Monday, July 30, 2012

All Aboard the “Friendship Express”!

By Joel Goh, Year 2, Diploma in Biomedical Engineering

Imagine boarding a train on a two-week expedition of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand to learn more about other cultures and to help the underprivileged with social projects.  That’s what eight NYP students did recently in the “Friendship Express” - a pilot project by the Singapore International Foundation that aims to promote greater understanding between Singaporean and international students through the sharing of insights and culture, as well as knowledge and experiences.
They were part of a team of 50 Asian youths consisting of eight nationalities - Burmese, Chinese, Indian, Indonesia, Filipino, Malaysian, Singaporean and Thai.

The expedition started in Singapore where participants had the opportunity to speak with ambassadors from the three countries. This one-hour session gave them unique insights into Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. This was followed with a visit to “Food from the Heart” - a volunteer welfare organizations that provides meals to the underprivileged. During this visit, participants learnt more about social enterprise in Singapore. They also helped to pack food hampers for low-income families.

In Malaysia, they were involved in the refurbishment of a community house in a fisherman’s village in Klang and helped installed water filters in the homes of villagers in Pahang to provide clean drinking water.

With the Malaysia Youth Council at Kampong Kuala Medang.
Students also had the opportunity to learn more about the local Orang Asli tribe. They learnt how the tribe survived by hunting for game such as squirrels and deer. At a shooting range, they also  got a private demonstration of how a blow gun is used.

Participants also took part in a one-night home-stay with local families; and a half-day visit programme to Petronas for a greater cultural experience. The Malaysian leg concluded with a reception hosted by Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia Mr Ong Keng Yong at his official residence, Rumah Temasek.

For the final destination, the Friendship Express headed for the Thai province of Buriram where the students spent five days here working on social innovation projects (SIP) to meet the various needs as identified by the community. Here, participants were divided into five teams to help the nearby villages.

Students visit a 'bamboo' school in Thailand.
 After they completed their projects, they went to King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi for a campus tour, Thai-style lunch and a cultural performance to foster better understanding between communities.

Don Ong, a Year 2 Diploma in Banking and Finance student from the School of Business Management said that this experience helped him to learn more about solving problems in an in-depth manner.

Don Ong (in green) giving a presentation in Thailand.

He said, “It is not just about solving problems based on the facts which are easily accessible but to understand the roots of the problem so that you can tackle it efficiently.”

He also said that he learnt much from the 11-day experience. In addition to helping the underprivileged in Malaysia and Thailand, he also had the opportunity to learn more about the culture of his host countries.

“I felt that I received more than I gave. It was a humbling experience.”
Joel is a Year 2 Biomedical Engineering student who enjoys reading books of all genres except horror/ghost stories. Apart from books, his other interests include visiting places of nature, playing tennis and enjoying good food. Often, the first reaction he gets from most people is, “Wow! You’re so tall! What did your mum feed you?” Also, he is currently saving money in hopes of one day being able to further his education abroad.

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