I want to share a real-life story with you.
It is about LEGACY.
It is about how I learned the true meaning of legacy.
I learned that leaving a legacy is about the good things that happen because of you but which live on long after you, without you, without any more of your doing and even without your knowing.
It all began in 1977
The year was 1977, I was then a 9 year old primary 3 kid in Cedar Boys' Primary School (for those of you who think there that there is only a Cedar Girls' School in Singapore, there really was such a school then, Cedar had a boys school long ago, albeit only at the primary school level)
These events happened more than 30 years ago and I might not get all the names, dates, events and all the other details 100% accurately. But this is what I remembered and what I gathered from my friends who were there with me then.
A restless kid looking for more things to occupy himself
I was a restless kid with too much energy and too much time on my hands. I had already joined and volunteered for all the activities that the school had to offer then. I was in the school brass band, I was in the school's volleyball, basketball and track and field teams and I was also a school librarian. But was still not enough and I was still looking for more.
Inspired by Enid Blyton and her Secret Seven
I was then a big fan of Enid Blyton, especially her Secret Seven series of books. So I began to entertain the idea of starting my own club just like Secret Seven. But that is fiction and I knew real-life would be not like that, it would not be filled with the kind of adventures and exciting things that the Secret Seven always seem to get themselves into.
One of my primary school teachers then was a Ms Tan and I often hear from her, stories about her work at old folks' homes where she volunteered frequently. So soon I got excited about the idea of starting a club in school that does social work too, much like what Ms Tan was doing.
The Birth of my 'Social Seven' - The Social Work Club
Once the idea brewed in mind of starting my own club, a club that does social work, I got into action immediately.
First I recruited members. I rounded up some of my classmates, I told them about my plan of forming a club to do social work just like what our teacher Ms Tan was doing. I managed to convince about 6 or 7 of my classmates to join my club.
Now that I got members for my new club, I needed to give the club a name - we decided to call it 'Social Seven' ( borrowing from Enid Blyton's Secret Seven)
So The 'Social Seven', a Social Work Club was thus born.
It was my club and not one sanctioned by the school and I was the self appointed leader.
The first activities of Social Seven' - The Social Work Club
The first thing I did was to raise funds for our proposed volunteer work, so I got all the members of my club to hand me 20 cts every week to put into our fund. 20 cts was a lot of money in 1977, especially to us 9 year old kids, many of us from lower income families. I cannot remember how I managed to convince (or did I coerce? haha) my members to sacrifice 20 cts every week to give to me to put into the fund.
I also started our own Social Seven library, I got my members to contribute books and comics to our own library which is located at my own home in a little cupboard in my family's 3 room flat. I became the librarian and any member who wants to borrow a book would have to inform me and I would bring the book to them.
But other than that, the 'Social Seven' club had almost no other activities in the first few months of its existence. The 'benefits' of being a member of my 'Social Seven' club were (1) having to pass 20cts to me every week to contribute to our fund and (2) the 'privilege' of being able to borrow books from our library located at my home.
The Appeal -
appealing to the principal, teachers and students to support the 'Social Seven'
Soon the final year exams came and went, and we had a few weeks post exam before we break for the year end December holidays. By now, the 'Social Seven' fund had grown, from the weekly 20cts members' contributions, to about $50. I thought that would not be enough to do a meaningful volunteering event and I thought of asking the school to help.
So I approached my teacher, Ms Tan for the first time and told her of my plans to organise an volunteering event to an old folks' home as well as my request to be given permission to make an appeal to the school to contribute towards the event. Ms Tan was initially not supportive, she was quite certain that the principal would not approve of it. However, I told her that if she did not mind, I would go on my own to ask the principal for permission to appeal to the school teachers and students for donations to support my volunteering event to the old folks' home, I told her that at the most our principal would just give me a scolding and I didn't mind taking the risk of that. Ms Tan reluctantly agreed and she helped me get an 'audience' with our principal. Our meeting with the principal was in the end short and anti-climatically uneventful, I got permission from our principal to speak to the school at the morning assembly the next day.
So the very next day, a 9 year old me stood in front of the entire school at our morning assembly and appealed to the teachers and students to donate in cash or in kind to our proposed visit to the old folks' home. It went very well and soon donation, in the form of cash or kind (can foods, towels etc) began to come in the days following the appeal. By the end of that week, we had received more than a hundred dollars in cash donations and quite a large amount of can foods, clothes and other utility items.
