They built two libraries and subsequently catalogued close to 2,500 donated books in order to make it easier for use by needy schoolchildren in Punjab, India. The group of 22 Singaporeans also cleaned, refurbished and painted the school building. Beyond the library, the team also came up with a large brand new staffroom as the teachers expressed a lack of motivation to work in an old room with no proper furniture. Besides donating the furniture, the team contributed about 50 books and even transformed it into a proper room for the staff. Eventually, the team provided a completely new school environment to the teachers and students.

The participants were part of Project Khwaish XI, Young Sikh Association (Singapore)’s community service project to Punjab, India, from 7 to 26 December 2011.

In recognition for their selfless contributions, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, presented certificates to these participants in a ceremony organised by the Association on 7 February 2012.

During his address, Mr Tan commended and congratulated the participants on the project. He stated that they could have spent their time travelling abroad for a holiday or just staying at home, but they chose to participate in this project. In doing so, they showed the true spirit of volunteerism. They also fulfilled their roles as Ambassadors of Singapore in a foreign land, proudly flying our flag high.

Mr Tan also stated that it is important to understand the purpose of their involvement in the project. The development of the library and the refurbishment of the school are just physical acts; the main purpose is the desire of the participants to make a contribution to the lives of others. He went on further to state that the participants should continue their good work in Singapore. They can play an important role in ensuring that those among us who need help receive that help. Together, all of us can make Singapore a better place to live in.

The co-leader of the project, Mr Jaspal Singh Grewal, stated, “I first participated in the Association’s project in 2007. We lived in a village for about 18 days and the experience be being involved in the project totally changed the lives of all the participants. We were moved by what we witnessed. The kids were very poor but they were warm and had smiles on the faces all the time. They shared what little they had with us. They were so happy to see us and were always clinging onto us. It was this very thought – the kids, their disposition, their smile and warmth – that I decided to do participate in the project in again in 2009 and last year.

One of the participants, Ms Siti Hazariah Binte Abu Bakar, stated that, “The project taught me that service-learning initiatives are neither mere physical betterment of the beneficiaries nor are they temporary efforts. The project was a journey of experiences that we cannot learn in classrooms. While it forced us out of our comfort zones in confronting life challenges and the less-fortunate situations of other people, it also taught us to be grateful and contented with what little we might have. To see the smiles on the faces of the children, and to cry when we left, the project certainly fostered relationships that will last for a long time.”

Another participant, Ms Sangeetha Madasamy, whose last trip to India was 13 years ago added, “Contrary to what I thought, it was not an entirely foreign experience. I know I am Indian and being in India should not be so alienating. However, I speak Tamil and there was a language barrier for me in Punjab. Having said that, everywhere I went, there was a little piece of home for me. One of the most memorable experiences I had was meeting Tamil soldiers at the Wagah Border and exchanging pleasantries with them. When we went to watch a Hindi movie in Punjab, it was such a pleasant surprise that the opening number was a popular Tamil song.”

The project was supported by the Youth Expedition Project at the National Youth Council, the Lee Foundation, TriStar Electronics, and individual donors and well-wishers.

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