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Monday, June 8, 2015

Did That Happen To Us?

Singaporeans are not used to violent death. The truth is, we live in a very safe country. Our children are safe. In the U.S.A., little 14 year olds can get shot by the police. In the Middle East, people of any age can get shot by this or that warring faction. In the Amazon forest, crocodiles eat children who frolic in the river. In India, kids are sold for $2 each and worked to death. Tsunamis? We don't get them. Earthquakes? We have very tiny tremors indeed.

So, when I read that 8 children had gone missing on Mt Kota Kinabalu, it did not occur to me that 6 would already be dead. I thought it was a matter of finding them. I thought they had gotten lost and would walk down the mountain soon enough.

Then I saw horrifying pictures on Facebook of children's bodies lying like raggedy dolls on the mountain slope, heads, arms and legs twisted in impossible angles. I saw a dismembered hand. I saw streams of dried blood. There was even a face, plainly exposed to the camera. I am not sharing those photos here and I did not share them on Facebook. If I were a parent whose child is in the photo, it would further break my heart to know people are gawking at my child in death.

The pictures showed the children tethered together to the same safety line. The teachers did everything right. The children's safety was clearly a priority. They were all securely tethered to the safety line.

Then force majeure hit.

Who would have thought an earthquake would hit Mt Kota Kinabalu? Gee... I did not even know it was in an earthquake zone! I could have been there with my kids. I would have tethered them to the safety line myself. This very safety line also prevented the children from rolling out of harm's way.

In those last moments, as rocks rained down upon them, the children must have been terrified. They might have tried to crawl this way and that way but they could not because they were tied together. The Teacher must have been frantic. How to shield all these children? How to do my duty? And then, for a Teacher to see one child after another inexorably crushed by forces that nature had let loose... what must that have felt like? I cannot protect the children entrusted to me!

Such children's deaths don't happen to Singaporeans! They just don't! In reality though, it did... and today we mourn as a nation, for our own.

I think the schools set themselves a tall order when they organise overseas trips for primary school children. The stress on the teachers is immense. The children are still very dependent on adult supervision. In hotels at night, the little ones cry for their parents. In P3, my son was still trying ways and means to spend the night in my bed, between his Father and I. For little ones, Teachers have to double up as nursemaids, security guards, feeders, cleaners... It is a tall order, you know.

I travel often with my kids. Even up to P6, I stressed about their safety... and I only have 2 of them. I used to have a sensor out for Little Boy, intervening in a timely manner to ensure that he did not do anything to put himself in danger. In Primary 3, on our overseas trip, my son tried to climb over the wall to the neighbouring cottage to get his ball back. There was a huge black dog with very sharp teeth living there. On the same trip, he tried to go up to the edge of a very deep well. On both occasions, I got him by his ear and pulled him back to safety.

Schools do overseas trips for little P3s! I shudder at the stress levels of the poor teachers. You know, teachers should have a right to refuse such assignments. It is asking too much of them. Furthermore, the younger the child, the more specialised attention is required for the children to learn anything. I used to hunch over Little Boy, explaining things quietly to him so that he could learn something.

Hence, large groups of tiny ones traipsing overseas simply means a lot of stress for teachers but little learning for the children.

See related post - HERE.

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