The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Are you ready for Big School?

We were at a Birthday party this morning of a friend #1 and 2 met Before Big School. It was lovely to see them hang out with friends they had spent much of the last three and a half years with.

At the party was my friend whose son also goes to the same Big School as #1 and 2. As we were chatting I suddenly thought of asking her ‘Do the kids go back to school tomorrow?’ She laughed and said ‘Yes’ whilst also making me feel better that she is just as on top of this new Big School business as I appear to be with adjusting to Big School anecdotes of her own.

I mean I would have checked at some point today whether half term holiday had ended or whether there was another week to go. I had half prepared myself for Big School tomorrow with getting hats and cardigans washed, packed lunch food items ready and that whole drill of ‘Must not miss the school bus again!’ into my subconscious.

Life Before Big School was merely eight weeks ago. For three and a half years #1, and for a year less #2, had been attending a charming school in a converted black and white house called The Children’s Place. It is technically a Daycare Centre because they are open all year round with just a two week break in December. This is a great set up for those who work or live an Expat Life and take children away for many weeks at a time at any time of year. It certainly was great for us when we went back to the UK for seven weeks last year.

Being called a Daycare Centre is certainly misleading for The Children’s Place because #1, 2 and now 3 have received a very high level of education for that age. Phonics, maths, science, cultural celebrations and languages have all been introduced to them and their knowledge has surprised and astounded me on many occasions.

Any doubts I could have had over whether the academic achievements of #1 and 2 would prepare them for Big School would be a complete disservice to The Children’s Place. The teacher’s and Lao Shi’s are caring, practical and have done a great job of making #1 and 2 enjoy learning.
  
A great start is so important to ensuring a child’s enjoyment and love of school. They have been very happy at The Children’s Place. Despite the months between May to July 2014 when #2 went through a phase of hysterical crying at every school drop off. The teachers always reassured me that once I was gone #2 was just fine. It can be hard to imagine that when they are clinging onto you with extreme tears rolling down their cheeks. I’m glad to say that all of a sudden #2 adored school again. Enjoying the company of her friends and teachers alike.

But at some point they would have to leave such a cosy set up and move onto Big School. They could only stay until they were just about to turn seven anyways and seeing as we are still living in Singapore five years on from when we thought we would exit, we thought we better make more effort in ensuring their education would continue.

This was not as easy as we imagined. International school fees are exorbitantly high. Perhaps stemming from the olden days when true Expat Living packages included housing, education and car allowances. I don’t know exact figures but if you get any of the three, let alone all of the three, you are getting a great deal and so you must never leave.

For most of us who don’t and like me had a very modest education whereby the complexity of thought that went into which school I attended was based on proximity to my home on foot, it can be difficult to grasp this cost of education for a five year old.

You could argue that we don’t need to send #1 and 2 to an international school when the Singapore local school system is exceptional in its own right. But culturally the style of the local system is very different to what we understand ourselves from our own experience, to how we can support them because our Mandarin is either non existent or so basic you couldn’t even order a beer correctly. Besides, at some time, be it two years or fives years from now, they will no doubt join some form of British or IB curriculum.

And, like all parents, you want to ensure every decision you make regarding the future potential of your child is naturally the best you can provide. It is difficult to choose a school for your children when it comes down to paying for it. You can’t help but wonder if by not choosing the most expensive school or the one with the biggest by numbers or with the largest facilities that you are not providing the best for your child. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

But you have to be realistic in your approach. Whether you choose the school that is more or less in cost, this is Singapore. Each child in any school is already off to a great start. Sometimes thinking about the detail can cloud your grasp on the bigger picture.

And so with that out of the way and just 10 weeks before the start of the new academic year, Husband and I were frantically submitting application forms and hoping for the best. It can be incredible the number you get quoted on wait lists which I am sure are genuine. I went to one school for a tour back in October 2013. I was informed that this school definitely had a place for #3 in January 2017. A slight chance for #2 to join in January 2016 and not a hope for #1 in either January 2015, 2016 or even 2017. So based on this information and the fact we may not even live here (but going on current trends we probably will be) would you fork out $2,500 (average) for each child to just be on the wait list with no guarantees?

  
But luckily we got an email just a few weeks later telling us that Big School would be delighted to have #1 and 2 join them this summer. Relief! They will be educated after all.

Husband and I were quite nervous for #1 and 2 adapting to Big School. After all, it was to be a huge step up with a proper school uniform and addressing teachers in the more traditional UK way I am used to. But mostly #1 and 2 would be taking their first steps into the Big Wide World. They would be catching the school bus all by themselves rather than be taken right up to class like we had been doing so. They would be one in a class of 22 rather than have dedicated one to one time with teachers and Lao Shi’s. They would be one child in a school of 900 compared to 90.

