A family mission outside their comfort zone
Jonathan How’s kids knew what a monsoon season was in theory. But it wasn’t until their recent overseas trip to a village in Myanmar that they experienced first-hand how the torrential rains affected people living in rural areas of developing nations.
In June, the 46-year-old dad-of-three took his kids, aged 15 to 11 on their first mission trip. They had travelled to the village with a group of friends to deliver books and stationery for a new tuition centre, as well as engage the local children in games and art and craft activities.
Just before they arrived, the monsoon rains flooded certain parts of the village.
“The kids saw for themselves the issues the villagers faced and experienced the challenging terrain. On our way into the village, we saw a mother and child wading through the water. I believe it’s a trip they won’t forget,” Jonathan says.
While some Singaporeans are now more open to the idea of taking their kids along on such volunteer trips overseas, Jonathan feels that most people still have a long way to go in stepping out of their comfort zones.
“Most people don’t feel inclined towards such trips. We are too comfortable in our own lives, and the thought of going to a place with no snazzy shopping malls may not appeal,” he says candidly.
A passionate advocate for forcibly displaced people, Jonathan is the founder and chief executive officer of homegrown relief agency Relief Singapore. A volunteer stint at a Thailand-based non-government organisation a decade ago opened his eyes to their suffering, and he was motivated to do something for this group of people in need.
His latest project at Relief Singapore involves donating basic delivery kits to pregnant Rohingya women in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, and installing water filtration systems at primary health centres run by the Bangladesh government.
While such areas are not the ideal place for families to get acquainted with volunteer work overseas, Jonathan suggests starting with relatively safer areas or even right at home in Singapore. He has roped in his kids to help at Relief Singapore events here and regularly shares with them his overseas experiences.
Although it would probably be easier for the adults if the kids had not tagged along for the Myanmar trip, Jonathan says he had wanted to make the trip a family mission.
“We hoped to share our love together as a family. We didn’t want our kids to continue to be so plugged into modern society that they lack empathy for others and not have the inclination to help the disadvantaged,” he says.
“Hopefully, it will give them a more holistic view of the world and perhaps, influence their choice of career later in life.”
The experience was certainly an eye-opener for his youngest child, Seraphina, 11. Besides making new friends, what stood out to her the most was the fact that the villagers had to walk on bamboo poles to get home during the flooding.
“I want to return to the village to support them,” she says.