Thursday, 15 December 2011

Reflections by Jessie

Both options for the EXCEL programme, the community exposure module and the environmental exposure module, were interesting. Initially, I was more drawn towards the community exposure module as it involved observing Meet the People’s Sessions, going for Block Visits and community exposure events, all of which I have not experienced before. In the end, what compelled me to join the environmental exposure module was the environment itself. I was a volunteer for another project on Pulau Semakau which involves the shores of Singapore as well, and the environmental exposure module allowed me to apply what I’ve learnt and observed, and to spread the message of conservation even further through guiding.

From the talk Ria gave us at the very beginning when we first embarked on this programme, we already knew what we were in for. Some might question, why the environment instead of people? While it is true that when countries are in sticky situations the people will be prioritised first, we cannot disregard the environment just like that and treat it as a mere resource for our own consumption. It’s an uphill battle trying to convince authorities of the value our environment has. But at least it worked in 2001 when the government deferred the urbanisation of Chek Jawa (a biologically diverse shore on Pulau Ubin), which would have meant the end of the teeming wildlife found on those shores. What environmental activist groups such as the Naked Hermit Crabs (which is a Non- Governmental Organisation that our school has partnered for this EXCEL environmental exposure programme) have been doing is to conduct guided tours for the public on the Chek Jawa Boardwalk, to introduce them to the sights that can be seen on our shores, and to raise the awareness of the existence of such wildlife in Singapore. Even though it might seem futile, at least they are trying to do something to make a difference. And as leaders, that’s what we should be emulating as well.

My first official field trip to Chek Jawa with the Naked Hermit Crabs was in August, and it was indeed a memorable experience. Here’s an excerpt from my blog when I blogged about the trip back in August:

Actually interacting with the public was an amazing experience. Though Mr Loh and Daniel did most of the talking, I actually talked to the people in our group too! It felt really nice when I was telling them about the creatures and the shores, and why I love doing such things. Though I was a bit shy at first and unsure of what to say, it was alright after awhile. The kids were really smart and their eyes are sharp. And they run around everywhere haha.
Learnt a lot from the trip, especially that the more you know about guiding, the less you know about it. Sounds confusing?

It really made me inspired to do something once again. I really admire the people who have so much passion for something, and are willing to dedicate their time and effort just to do that thing. It’s really inspiring.

Here’s a photo of the group Mr Loh took (and I tagged along):

As we were in the midst of preparing for our exams, the field trip to Chek Jawa was a respite. And the lunch after the walk was good!

For me, there was an extremely long interval before my next trip to Chek Jawa for my OJT (On the job training) in December, and I was rather worried I couldn’t remember anything to tell the group I will be guiding. I was actually quite stressed out over the OJT as before that I was (and still am) very busy settling stuff for our Senior High Orientation 2012, studying for SAT and other matters. All those took up my time and left me with only the night before OJT to prepare, and it didn’t help that we had an activity that day which left me quite tired. It all turned out well on the actual day though, as like what the other guiders told us, the key was in the connection, not the content. So I decided to just go for it and enjoy myself.

It was a bit more special for my case as I was paired up with Janet instead of the adult guiders, so I felt a lot more comfortable and could guide easily. As we two were students and not as experienced as the older guiders, we wondered what we would do if there was no other guiders around us and we couldn’t answer the questions the public asked. Surprisingly enough, we managed to guide the group through the boardwalk without much problems! Getting to know the people under your charge and connecting with them is a skill that leaders especially need to know, and understanding what the public needs and wants are is vital in achieving this connection.

But first, here’s a picture of the entire group of visitors!

This month’s group was large and we had about 80 people due to December being the holiday season and it being the last guided walk for the year. There were a lot of families with a lot of kids. Ley Kun (our Mama Crab) arranged for Janet and I to take a smaller group of 10 people (5 kids, 5 adults) with more children so it would be more comfortable for us. Thank you! As our group had 5 children, 4 of which were wearing matching hat (all girls), I decided to bring out my hat and wear it too haha. This is called getting down to the ground.
From the previous field trip, I realised that if the group has more children, it will be better to focus your attention on the children, as that will be what the parents do as well. Hence, if you manage to engage the children of the group, the adults will be happy as well! One way to engage them is to challenge them to do things, for example finding the most number of mudskippers, guessing what the material the boardwalk is made of..I even made them count the number of fishes when we saw a school of fish at the coastal boardwalk! Drawing parallels to leadership, a leader has to involve the audience in the process as much as possible so they don’t feel disengaged, and will in the end take more ownership in matters.

Here’s another picture of 2 of the kids from my group! They are the ones on the left with the pink hats:

From the guiding experience, I realised that it is easier and more effective for others to join your cause or understand where you are coming from if you manage to  establish a personal connection with them. This will invariably aid in communicating with them and gaining their support. I feel that a leader’s most important tool that he or she has is influence. All of us have a sphere of influence, and how we use our interpersonal abilities to influence others will be a indicator of progress in leadership. Being more personable and relatable will help in gaining support, which is vital for a leader. The word ‘lead’ itself is a relative term, where it requires someone to lead, and someone to follow. Without followers, leaders are nothing.

And of course, as leaders we cannot just lead, we must follow as well. Accepting and recognising others as leaders is important as it enables other people to grow and become better leaders. Taking a step back from the limelight is not necessarily bad, it gives others a chance to shine. As what Tom Peters said before, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”

I think I have rambled on for quite a bit and deviated from the topic. But all in all, the environmental exposure module was one that I did not regret signing up for, and it taught me a lot that can’t be found in textbooks. I’ll want to continue guiding even after the programme ends!

Signing off, Jessie.

P.S: Thank you Mr Loh for the photos! All photos in this post were taken by him.

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