COH Project Tree of Life – Growing an Outreach and Advocacy Platform

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In Part 1 of this series, we introduced the COH Project Tree of Life. In this second part, we take a look at the project’s introduction and collaboration with schools in Singapore.

The connection with schools is apt; after all, Project Tree of Life’s advocacy and outreach platform for the handicapped was first inspired when its creator, Khor Tuck Kuan, had an accidental encounter with visiting school children whilst he was conducting a recycled art lesson for the clients of COH.

Springing young shoots
Here’s what 2 schools had to say about their experience with the program:

ITE College Central
ITE Bishan lecturer Iris Tham shared that a curious coincidence of encounters led to the collaboration between College and COH.

She had personally visited COH in 2010 and been inspired to work with them. Somehow, her students had also separately encountered COH clients during an informal school outing and been similarly impacted.

This prompted the students to include Project Tree of Life into ITE’s Equilaborate Project, showcasing how COH clients made chandeliers and lamps out of recycled plastic bottles, and more importantly, how COH clients could teach “normal” people to do the same.

Iris said, “The reactions from my students ranged from being amazed, floored and overawed. They were inspired by COH client’s ability to overcome their challenges.”

CHIJ Katong Convent
In 2011, Katong Convent’s Environment Committee tapped on the power of Project Tree of Life, to initiate a full-scale school wide recycled art project. COH clients visited an entire form (of secondary three pupils) in the school to conduct workshops.

The recycled art activity helped to bridge the initial shyness between the schoolgirls and COH clients. Jae Ernyl, the teacher in charge from Katong Convent said, “the girls were shy to approach the clients at first, but the programme made it easy for them to interact.”

Looking ahead, Ms Ernyl expressed hope that the programme would be scaled for greater interactivity, perhaps catering to half a form, so that students would enjoy a more personal experience.

Measures of Success
In an earlier interview, Khor Tuck Kuan, the creative force behind this project, candidly shared his view that if the yardsticks currently used to measure a person’s worth and success were changed, from the current marketplace drivers of efficiency, productivity and profitability, to a person’s ability to touch hearts and change lives; then the clients of COH would rank on top – above many of us in the “able” world.

He goes on explain, “Let’s say we have 50 special needs people. Those with higher function skills, can be the guys who cut and instruct. Those who have lower functioning skills – the ones who struggle to even hold the scissors – but they try – they are the best ones to demonstrate their willpower and perseverance.”

Therein lies the value and power of each individual client. Through the sheer determination that they demonstrate, they touch hearts and profoundly and deeply impress the “able” who interact with them.

As the students watch the clients, Khor said, “they observe (the client struggling) anxiously. Each group that watches a client for 20 minutes trying to cut that one piece, is probably impacted more than if you hired some able bodied worker to do the job in (the most economic and efficient) seconds.”

The Project Tree of Life encounter is perfect for changing mindsets, to impact the student’s understanding about the place that people with special needs have in our community and that they possess the same measure of value and character as every able bodied person.

Footnote: COH Project Tree of Life is an outreach that features the clients of COH working in tandem with the public, thus giving voice to the handicapped, whilst at the same time empowering them to showcase creative ways to recycle discarded items into pieces of art.


About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.

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