Christmas came early this year for 10-year old Raimi Asyraf, who was particularly pleased with the gift of his new schoolbag. “The item I like most in the schoolbag is the art kit because when I’m bored at home, I usually do art on my own. When I finish my art piece, I usually show (it to) my mother and she’s like 'wow!', which makes me very happy.”
Raimi is one of about 200 children beneficiaries gathered at Lot One Shoppers’ Mall in Choa Chu Kang for the final My Schoolbag event of the year. My Schoolbag is a key CapitaLand annual corporate social responsibility programme where schoolbags containing school and daily necessities are donated to help underprivileged school children. CapitaLand has teamed up with the People’s Association and five Community Development Councils (CDCs) for the fifth consecutive year to assist over 1,000 children from low income families. The children are each given a schoolbag stocked with basic school supplies such as an art kit and stationery items, daily necessities including Milo packet drinks, cereal packs and a lunch box, as well as a pair of school shoes and socks. The annual event took place in five CapitaLand malls this year - Bedok Mall, JCube, Junction 8, Star Vista and Lot One Shoppers’ Mall.
“It is our hope that the schoolbags as well as the school and daily necessities will provide the underprivileged children with a head start as they embark on their learning journeys,” shared Mr Jason Leow, CEO of CapitaLand Mall Asia, who added that he was pleased about how the programme has benefitted more than 106,000 children in Asia since it started in 2009.
And the benefits could be seen from the huge smiles on the children’s faces. Many of them were thrilled to be the only ones in a shopping centre on a Friday morning. “They are very excited. Earlier on, a few of them asked me why this mall is empty. So I told them, it’s not opened yet. It opens only at 10am but you’re our special guests. And they were so happy!” shared Zalina Mansor, CapitaLand Singapore. This is her third year volunteering for this event.
The Gift of Inspiration
The special show-and-tell segment of the stage games had the kids all fired up as they fought for the chance to play dress-up while learning about various professions. The selected children happily donned the uniforms of a nurse, an air stewardess, a fireman and more, as they tried to describe on stage the nature of their respective occupations.
The children also got to listen to professionals from different fields as they shared their experience. Dr Teo Ho Pin, Mayor of West District, described the importance of these sessions. “The career talks given by the adult speakers from different professions go to show that there are many opportunities for everyone to succeed and lead an enriching life in Singapore, regardless of your starting point,” he observed.
By inviting professionals from varying fields to speak about their career paths, such as a documentary photographer, a commercial pilot and a veterinarian, just to name a few, CapitaLand hopes to inspire the children to start thinking about their career goals and be motivated to work towards their ambitions.
Therese Lee, Senior Design Manager of CapitaLand Mall Asia, was one of the few professionals that CapitaLand invited to give a career talk to the kids. Therese was more than happy to describe how her job was about turning ideas into buildings. “I don’t expect them to know a whole lot about architecture but I hope they get an insight. Because every time you talk about what an architect does, it’s such a big word and it’s so difficult to fathom what we do. I want to tell them it’s actually very doable. It’s also a very fun profession to be in,” she shared.
“She helped me to understand how buildings are created. We also learned about the types of building blocks they use,” remarked Raimi, who found the career talk by Therese inspiring.
The Gift of Shopping
The main highlight of the event though was unquestionably the shopping station where the beneficiaries were brought to NTUC to shop for basic necessities. Volunteers were stationed there to help pack selected items into the children’s shopping basket. After which, the kids got to experience queuing up at a cashier and paying for their items with the vouchers they were given. The objective of this experience is to help the children understand the value of money and the importance of budgeting.
“They gave me Oreos, which are my favourite snack,” shared Raimi. “I also learned how to spend wisely on items that are necessary for my daily use so I won’t really buy items that I only want but don’t need.”
At the shoes station, the kids were given the chance to pick out the perfect pair of Bata shoes. Then it was off to the food station, where they enjoyed tucking into their McDonald’s Happy Meal.
For some, the chance to bond with other children made this event an even more memorable one. Nine-year-old Nur Anisah quipped: “The part I love is meeting people because I can get to make new friends. I’m quite shy but at least I got to make friends with my buddy for the day”.
The Gift of Friendship
The children were not the only ones who were excited about making new friends. For many of the volunteers, bonding with the kids was their favourite part of the event.
"I volunteered last year as well. It's quite nice to bring the kids around to buy their own groceries and choose their own shoes," remarked Rachel Chiu of CapitaLand Limited. "Some can grow quite attached to you. A lot of them are very cheeky and mischievous and it’s quite funny to hear some of their jokes. I really enjoy talking to them."
Some of the volunteers also found that this experience provided an enriching break from work. Said Quek Singyi, CapitaLand Singapore: “It’s quite refreshing to come here and help some of these underprivileged kids. It really gives you a different perspective. There are also many educational elements in this programme so the kids get to take away some important life lessons.”
Alvin Chua of CapitaLand Mall Asia, who's based at Bukit Panjang Plaza, also enjoyed his time with the kids. “My favourite part of the event is to bring them around shopping. I can see a lot of smiles on their faces. When I see them smile, it makes me happy, too.”
It was smiles galore as the event came to a close with the children and volunteers working together to create the longest zero point rope of the day.
The Gift of Giving
This year’s My Schoolbag programme added a special public fundraising component as a way of engaging the community to give back to society. For the first time, Singapore members of CAPITASTAR were encouraged to donate their unredeemed membership points to CapitaLand Hope Foundation, which then channelled the shoppers’ donations to My Schoolbag in Singapore. In total, the initiative collected more than S$3,000 worth of membership points.
Since 2011, My Schoolbag has been held annually in the five countries where CapitaLand malls operate, namely Singapore, China, Malaysia, Japan and India.
With the support of its staff and community volunteers, My Schoolbag hopes to continue bringing warmth and hope to underprivileged children all around the world.