In a cool morning rain. It’s beautiful weather, which children all across the world love. They love the pitter patter of raindrops falling from the layers of grey in the sky. They love the puddles of water and mud which they can step and splash in. They love the spontaneous nature of the experience that rain offers. They embrace it wholeheartedly.
In the 10 years that I’ve been working around children, I’ve been posed many questions about my intentions, dreams and goals for this program and work. This is the first time I’ve written it down.
My end goal in life is to be in a war zone. That is the place where I will save a child hiding in a house, in the middle of a gunfight, with bullets whizzing by. I will reach out my hand to grab his, and pull him out. I will shield him with my body, and run for cover, till we clear the hot zone. I may not know him, I may not know if he will be jaded and return as an advocate of peace for the land or another one of the people who continues the violence in the land. But for the brief moment when I hold his hand, that salvation for him and myself is complete.
This was the very vision, that started me on this journey of education and humanitarian endeavour. The journey in humanitarian work brought me from an elderly home to an At-risk-Youth programme, from Singapore to India, Vietnam and other countries, from overseas community involvement programs to overseas friendships. I came to understand the meaning of life and development. The journey in education brought me to the gift of God: children.
In the beginning, I was assisting in the provision of enrichment programmes in community centres. This included magic, science, Lego robotics and game design. However, because I didn’t know how to interact with the children, I just followed the lead teacher. Then I got to know many of the children through talking with them, playing with them and teaching them. Gradually, I ran similar programmes in primary schools and international schools. I began to love the job because of the children – they always amaze me with their honesty and sincerity.
“I love you”. This is the statement that tipped me towards education as a life goal and it came when I was just 17. I was assigned to personally teach a 10 year-old boy in a primary school. His name was John. His brain was fried during an episode of high fever when he was young and, from that day on, his learning and behavior were affected. Working with him required a lot of patience and time. We were learning about game design and I remember having to work with him for 20 minutes just to get him to use the mouse to scroll to the right tab on the screen. When the other kids had completed designing a game, John had only just got started, putting characters onto the screen. I don’t know why, but I never gave up on him, even though he slammed the keyboard a few times out of frustration. I did firmly tell him to stop (I’m not as kind and saintly as I might seem!) After two consecutive days of working with him, John asked me, “Are you coming back tomorrow?” With a heavy heart I could only say “No”. That was when he said, “I love you.” It broke my heart, and lifted my soul. No-one had ever said that to me in my life, not in that way. Despite all the things he had to go through, he showed sincerity and love. I wonder sometimes why God would make children suffer like that, but then I also realise they are there to remind us to be sincere and real. They are there to love us, and show us we can love too. John saved my life. He gave me the courage and perseverance to continue this dream. It was never about changing the world, or systems, it has always been about loving our children.
The path that I had chosen thus continued, into my early University years, where I began my work in sports coaching. I used to coach juniors and youth in sports during my late teens, but I had no clue how to coach children. I had to face fear and uncertainty when I got involved in a children’s summer camp for a student care at Newton. On the last night of the camp, I was told to give a pep talk after a singing session. There sitting in front of me, in the dark and not so quiet room, was a bunch of little “devils” aged 7 to 12, who terrorized me and took my vocal organs away. They started to quiet down once I started sharing sincerely. I spoke about friendship, and the delicate moment we all share here and, as I spoke, I began to cry. I couldn’t hold back my emotions. I felt embarrassed, but then I realized all children cry, and they resonated. They became quiet. Some of them came to me after that and asked if I was OK. After that camp, I took up the role of a sports coach for the student care, and the kids’ behavior is one of the best I’ve seen. The trust between us is something I still treasure today.
Children teach us so so much more than we can teach them. They always mirror our spirit, for example when we have a bad day, they will sense it, and resonate it back to us. Every time I see children in my session going crazy and losing focus, I know I’m the one who is lost inside over some issues. No matter how much I try to be professional, children will tear those walls down, and show us who we are. But they also show us that it is ok to be ourselves. Every time I see their enthusiasm and excitement, I wonder if they really care what others think, but then they do, for those they love, they do. But when they find what they love, whether it’s a thing, an activity or a person, they never hide that excitement. We don’t need Facebook quotes and motivational speakers telling us these things, just look at a child you see on a bus today and that is how we should live. There are days when kids get upset or lose their cool, becoming aggressive and unhappy, and my heart hurts when I see this. At the same time, I realize they are showing what being sincere means. It doesn’t mean hiding negative feelings, rather it means expressing them. They may cry, shout, scream, get angry, throw a punch at the wall (bad idea though), but the fact is, we should not judge our own feelings and how we express them. It is already tough enough to feel that pain, why give ourselves another layer of pain on top, let others say what they want, we can think about it later. Meanwhile we scream, shout and cry.
Children impacted me in ways that no education, knowledge, wisdom or manual could ever impart. I’m eternally grateful for all the children that I’ve taught in my years as an educator and friend to them. There are so many children and episodes in this past 10 years worth mentioning, I could probably put them into a story book of touching moments with my children. (Idea to consider… Hmm..)
My beloved children, students and learners may not be able to read this yet, but Coach Darren would like to thank you all for the moments you gave me, your time, your love, your hate, your tears and your soul. I am a better person because of all of you. You taught me how to be sincere and real, how to not be afraid to be myself, and finally to forgive ourselves and let go. Thank you Children. This is a tribute for all children out there working hard to grow into responsible adults and to realise their dreams. May all of you be blessed.
Forest School Singapore