The school bus is actually more like a holiday coach. Whilst it wasn’t that long ago, I remember clearly standing with Husband and #1, 2 and 3 at the pick up spot. Nervous and guilty at the same time. A piece of my heart reluctant to acknowledge this new other transition that was taking them on a path towards greater independence. They seemed so wee with their too big uniforms that they will spend the next 10 months growing into. How would they cope on their first day in a much bigger school with no friends having come from a school where they knew everyone. Should I have taken them myself on their first day? Will they actually make it home on the right bus? Will they be OK?

Then with no time for further thought the school bus arrived. And with no long drawn out Goodbyes #1 and 2 were ushered up the steps that reach their knees. The bus had pulled away even before they were securely belted in and I barely got a chance to wave them off. Even now I don’t like it when the School Bus doesn’t allow me that wave Goodbye.

  
Those parents who are seasoned at the whole Big School thing then rush off to start their day safe in the knowledge the school holidays are over with and they don’t have to worry about activities to fill their children’s time with for another few months. But for us first timers, the day can stretch long and far ahead until it’s home time and you get to ask how this first day has been. Do you like your teacher? Did you make any friends? Did you eat your snacks and packed lunch? You know I missed you.

Six weeks on, #1 and 2 are very at home at Big School. They love the challenge and new routine. They speak fondly of their teachers and they like the new friends they have made. It seems they have adjusted well. Husband and I can both breathe a sigh of relief.

But wait.

Is the transition to Big School really that simple?

I thought it was until I realised that we as Parents have a very active role to play too. Not just remembering on what day which child has swimming or PE. What to pack them for lunch each day that is interesting and nutritious. Or how to get them dressed and ready with breakfast inside of them without having to run for the school bus every morning. If you know, please do share.

I suppose it’s sort of inevitable given my track record that we would have to miss the school bus at least once. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to happen on DAY THREE! On a day I had to be some place else at 8.50am when it is already 7.56am. We missed the bus by seconds. We actually saw it drive off. But by sheer luck I got to the some place else on time only because whilst waiting in line behind 25 other cars waiting to do drop off I saw the designated School Bus a few cars behind so I got #1 and 2 out of the car and back on the bus for the last 30 metres or so! I thought it was quite an inspired move.

We have’t missed the School Bus since I am happy to say.

But mastering getting them to school is just one of many things. Indeed.

There is the reading of the Class Blog, checking daily the Communications books, looking on the website for newsletters, checking the Facebook page for any breaking news and urgent messages, reading together the weekly library book. There is the Class Rep to connect with, two in our case. Coffee mornings, curriculum talks, social events of which I have not been able to attend so far.

Then there is the major school events that require you to know stuff about months ago and not just ponder the fact that you think you saw something about it but wasn’t quite sure. Cue a frantic scrabble through all paperwork received to find relative piece of information. Nothing. Cue texting more organised friends whose children will be ready and organised for the major school event. Thankfully I have those kind of friends who do not judge me for not being up to speed!

So Husband and I managed to get both #1 and 2 to Big School dressed in the correct attire on the right day for the major school event. It was a United Nations Day celebration. Every one of the near 900 pupils were proudly dressed in their national costume. Some countries like Japan, South Korea and India were represented in far greater numbers than I could have guessed. There was representation from over 50 countries. It really opened my eyes to how International this school is and I’m very happy that #1 and 2 have this exposure to all these nationalities with different cultures, languages and traditions. What a great start to the Big Wide World.
  
Yes, I was totally naive to think that Big School was as simple as packing them off on the School Bus with a packed lunch. But whenever there is a change in routine in a family, everyone needs a transition period. I’m looking forward to getting to know this Big School and the great plans they have to provide #1 and 2 an education they will remember fondly in years to come.

Now #1 and 2, let’s just remind ourselves again of the ‘Getting ready for Big School’ drill we need for the morning.

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My Sunday Experience – Back to fundraising basics

How many of us are in jobs that people easily understand?

When asked as a small child “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, Voluntary Sector Fundraiser wasn’t really an option. But I am very pleased to say that it very much is so now. Though it may not be at the forefront of ambition for most small people. Engineer, Princess, Racing Car Driver, Elephant are all popular and valid career choices in this household.

I entered on a career path in Fundraising because it seemed like a very good thing to do. To actually be doing something good. Over the years whenever I was asked what did I do for a living and I answered with ‘I work for charity’, it was always met with positiveness but not always with comprehension. Whenever people think of charity, they imagine the good work that is actually done and quite rightly so. But not often did the thought that the money required to fund the good work needs to come from and be managed from somewhere.

  

People give to good causes all the time for many reasons be it personal experience, to make a difference or to end a problem. Just think of the all reasons why you give to a good cause. And regardless of whether the charity or NGO you give to is a small start up or a well known, well established organisation, as a donor, you should feel confident that your money is being spent in the best way possible to support the work that charity was set up to do. All charities fulfill an existing and real need, unlike some commercial products that are created to fulfill a perceived need.

