Since the tragedy following the Sabah earthquake, Singapore has been in a sombre state of mourning.
Many members of the public have paid their respects to the deceased Singaporeans at the Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) tribute centre.
Ms Kausar Karimi, a parent volunteer at TKPS who is helping out at the school’s tribute centre, said that her daughter went on the same trip, Omega Challenge, in 2012. Ms Karimi’s daughter came back unscathed.
“You have to be one of the leaders in the school to be selected for this and the students take a lot of pride in it. It builds their character,” she said.
“It becomes another thing for them to overcome: it somewhat shows them that if you can do this, you can take over PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination),” she explained, as she was close to tears recounting her daughter’s experience.
“As parents, we were briefed about this programme and we were like ‘yes, we want to send our kids there’.”
Ms Karimi noted how her daughter became more resilient after the trip, with the latter telling stories of how she walked down the inner crevice of a rock formation beneath a waterfall when it was raining.
“My son is now in Primary 4, and despite the accident, he still wishes to go for Omega Challenge. He knows that it will not be the same since the accident, but he knows that it will mean something more now, and he wants to do it.”
Ms Karimi added that it is the school’s culture to focus on outdoor learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.
“TKPS encourages a lot of outdoor activities. Trekking, hiking, heritage trails – I think this is beneficial, compared to having them stare at computers and iPads all day,” she comments.
Mr Bucktha Seelan, the first principal of Tanjong Katong Primary School when it was incepted in 2001, said that he hopes this will not dampen the moods of future outdoor and overseas trips by MOE schools.
“I’m sure this would encourage schools to re-look at the safety precautions of their outdoor trips, but I hope that this will not affect the chances of students’ overseas opportunities. Trying avoiding something like a natural disaster is like saying you don’t want to step out of the house. Anything can happen anywhere,” he said.
“It’s a bit difficult to prepare for natural disasters. If there are rocks the size of a truck, what can you do?”
However, Buckthan notes the “valuable” outpouring of grief and support by not just students, but the general public and TKPS alumni as well.
15-year-old Riqi is one of the many ex-students of TKPS who came back to the primary school to pay respects and help out at the tribute centre.
When asked about his thoughts towards Singapore’s mourning for the deceased, he added that he noted the “awesome” efforts by the ongoing SEA Games to hold a moment of silence before every sport activity is commenced.
Riqi says that there’s really no one to blame for such an accident.
“This trip is for the selected leaders in the school; (it) has been a very popular trip for the students. Through this episode, we learn that we shouldn’t blame the school, or even the government, because no one wanted it to happen,” says Riqi.
When asked about why he has volunteered to help usher at the tribute area, Riqi says that he will do what he can to support TKPS in this time of mourning.
“It’s only been three years since I graduated, so I feel really close to the school. I will definitely come back again to support the school during this period.”