Thank you for keeping Singapore strong
// Story by Benita Teo
// Photos by Chua Soon Lye
For students of Yew Tee Primary School, Total Defence isn't just about what you can do to keep Singapore strong, but also appreciating what others do. Since the start of COVID-19, they write cards and make videos to thank front line heroes for their efforts in fighting the pandemic on Total Defence Day which falls on 15 Feb each year.
This year, the school received a "letter of gratitude" in the form of the National Service (NS) Advocate Award (Organisation). The NS Advocate Award is the highest accolade conferred on businesses, organisations and individuals in recognition of their support towards Total Defence and NS.
Find out how Yew Tee Primary School and 169 other award recipients do their part for Singapore's defence and why they all believe that there is always a part for everyone.
At Yew Tee Primary School, Total Defence Day (TDD) comes to life as students get to learn more about their role in keeping Singapore safe and secure through activities such as special exhibitions showcasing fieldpack items and a display of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) uniforms through the generations.
Personnel from the SAF and Singapore Police Force (SPF) would also be invited to share their experiences with the students. "We want to keep the experience current and real for our students, and not just teach them about the history of Total Defence and how it came about.
"We want them to know that everyone has a part to play in Total Defence," said Principal Ms Nur Subariah Mohd Ibrahim.
On TDD, the staff are also encouraged to come in their NS uniforms and share their NS stories with their students, something that the children really enjoy, said Ms Sabariah, 46.
"A Primary One girl, after hearing her teacher talk about his NS unit, went home and asked her father whether he had been in the military and served the country," she recounted.
"This shows that there's no idea that is too big for them, and even at Primary One we can (get them thinking about) what their roles are in Total Defence."
Since COVID-19, the school introduced a new TDD activity to remind the students to be grateful and give back. Lower-primary students decorate cards and write messages of appreciation to frontline heroes such as the SAF, SPF and healthcare workers.
Upper-primary students also make tribute videos of their well-wishes, with the help of their teachers. And because kindness starts at home, it has become a school culture for the students to pen notes of gratitude every term to their teachers and non-teaching staff, including security officers and cleaning crew.
"It's about community building. When they participate in these activities over the six years (of primary school), they see that they are part of a larger whole. They find a sense of belonging, and they learn to serve others," said Ms Sabariah, who recalled seeing a Primary 6 boy staying back to pick up trash after a school event because he felt that "it would be backbreaking for the elderly cleaning staff who had to do it."
Like many mothers, SGFamilies volunteer Ms Joanna Peck (pictured above) was worried when it was almost time for her eldest son to enlist. This was especially since he was socially very shy, and she was afraid that he wouldn't be able to adapt to life in Basic Military Training (BMT).
When she learn that SGFamilies was organizing the first pre-NS talk for pre-enlistees and their parents to learn more about NS, she jumped at the chance to attend it together with her son. "We felt very encouraged and supported after that talk, because we managed to ask questions and find answers (about NS)," said Ms Peck, 52.
Today, her 21-year-old son is serving his NS at Nee Soon Camp. She is pleasantly surprise but happy to see that he has grown into a responsible and independent young man who helps take care of his two younger siblings.
"My son has grown in leaps and bounds in terms of his independence and confidence. When he first came home from camp, I expected that I would have to wash his uniform for him, but he insisted on doing it himself.
"He will also buy food for his sister and brother or pay for their cab rides, because he says he is getting a bigger allowance than they are now," Ms Peck said with a smile. "He's learnt that he can take on certain responsibilities (at home), and he's chosen to step up to it. It's making me really proud."
Paying it forward: since enlisting last July, Ms Peck's son has begun joining her as a panelist in the pre-NS talks, sharing his experience serving BMT at Basic Military Training Camp School 5. She hopes that other pre-enlistees and their parents can find the same assurance she did through the sessions.
"I find satisfaction in being able to share my stories, experiences and knowledge, and seeing people benefit from that. I feel like I can never pay back the people who have helped me in my life and parenting journey, but I can pay it forward with what I know and what my kids and I have gone through," said Ms Peck, who also dedicated her award to her SGFamilies team.
Recalling the horror stories about NS she came across on online forums, she believes SGFamilies' pre-NS talks are important to reassure enlistees and their families: "We select panelists with stories that are affirming and encouraging. And because it is by parents and sons to other parents and sons, the stories are genuine and sincere."
"The importance of Total Defence can only grow as we enter into an uncertain and unpredictable future. Total Defence is our anchor that will keep Singapore safely moored when the going gets rough.
"We must tend to all pillars, ensure that each pillar is sound. That way, our solidarity is ensured, trust is engendered, and our chances of survival in an increasingly troubled world assured," said Dr Ng in his opening address at the Total Defence Awards Ceremony.
The ceremony was held on 10 Nov at Raffles City Convention Centre. A total of 170 awards were presented to 71 Small and Medium Enterprises, 34 Large Companies, 43 Organisations and 22 Individuals.