Sewing the seeds of kindness….World Animal Day 2011

Sec 4 students supporting their juniors
Sec 4 students supporting their juniors

What a contrast of sorts…Sports guys and gals sewing felt donkeys for a good cause. If you think sewing are for wimps, think again…the students at Singapore Sports School have been busy stitching donkeys to raise awareness for World Animal Day, which was celebrated on 10th Oct 2011 at SSS.

Here is the story as told to me by Ms Lisa Ong, the teacher-in-charge of the event. The story to help animals started long ago, in a chapel at St Joseph’s Institution in 1994. When she shared with me her journey, it was such an amazing story of inspiration, courage and perseverance that I felt that it is only good that I share how this inspiration has panned out into the reality of teaching good character and values. The story also tells me how one teacher, spent her own time, her own money and resources to build a community awareness for animals over the years.

It shows me that we do not need committees to be formed for good ideas to take off. All it takes is just one teacher and a passion to do a little good…yes, it sounded cliche but I have known Ms Ong since the days when we were both rather young teachers at SJI and then @Nanyang Girls’ High where we were colleagues again…

The completed felt donkey
The completed felt donkey

Google has a system that allows each staff to spend 20% of their time (or so) on a project they believed in. This project if feasible, can be grown into something that Google will take on as a corporate project.. 80% of the googlers time is for the “real google work” they were employed to do…in a similar way, Mrs Tan the current Principal must have allowed this project to sprout and grow so that it benefits the whole school community…

Here’s the story on World Animal Day 2011 in Ms Ong SC’s words:

Besides the 500 strong students and staff, the audience included the school principal, Mrs Deborah Tan, the various Directors from the academic, sports and corporate wings as well as sports coaches from both the local and expatriate communities. The focus this year was on working animals in the world. And SPANA (Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad) was the beneficiary of all funds and awareness raised through this event.

Picture 1: A section of World Animal Day 2011 homeroom display

SPANA and a surprise visit!

Air flown SPANA leaflets, posters and publications were displayed in each sec one homeroom since August 2011 to the build-up of World Animal Day 2011 assembly at SSP. It was an amazing stroke of luck that our mascot for the Thai Sports School Games this year was a horse, which fitted in nicely with our working animal focus. This beautiful mascot was donated by our science teacher, Mr Kwok Kah Weng, who felt that its presence should enhance the display further. And it did as students who viewed the display marveled at the coincidence.

On 5 Oct, prior to the WAD assembly, Professor Ralph Pim, Director of Competitive Sports at the United States Military Academy visited the Sec Ones students to congratulate them for their contribution to SPANA through the SSP Sewing For SPANA Project. He also bought 3 felt donkeys for himself, for his wife and for his office at the military academy.

Picture 2: Darwisy (sec 1E, soccer academy) posing with his hand-made fantastic felt donkey and SPANA leaflet.

The Sewers

Darwisy was one of the 100 felt donkey makers who used their September break to sew a felt donkey for SPANA. Behind him are the handiworks of his classmates. Prof Pim bought Darwisy’s donkey as well as two others sewn by his classmates, Khoo Xin Yi and Ann Teng. He then personally shook their hands and commended them for their compassion. The Professor later emailed the teacher to say, “I was very touched by the mission of SPANA. I was not aware of SPANA prior to coming to Singapore.  It was delightful meeting your class and please let them know that their donkeys traveled safely and have special “homes” here in the USA.” – Prof Pim.

Picture 3 (L to R): Aqidah (1E, bowling academy, not in picture) Audrey (2D,shooting academy), Sabrina (1C, golf academy), Syasya (1C, bowling academy).

The World Animal Day 2011 assembly began with the sweet voices of four students (Aqidah, Audrey, Sabrina and Syasya) from lower secondary level reciting Diane Ackerman’s poem entitled, “School Prayer.”  These young ladies rehearsed their lines faithfully to their family members and were very determined to create a contemplative mood amongst the audience through their recitation. It helped especially when one of their parents told them that this was a very beautiful poem and they should make a real effort to do justice to the poet and to the assembly audience.

School Prayer by Diane Ackerman

In the name of the daybreak

and the eyelids of morning

and the wayfaring moon

and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor

my soul with hatred,

but offer myself humbly

as a guardian of nature,

as a healer of misery,

as a messenger of wonder,

as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors

and the day that embraces it

and the cloud veils drawn over it

and the uttermost night

and the male and the female

and the plants bursting with seed

and the crowning seasons

of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life

—wherever and in whatever form

it may dwell—on Earth my home,

and in the mansions of the stars.

Picture 4: Ms Chi Pin Lay's talk, “My Journey with Animals,” generated much interest from her city-raised audience.

What’s a geeky person (who owns no animals or pets) doing as guest speaker of World Animal Day?

After the poem recitation, our guest speaker, Ms Chi Pin Lay, who was IT-trained and came from a science background, exhorted the audience to be open to opportunities of helping animals through a “My Journey with Animals” presentation. Although Ms Chi did not own any pet, she was able to engage the audience with slides of her nieces, nephews and friends with their beloved animals. Her sincere account of how she would drive her friends on animal-related errands as well as donate IT supplies to animal causes touched many students who were city-bred like her, but were nevertheless keen to help animals and the environment. Through her presentation, students learnt that there were numerous ways of helping animals as long as they were open to knowledge of animal sufferings and had the compassion to render assistance.

