This morning, before I head out for the second day of the month where my life begins again, I have a story to share. And it dates back to about this time last year, when the works of fate and tugging from a good friend of mine, I ended up in this beautiful place here a whole new journey began for me. Today, this story is about Ulu Pandan Stars (UPstars).
First, background: an inspiring adult volunteer put this initiative together with a bunch of Hwachong kids years ago and has worked extremely hard to keep this place in order ever since– in this rented space, every weekday and Saturday nights, students from college or secondary school stream in as volunteers and low-income students from the neighbourhood stream in with the desire to seek comfort and motivation from seniors they can look up to for support and as role models. For years, I believe, students like myself have come and gone, each with a story to tell about the student they have tutored in the time they were there, the friendship that they shared and the energy they exchanged on these tiring weekday nights. And here’s my story:
Coming into UPstars at first felt like the rekindling of my desire to be around children once more, leaving a job that had given me that constant interaction opportunity and taking a hiatus from volunteering to practice self-care had only left me wanting to get back in the arena of the younger ones after a couple of months. The application and entrance into the community was systematic- I met with the adult volunteer who initiated this for a conversation from day one, and it was her constant check-ins, encouragement and the way she so wanted us to learn and grow from being in this space as volunteers that kept me in this community for as long as I stayed. For that, I am extremely thankful.
And now on hindsight, the weekly sessions with these children can be compressed into a single memory of joy. In the mixture of this joy, there is the exhaustion from bringing ourselves from school all the way down even on the rainy days or after CCA, there is the night discussions that brought us into constant reflection about how we can be doing better, there is the tears of exasperation from some or the jaded voices of others. But when you bring this altogether, I’d label it ‘joy’ because I think amidst these feelings that most prominent was the faith that kept us coming week and again nevertheless, I think that was powerful.
The student that I taught for about a year, had a background no less than complicated. Every week I would see how she, as tired as myself, had brought herself into the centre, and feel encouraged. To say the least, she takes a part-time job for her parents instead of being at school, so I can only imagine the extent to which her energy had been drained before the evening had come. The power of time and staying for the longer haul than I had expected to amidst helplessness, turned out to be rewarding as I saw her choose English over Math for the first time and take ownership of the books she wanted to read and the words she wanted to learn. And I don’t think I’ve had such a fruitful experience before this because of the relationship that we shared, so much more than friendship.
Letting go was the hardest part, and the reasons I let go are more complexed than a dilemma of keeping a relationship that was taking me on an emotional rollercoaster ride and learning to control my emotional attachments, I think there was a little more than that, but I’m still figuring that one out.
If you read to the end, I’m immensely thankful you allowed me to bring you on a concise ride of one of the highlights of my year and for riding with me while I try to articulate the reflections I have from this community I’m thankful for. Here’s to more to come, I have a feeling I’ll still be visiting whenever I can.