The Big Day -
The visit to the Payoh Lai Home of The Aged Sick
So the Big Day finally came, it was a day in October/November 1977, I cannot remember exactly which day or month, it happened more than 30 years ago. I, a restless 9 year old, helped by my teacher Ms Tan who was a regular volunteer to the home, brought an entourage of students and teachers to Payoh Lai Home of Aged Sick. We distributed goodie bags to each of the residents of the home, we spent the day cleaning the premises of the home, we performed and sang for them and we also gave a donation to the home. After almost a year of preparation and each of us having to contributed 20 cts to the fund every week for almost a year, the Big Day for The Social Seven came and went and we 'declared' the very first volunteering event by The Social Seven a success. The residents were happy, the management of the home was happy, our teachers and other students were happy and we the members of the The Social Seven were even happier.
'The Social Seven' in the years after 1977
I continued to run and organise the activities of 'The Social Seven' for a number of years after I started it in 1977, it continued to be 'a club in the school but not by the school', supported by students and teachers and 'tolerated' by the principal and didn't get parents to sign consent forms or indemnity forms for their kids to participate in our activities then. During that time we visited and volunteered at a number of different charitable homes, but the highlight of the year was always the year end visit to the Payoh Lai Home of The Aged Sick.
After PSLE in 1980, 'The Social Seven' disbanded and we all dispersed to different secondary schools and we all lost contact with each other and with the school.
The Phone Call
- a precious phone call from the past
'Boss, a lady is on the phone and she claims she was your primary school teacher' - The day I received a phone call from the past
Fast forward to 2005. After my PSLE in Cedar Boys' Primary School in 1977, I was too 'caught up with life' and 'lost contact' with my primary school, I had gone on to RI, then RJC, then NUS medical school, became a doctor, got married, had kids and was at that time in 2005 working in a government statutory board when one day I received a message from my PA. She said 'Boss, a lady is on the phone now and she claims she was your primary school teacher, you sure you want me to put the phone call through?'.
I took the call and it was my primary school teacher Ms Tan! She had seen me on TV giving an interview recently and she just wanted to say Hi. We had a good chat and reminisce over the past, especially how she was instrumental in helping us in 'The Social Seven'
The phone call from Ms Tan got me thinking about the past and that night after work, I went on the internet to check out Cedar Boys' Primary School.
You mean, they carried on after we left?
I found that Cedar Boys' Primary School had ceased to exist, it had been combined with Cedar Girls' Primary School to form Cedar Primary School.
And like almost every schools and institution by then, they had a school website and I went on to browse it. I then clicked on a tab that said 'Community'. What I saw made me fall off my chair.
The page on Cedar Primary School's official website said,
"As Cedar Primary School recognises the need to inculcate in our pupils the value of 'Care', our pupils are dynamically with the community. Our partners in the community are:
Society of the Aged Sick
The most significant partnership that the school has established is Society of the Aged Sick. Since 1978, Cedar Primary has been organising visits to the Home, which include putting up of performances and donating of dry groceries.
The feeling of LEGACY
When I read that Cedar Primary School had carried on the annual visit to Payoh Lai Home for the Aged Sick (subsequently changed name to Society of the Aged Sick), for almost 30 years because of what I a restless 9 year old kid, together with my friends in 'Social Seven' started in 1977, I became emotional, I teared.
I then suddenly had this very 'strange' feeling when I realised that.
It was not a feeling of pride or this adrenalin rush when one feel a sense of achievement, instead it was a very humbling feeling.
I can only describe it as a very warm feeling, an emotion that connected with the core of one's soul.
A feeling of a sense of great privilege, of knowing how privileged that I was, together with my supportive friends and members of the Social Seven in 1977, to be blessed with the opportunity to have contributed something good that continued to live on and grew for 20+ years without our knowing or subsequent doing.
A feeling of 'gladness' that I had inadvertently done some good somehow despite my 'smallness' in the whole scheme of things.
Now I know
That Legacy can actually be felt
and that was how it felt like.
The True Meaning of Legacy
From that day on, I had a whole new perspective of Legacy.
That Legacy is not about one's greatest achievement or contribution to an organisation or group of people when one is there
But that real Legacy is really about the good things that happen and live on when we leave and are no longer involved. Good things that happen that we would not even know about but for which we had a a role in sowing and seeding, whether knowingly, intentionally or not.
This 'little' incident' changed my life, it led me to understand the true meaning of legacy and gave me greater motivation to continue to try to sow and do good as much as I can, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, no matter whether I was able to see the fruits of my sowing or not.
My hope and my wish
I hope that by my sharing this story, this perspective of Legacy would sow a seed in you. That you would go out there and continue to do good and have faith that you would be as privileged as I had been in the story above to have the opportunity to leave a Legacy, intentionally, accidentally or whether you eventually get to see the fruits or not.
Have faith. Leave a legacy.
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