ensued internally during that 2nd quarter, where we had to make tough management personnel movements, which led to a lot of upsetting moments for the managers. 

However, we must say, the uncertainty and challenging rules imposed nationally, really put a ton of pressure and stress on the community and FSS team. In hindsight, though we were frustrated and upset many times, we remained committed and passionate to the cause, to Nature and to the children. These kept us going through the tough times of the year.

Coaches in a debrief after their session

In the months of July, August and September, we experienced 2 more stop-and-go semi-lockdowns. Learning from our silly and anxious mistakes from the 2nd quarter, we took it in our stride and developed a restart and lockdown process that embodies patience and a space of readiness (both elements of the Forest School practice). These processes helped ease everyone in the transition from one to the next. I must say, this creation was not easy, as it is a culmination of the experience from the mistakes, the contribution and involvement of the coaches/managers, and the insights and support of our parents. Throughout the whole uncertainty, our children showed us so much resolve and creativity towards facing the pandemic. They, in a lot of ways, are the teachers to us adults.

Antelope Friday kiddos

During this period, we also welcomed Interns (from NUS Environment Science) and Attachments (from OBS). They have partaken in many robust discussions, bringing perspectives from their experiences and knowledge from their organisations. Our fellow interns and attaches have inspired the development of improved internal training programs. We also upgraded our internal notice board and seek to provide better support to our coaching community (Some of them even mentioned that our material could probably amount to a full-fledged diploma or degree). Such growth and adjustments led us to re-create our public training and finally result in a range of Forest School Singapore Training programs that reflect our beliefs, energy and spirit. We even have character-based training, similar to games we play. It is, after all, in play that we actually learn more subconsciously.

Attaches from Outward Bound Singapore
Interns from National University of Singapore

From October to December, we were casted into an arena that we never imagined ourselves to be part of. We were invited to be part of two National movements. Firstly, we were invited to “Friends of Clementi and Dover Forest” by the National Parks Board (our championing agency), to provide insight from our work in Nature and Education. We were also invited to “Action for Green Town” at West Coast GRC, a government-led initiative by MP Rachel Ong to build our community and space with an eco-friendly approach. All of these are geared towards finding a balance between political and structural aspects, thus allowing for greater awareness of the Nature, Education and Community issues that are quietly the foundation and consciousness of our society. We may not agree with all that is put onto the plate by these initiatives, but it is a progress towards a more balanced approach to life, Nature and Learning. 

Friends of Clementi and Dover Forest (First Meeting)

The stop-and-go period provided us with a meditative time to explore our roots and meaning of our work. This journey of exploration brought us to a deeper connection with our local indigenous heritage. We started to be part of the Orang Laut awareness movement. Many of our coaches share a deep interest in it. We even found out that one of our long-time forest school parents is a descendent of the Orang Laut (Kallang), who is currently a history teacher in MOE. We also connected with the now-popular Firdaus (OrangLaut.sg), an Orang Laut descendent as well, who has been a huge advocate for the indigenous people of Singapore. We learnt so much from them during this period, and it gave us greater strength and spirit to carry on our Forest School work, because it reaches deep into the consciousness of our land and sea, and the people who have connected with them for thousands of years.

Projek Orang Asli” by Zai Kuning

With all the external engagements that we enjoyed this year, we are lucky to have with us a lot more sister communities who joined us in the movement of the balance in Nature and Education. We had the honor of teaming up with Tak Takut Kids Club, an after school community space, with the Rhythm of Forest School in a Neighbourhood environment. We also connected with the East Coast Plan beach clean up team, Environmentalist Karl Png (Youth Environment Community) and Sydney (Dover Forest Activist). There are so many of them, we can’t even fathom how we are going to share about all of them (Check them out here). All these may not draw us monetary gains, but simply being able to be together as a community, supporting each other in presence and spirit means so much to us. 

Garden Heritage Project with Tak Takut Kids Club

The Year brought us much joy and tears. Sailed us to the universe of our heritage and showed us our one-ness with Nature. Our episodes this year resonated with clarity, our connection with Nature and the space of our world and time. Much like our cousin, the long-tailed macaque, we had to endure, learn and adapt this year. Through the journey, we rise up stronger as a community with Mother Nature as our guiding star.

Written by: Coach Darren
Editted by: Coach Shimin
Forest School Singapore

%d bloggers like this: