Making a Difference Beyond the Classroom

Taylor’s College SACE International students bring positive impact to the underprivileged communities.

Winston Churchill once said, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give", and this could not be truer as attested by Taylor's College students who recently completed the Make A Difference United (MADU) programme. For one and a half years, students of the South Australian Matriculation (SAM)/SACE International programme have been helping the underprivileged and less fortunate through education, sports and social engagement. MADU is also part of SAM's social-learning curriculum that helps develop independent learning and study skills through community service.

MADU was initiated eight years ago as a classroom art project for the disabled, said Mr. Yong Foo Seng, Lecturer of Science and Student Development, SAM programme. "Over the years, the experience has moved beyond the classroom. Now, the students initiate and manage the community service programmes on their own, while we, the educators, play a role in guiding them through," he added. This time around, the programme started on July 16 with a participation of 50 students. The students were divided into four groups and engaged with four centres around Klang Valley.

The MADU programme is on a voluntary basis, and although the experience can pose a great challenge, Mr. Yong said that many students accepted this challenge and saw the projects through despite the difficulties they faced. "Through the MADU experience, these students understand that education has the potential to break the cycle of poverty. And this is what they want to share with a fellow human in dire straits, knowing that they too have the capacity to make a change in society", he said.

The experience was definitely not a bed of roses, as described by one of MADU group leader, Nur Hanna Mukhnizam. Hanna and her group of classmates volunteered at the Life Chapel in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, with the 'Social Club'. "It is a challenge when you have to communicate in a simpler or different way to enable a mentally-challenged individual to understand you. The MADU programme makes you get out of your comfort zone and shapes you to be a better person," she said. The reward, however, was deeply satisfying especially when the students were able to affect a positive experience and cause an impact either through their lessons, or their mere presence, Hanna added. "Personally, I felt immense gratitude for what I have, and what I can do with my abilities when I spent time seeing the struggles of these people", she quipped.

Hannah and her group worked with The Social Club at Life Chapel to teach social skills among residents and individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Another leader from another group, Thomas Lai Chen Sheng, had a different experience volunteering with underprivileged children in a socially tense neighbourhood in PJS 5, Petaling Jaya. He said, "These kids were surrounded by violence and gangsters' activities happening occasionally in the neighbourhood. Although they were not physically harmed by these activities, some of these kids seemed to be affected by racism." This did not deter Thomas and his group of classmates. Instead, they created activities that fostered unity and integration amongst the children through songs, games and group studies. Thomas said his group also taught English, Science and Mathematics, helping the children progress with their schoolwork.

Thomas and his group helped out underprivileged children at Rukun Tetangga, Pangsapuri Taman Desa Ria by encouraging classroom learning and participation.

Mr. Craig Sherrin, President of Taylor's College, believes that social-learning should be encouraged among students in the college, "Education makes a significant difference for the underprivileged and it is evident in the experiences of the students. We're very proud of them, and how they have made a difference in the lives of the underprivileged."

"At Taylor's College, we're not just about academic excellence. We encourage thoughtful open-mindedness as well as confidence, to create well-rounded individuals who will bring positive change in the community. Through this real-life experience, the students acquire their learning skills, life skills and leadership skills, and empower their potential to funnel their efforts into contributing to the society," he added.

The group from Rukun Tetangga, Taman Desa Ria and The Social Club, Life Chapel where Hanna and Thomas engaged throughout their 6-week programme.

While the MADU programme has ended for these students, their memories and experiences will be embedded for a long time to come. Hanna, Thomas and their classmates intend to continue their good work, and take their experiences to the next level by running similar activities when they continue their university studies. Mr. Yong concluded, "This is the impact that community service has made on these students, that they have transformed into better individuals who want to make society a better place for others."