It may seem like an odd job to many to be a Fundraiser when people tend to think of charity in the traditional sense. At the same time you want your money to be directed where need is greatest, that it will make the difference you intend it too and that it is all responsibly accounted for by the charity in question. Such management and governance can’t always be managed by volunteers and neither can the services provided to fulfill the need be carried out on a voluntarily basis. People need to be employed by the charities you support in order to ensure that your donations are professionally managed and work is done. It’s as simple as that.

There have also been occasions where the response to what I do has been met with “I have some things I was thinking of taking to the charity shop, can I give them to you?”. Yes you can but I will probably take them to a different charity shop than the one you had in mind so it’s best you do it yourself.

  

So what exactly do I do working for charity all these years in Fundraising? In it’s simplest form, I raise money to support the work of the charity I’m working for.  Philanthropic giving has evolved over the years and there are many ways to give. You have your monthly direct debits, corporate donations, Charity of the Year partnerships, cause related marketing (where you buy a product and a percentage is donated to a cause), charitable trusts and foundations set up with funds specifically to benefit a particular cause, single individuals making significant contributions, venture philanthropy, crowdfunding platforms, instant donations by text and many an innovative or traditional method.

The sector has grown and developed since I started out some 16 years ago. I’ve noticed it even more so with having taken six years away from it too.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is that fundraising is difficult. It really is. There is no such thing as an easy cause to raise money for. Definitely not. There may be some causes that the general public have more of an awareness about but I wouldn’t say it is any easier to fundraise for it because for every need there is no finite solution. Consider all the good causes you support. Think about what would end that problem. Over the years I have worked for five different charities and NGOs. All doing amazing work. A lot of my friends work for different charities and NGOs. All doing amazing work. It is our job not only to raise the money so that this amazing work can continue, it is also about communicating back to you what this amazing work is. And you would be inspired by each and every story that we could tell you. It is also about explaining that this charity or NGO has a very clear purpose and idea of what they intend to do with the money you have donated. Money that you yourself have worked hard to earn and so clearly it is to be spent with just as much care.

Every donor has a right to ask questions about how their donation will be spent and every fundraiser will be pleased for the opportunity to tell you about the amazing work that is being done. This work that is only achievable through the generosity of people who have been wiling to give. Why don’t you ask the good causes you support to tell you about what they are up to? Every time I get to talk about the projects I’ve asked funding for it has always made me feel that much more inspired by what I do. To share this information and knowledge with someone else who is equally as interested makes me really enjoy my job.

In my day to day fundraising role that is what I get to do. What I try to do. To connect people who want to give but don’t quite know how to make the greatest impact with their donation; to make the biggest difference. I tell them about the problems that need fixing and how that problem could be fixed if there was the money to do so. I also ensure they know how things progress afterwards as well so they have a full understanding of what has been achieved that otherwise couldn’t.

Today’s Sunday Experience took me back to fundraising basics however. Working with a team of volunteers collecting for Flag Day. That whole act of asking someone to give to a good cause. A great cause. To put yourself out there and ask “Can you support us by making a donation into my can?” No sophisticated marketing campaign. No gimmicks. No gradual build up. Just a very simple ask.

  

It is not an easy job as I found out. There is you and a lot of people. Just standing with my can and looking around at all the people in my line of vision if they all could donate $1, my can would be full within half an hour. But giving to good causes doesn’t always work like that. And that is ok. This is not about how and when I think you should give. I’m more thinking about the myriad of Volunteers who do put themselves out there for many a charity and NGO doing their own fundraising and volunteering on Flag days with their tin cans. They do it because they truly believe in supporting that cause. They give up whole days to do this. To ask the public if they can support this or that cause and know that nine out of ten will ignore them but they keep at it. I know this because a Volunteer said as much. That you have to be prepared to ask at least 20 people in order to get one who will. These kind of odds is not so different to all kinds of fundraising.

I always try and give when I’m approached by someone with a can collecting for this or that charity. I’m not so keen on collections that seem to go into an envelope. When the volunteer approaches you with a smile and a polite, unobtrusive manner but you are on your way someplace else, I try and remember the fact they have spent many hours doing this in their own time. That they have probably had to steel themselves a little to make the approach. That some change or small notes would give them a little boost before asking the next person to give. Who may not. Who may not even acknowledge they’ve said something.

A big well done and Thank You to all those Volunteers who do this invaluable job. I’ve tried a bit of it today and appreciate all over again just how tough it can be. Without Volunteers, many a charity couldn’t do all they do. Volunteers are an invaluable resource and today has been a privilege working alongside some of them.
  

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