Sunday, 6 October 2013

Shaping a Tree, Raising a Child

“Start a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it” Proverbs 22:6

Japanese gardens are sculpt and designed to provide a visual experience as one walk through it and enjoy the setting. This photo was taken on 1 May 2007 as Pat and I walked through Seiryu-en Garden in the Nijo Castle in Kyoto Japan. We were attracted to the beautiful trees across the pond on the small island. They have grown and shaped so nicely that the view is so pleasing to the eyes.

To achieve this effect, gardeners pruned and sculptured trees during the early growth periods. Shoots are twisted round wires. The twist and turns of the stem and branches of the young trees needed to be supported as they were growing until the trunks were stronger. In the end these trees become nicely shaped to suit their natural inclinations and bents.

On 25 Sep 2013, in his keynote address at a work plan seminar of the Ministry of Education, Minister Heng Swee Keat articulated some core beliefs which have guided the ministry. 
  • “First, every child can learn, whatever his starting point. We can and must help them find success in learning. 
  • Second, every child is different - siblings, even twins, can have very different interests and strengths! Each child will therefore succeed in different ways. 
  • Third, our children will need different attributes to succeed in the future, because the world will be different - just as it is dramatically different today from even a decade ago.”
The clever gardener can envision the potential beauty of each young sapling and guide its growth so that eventually each tree will be differently shaped yet become equally pleasing. In the same way, every child is different. 

Similarly, the wise teacher and parent will teach and guide children understanding their natural inclinations, their ‘bents’. They can recognise these and support the desirable tendencies whilst smoothing the rough patches and shaping out the bad and undesirable attributes.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

Celebrating the Flights of Life

There used to be death-houses1 tucked away in the dark alleys of Sago Lane in Chinatown, Singapore.

People believed to be living the last days of their lives would be left at these death houses to die. There, solitary terminally-ill Chinese immigrants could rent a bed space in their dying moments, having pre-purchased their coffins and funeral rites. Typically, a death house consisted of a living space on the first level, and a funeral parlour below.  

In those days, the dying person faced terminal illnesses alone often without the prospect of family and community support.

Not anymore.

Dover Park Hospice (DPH) was set up in 1992 to provide care for patients at the end of life. Now, these patients can live out their last days in comfort and dignity – lovingly cared for by an expert team trained in palliative care.

What’s more, the hospices in Singapore have been engaging the public and community, creating awareness and societal support.

One example is the recent “Hospice Is….” Art Project initiated by DPH and the LASALLE College of the Arts (LCA). The project involved people from all walks of life, ranging from hospice patients and their families, to staff and volunteers from the hospice fraternity, to community partners and other members of the public. They were encouraged to express their feelings about end-of-life issues and Hospices and paint these thoughts onto pre-molded dove figurines (the Dove is the symbol of the Dover Park Hospice).

Art Therapy is a creative way to express emotions, thoughts and states of being that may be difficult to share and communicate with others. There is an intrinsic therapeutic value in creating something with one’s own hands and even more so when this is shared with others.

Thus, using art to transcend barriers, the project and the ensuing exhibition from 3 to 7 Oct 2103 serves as a platform for Singaporeans to share their perceptions on hospice care and promote an open discussion on the topic. This way, we hope that Singaporeans will become more aware of these end-of-life issues and thus de-mystify the concept of the hospice movement.

The success of the open art exhibition in contrast with the hidden death houses in the past, indicates the gradual change in societal attitudes towards such taboo subjects such as the death and dying in Singapore.

So, why do we care and why are the dying moments important? In DPH our motto is “Every Moment Matters”. This means that whatever time is left is to be lived in the most meaningful way. The hospice offers support and specialist care to achieve this aim.

Those death houses of the past were little more than rented spaces and the people using them were almost treated as though they were already dead, waiting for their funeral rites. In contrast, at DPH and modern day hospices our patients are cared for because their every moment is precious.

1. Click on hyperlink to view You-tube of Death-Houses of Sago Lane