Picture 5 (L to R): Syukri (1E,soccer academy) played Templeton the Rat, Benedict(1D, bowling academy) played the Old Sheep and in the background were the 3 narrators played by Raaziq (1C, silat academy), Andrei (1D, bowling academy) and Shahrieza (1E, track & field academy)

The Readers of “Charlotte’s Web”

After Ms Chi’s presentation, 8 Sec One pupils took to the stage to perform a Readers’ Theatre based on a segment from “Charlotte’s Web”. They dedicated their performance to all the working animals in the world. The young sportsmen charmed the smiling and approving audience with their expressive interpretation of the novel.

The combination of readers from different sporting academy, ethnicities and language diversities reading in a common language, added a global touch to the performance. E.B. White would have been proud of us and touched by how his work, “Charlotte’s Web” was contributing to children’s lives and animal causes long after he was gone.

Picture 6(LtoR): Narrators are Raaziq (1C, silat academy), Andrei (1D, bowling academy) and Shahrieza (1E, track & field academy)
Picture 7: Haziq (1C, silat academy) played Fern Arable, Farmer Zukermann and Lurvy, the farm hand.

In this slip of a boy was a multitude of dramatic and expressive voices that prompted the audience to burst into spontaneous applause. He was later to write in his post -performance reflection that this experience had taught him to gather confidence by being calm. Like many students of SSP and elsewhere, Haziq was greatly disturbed by the unnecessary suffering of animals. Taking part in the SSP Sewing for SPANA project and being involved in Readers’ Theatre gives young people a sense of empowerment they now know they can contribute to relieving suffering and not be a helpless witness to animal misery.

Picture 8(L to R): Arash as Wilbur the pig and Firdaus as Charlotte the spider.
Picture 9: Dedicated SSP community cat care givers like pioneers, Priya and Noreen feed and water the school cats daily.

As the Reader’s Theatre performers took their leave amidst thunderous applause, a power point show entitled, “Charity Begins at SSP” was shown. It was dedicated to the management, staff and students of SSP for their compassion to animals, beginning with the adoption of 4 kittens born in our school compound in 2007. The slides showed how under the care of the SSP community, the kittens blossomed into handsome cats. This well matched duo, Arash and Firdaus came from parents who placed a high premium on reading well and speaking well. They were punctual in each rehearsal and inspired the cast with their focused professionalism. In their post performance reflection, they felt glad that their reading had brought joy to the SSP community and created awareness for working animals. They are looking forward to more challenging reading assignments to help animals next year.

Picture 10: “Charity Begins at SSP”poster kitty, Topaz (age 4 years)

“Charity Begins at SSP’ then dovetailed onto the launch of the fantastic felt donkey sale for SPANA.

Picture 11: Fantastic felt donkeys sold to help SPANA.

“SPANA wins the Lavin Cup” youtube video was the finale item on the World Animal day 2011 assembly programme. SPANA was the first organisation outside America to receive the Lavin Cup by AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners), an award that recognises groups working to improve equine welfare.

The SSP audience was touched by the conditions of working animals and most inspired by the compassion, courage and wisdom of the SPANA staff and volunteers who relentlessly seek ways to help the working animals and the poor people who depend on them.

This inspiring SPANA video was a fitting end to the World Animal Day 2011 assembly at Singapore Sports School. Senior students later commented that the whole assembly programme culminating in the SPANA video made them feel that the money they donated was well worth it. For the rest of the week after the assembly, students and staff continued to show interest in purchasing more felt donkeys, with a number of them generously making donations even when the donkeys were sold out.

The donkey goes to Brunei!
The donkey goes to Brunei!

At the time of this write-up, 3 of our felt donkeys have left Singapore and brought the SPANA message to the USA. Ms Chi, our WAD speaker has also presented her felt donkey (made by Ashley, IC) to a Bruneian delegate at an IT conference, so SPANA will be known in Brunei as well.

We have sold 85 felt donkeys so far and together with donations from staff and friends we have raised S$1120 for SPANA at the time of this report. Our fantastic felt donkey sale has ended as the students are now studying for the year end exams. A few students have expressed the wish to resume the sewing once the exams are over. A number of staff has also placed orders for future felt donkeys subject to maker availability.

On behalf SPANA and the working animals that have since perished, that are now working in the world and those not yet born, I wish to thank Singapore Sports School administration for having the wisdom to put aside one assembly a year to celebrate World Animal Day, my academic and sporting colleagues for believing that compassion for animals is crucial to the character development of our sportsmen and sportswomen and to our parents, friends and well-wishers for clearing the way for our students to make a difference, even if it means only making a felt donkey.

Thank you all for using your talents, wisdom and compassion to make this world a place where every creature is respected.

Ms Lisa Ong
Singapore Sports School

NB: Pictures and Story by Ms Ong. ©All rights reserved.

Useful link:

Singapore Sports School

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