27 Sep 2018

Community - People

Sharing the ‘kampong spirit’ with her community

Hong Kong-based Singaporean Stephanie Chai is the founder of a home-based English-language playgroup, and serves children in her community by volunteering her time at her local library. She shares more about her experiences, her thoughts about volunteering while overseas, and how she helps recreate a ‘kampong spirit’ amongst the locals in her community.


For Stephanie Chai, her life has been one that revolves around children. Starting out as a principal at one of Singapore’s largest childcare chains, she was later sent to Vietnam and China to “manage and bridge Singapore’s preschool curriculum” to those countries. “I am glad that my teaching experience of over a decade has helped me serve children in different countries,” the Singaporean said about her various overseas postings.


Now based in Hong Kong with her husband and three sons – ranging from 18 months to five years old – Stephanie runs a ‘learning through play’ English-language playgroup at home for both local Hong Kong and expatriate children, and is also a volunteer at her local community library in Taipo. Stephanie shares more about her volunteering experiences thus far, and how she helps recreate a ‘kampong spirit’ amongst the locals in her community.


Stephanie before the commencement of a library session in December 2017
(Image courtesy of Stephanie Chai)


Tell us more about what you do at Tai Po Public Library.

For the last three years, I’ve worked with the library manager on their Summer and Winter programmes, which encourages and nurtures young readers. Each session – which has an attendance of around 30 children – consists of an hour of English storytelling based on a certain theme, andtake place over seven weeks. With the recent rise of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum, I have begun reading some science-related books to the children, and it’s been pretty well received!

How did you start volunteering at this library? What prompted you to start volunteering while overseas?

Interestingly, this stemmed from my own experiences back in primary school, when I looked forward to the storytelling sessions at Geylang East Public Library! With my training as a preschool educator in Singapore, I decided to volunteer as an English storyteller at the library, as it’s the best way for me to spread the joy of reading, and to contribute to the community here.


Stephanie (in mustard sweater, front left) with participants of a parent-child workshop in December 2017
(Image courtesy of Stephanie Chai)

Are there any memorable volunteering experiences that left a deep impression on you?


When I was previously based in Vietnam, I had the opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage for children and teens. The moment us volunteers walked into the house, the younger children – some as young as four – ran to us excitedly and greeted us like we were their long lost friends! I felt so welcome in their home, and it was wonderful to see how grounded and satisfied the children were. This experience taught me to appreciate what I have in my life.


Now, as a mother of three kids, I’m also reminded not to choose the ‘easy way out’ of providing my little ones with material wants and needs in order to bring joy to them – because real joy can be found in the simplest of things!


What brings you the most satisfaction and fulfillment as you volunteer?


I am grateful that I’ve been able to build a positive partnership with the library’s board over the years. My prior experiences have come in handy when I conduct storytelling sessions, and educating parents on enriching young readers.

The feeling of fulfillment also comes from seeing both children and parents laughing, nodding their heads and agreeing with pointers shared during the session. Some children told their parents how much they’ve enjoyed the stories, and parents also told me how impressed they were to see their children listening attentively. I’ve even had children attending the session for the first time running up to me to say “I love you”!

Stephanie conducting a storytelling session at the library
(Image courtesy of Stephanie Chai)


How do you encourage your children to relate themselves with Singapore?


I believe that children can benefit from experiential learning. My husband and I bring our sons back to Singapore every year at various times to experience different festivals, so that they can be immersed in Singapore’s food and cultures. For example, we were back in Singapore this year during National Day, and the kids were lucky to have their first live experience watching the RSAF NDP flypast!


As they grew older, I’ve noticed that they would automatically request for local food like roti prata for breakfast – and most times, I’d try to fulfill their requests! I hope these trips will help build bits and pieces of uniquely Singapore memories for them.


Tell us more about how your years in Singapore developed the ‘kampong spirit’ in you, and how you recreate that experience for HK locals.


During my growing up years living in a HDB estate, most neighbours would leave their doors open. My parents would chat with them whenever we walked by, and we’d even share homecooked dishes with each other. We’d even pass our house keys to our neighbours when we went overseas, so that they could help us in case we missed out on anything! These heartwarming gestures of sharing and caring have continued to stay with me, wherever I’ve lived in the world.

In Hong Kong, I regularly invite my Hong Kong friends to our house for gatherings, and would make the effort to have casual conversations with my neighbours. I have also set up a home-based company called Playgrow, a playgroup for infants and children up to three years old to learn through fun experiential activities, as a way to serve my community here!


Sharing goodies with local friends in Hong Kong this August
(Image courtesy of Stephanie Chai)


What advice do you have for overseas Singaporeans who wish to contribute to their community, whether back home or overseas?


It’s okay to contribute within your means, based on your interests and availability, because every act of service – no matter how small –  can help move mountains. Most importantly, you should enjoy what you do!


What are your aspirations for overseas Singaporean children, and those back home?


I hope to we can all instill kindness in our young. In the words of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”


Stephanie with her three sons at HK Chinese University, July 2018
(Image courtesy of Stephanie Chai)


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SG Cares is a movement to support Singaporeans’ goodwill. It is about sharing inspiring stories, forging partnerships and growing opportunities for volunteerism. You may be far away from home, but Singaporeans overseas actively contribute to good causes, whether in your current community, or those back in Singapore.

Do you know an overseas Singaporean who deserves a special mention? Let us know here.


Read the stories of Singaporeans living overseas.