Heng Praises Selfless Teachers and Comforts Earthquake Survivors: “You are Not Alone”

These remarks were made by Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat’s at the Reunion at Tanjong Katong Primary School, in the wake of the Sabah earthquake that claimed the lives of 11 Singaporeans – 8 students and 2 teachers from TKPS, and one adventure guide.

Wise words from a wise minister who’s probably come out of this tragedy faultless for his sharp yet compassionate leadership.

HENG SWEE KEAT:  Mr Faisal, Jessica and Mr Jhala, thank you for your very moving words. I think what you have said meant so much to everyone in this room. I am glad to see so many of you here today.

I am glad to see so many of our children back today, both those who have gone on the trip, and those who have siblings, cousins, who are here with us this afternoon.

I wanted to address our children and to talk to each and every one of you. I spoke to some of you earlier, and if I did not get a chance to talk to you just now, do come by and chat with me afterwards, and bring your dad and mum along, because all of us care about you very much.

That is why DPM Teo is here with us today – DPM wants to see for himself how you are doing, and to tell you that, in our eyes, you are strong and brave young leaders. Children, from where you are, can we wave to DPM?

Let me first express my deepest condolences to our friends who have lost their beloved. In your grief, you found strength to comfort others. You made the time to be at the wake of another’s child. You found words of comfort for another parent which only your common sorrow could produce. You remembered to thank others even in the hour of grief. We are all truly humbled by your grace. Your children would be so proud of you, for being such big-hearted Dads and Mums.

From hearing your memories, and those accounts of their fellow students, I know how much joy your children brought to so many. Let us hold on to the happy memories as we begin the process of healing. Our thoughts are with you, and we will continue to support you.

You’re very brave and strong young people. I am confident that you have the courage, resilience and special qualities to come out of this better and stronger than before. And if you remember this, you will do great things in life, and you can help other people when they are in need. And similarly, for the siblings of those who have been lost, I am confident that you will rise to the occasion and you will be a great source of comfort to your parents and to your friends around you.

You are all student leaders. Your juniors in school, from the P1s to P5s, they all look up to you. They want to be like you when they reach P6, and you know that you inspire that.

But at the same time – this is very important – you should remember that you don’t have to do everything by yourself. You don’t have to go through everything by yourself. Your families and friends, your teachers, are all with you together. We have faith in you and we’re here for you when you need us. And if you feel sad – feel sad. Don’t have to hide it. If you feel angry, feel angry. If you feel scared, feel scared. Talk to us. Let us help. You have the strength and we believe that you will overcome.

As young leaders, you will also give thanks, to those who have helped us. And thank your daddy and mummy for being a great source of help. Thank them for loving you. And don’t forget your teachers also.

I am glad that, today, we have a special group of people with us here, our friends from Mountain Torq. Can we give them a warm round of applause? Now, we can put names to faces, we know who you are, and we really appreciate what you have done.

Children, many people came together to help you and your teachers on Mount Kinabalu, not least of all our Mountain Torq guides. The guides were guiding the TKPS students and teachers when the earthquake happened. They were the first responders in a time of chaos and uncertainty.

To our Mountain Torq guides, Hillary, James, Hajiris, I want to say this: You acted with dedication, courage and selflessness under very difficult circumstances. Thank you, for taking care of the students and teachers, and doing your best to bring them to safety.

There were others who helped out too, in whatever way they could, such as the Sabah guides, and others who happened to be there at that point in time, and rose to the occasion. Each one played their role spontaneously, instinctively, to get our children to safety. Their actions make a world of difference. Though we may never really know all those who helped when the quake struck, we remember and are grateful to these good people who did what they could in a time of crisis.

Our operations in Sabah would not be possible without the help of the Malaysian authorities. PM sent his thanks to our Malaysian counterparts.

Now there is one special group of people too that I want to thank, which is our teachers. Several parents have shared with me what your children have told you. When the earthquake struck, the first thing the teachers thought about was the students’ safety. The teachers forgot their own injuries, they put the students first. They have been courageous and selfless. We’ve heard of how Mr Ghazi and Mr Terrence Loo encouraged them along the way up. I want to thank all the parents who shared with me what your children told you. We’ve had many teachers tell us that if children are in need, you will do everything you can to help them. That is your natural instinct. So I very much appreciate the dedication. In particular, the courage and selflessness shown by your colleagues on this trip.

I also want to specially mention Mrs Caroline Wu, your Principal, Vice-Principal Mrs Yeong and Mrs Kwek, and staff and parents support group of TKPS. It has been a very challenging time for the school, but you rose above your own grief to give care and support to those who needed it. Your unflagging dedication and commitment are truly commendable.

Mrs Wu has said to me that she and your school teachers could not have done this on their own. When thousands came to school to show their support, many volunteers pitched in, especially Principals from other schools, as well as the Parent Support Group. The whole nation came together.

Children, many people, both here in Singapore and Malaysia in Sabah, worked very hard. Please join me in thanking each and every one of them for their care and dedication and tireless support. We came together in so many ways, at so many levels – families, schools, as a government, as a society, and as a nation. Drawn to the task of helping, we joined hands across boundaries, across Singapore and Malaysia, determined to make a difference to those lost or missing out on Mount Kinabalu.

We will miss our friends, teachers, guides and our two Mountain Torq trainers who have left us. We are doing everything possible with the authorities in Sabah to bring home Navdeep and Mr Ghazi as soon as possible. I know that some of our students are still recovering from their injuries and I hope that you will recover quickly.

This earthquake has also affected many others, and our thoughts are with them. In fact, the livelihood of our Mountain Torq Trainers is now uncertain. I’m very touched by many Singaporeans who have reached out readily to offer help to those whose lives have been affected by the crisis. Many have approached the school and MOE on how they can contribute. We are looking at how best we can facilitate those who wish to make a donation to the Sabah trainers as well as guides and families of the deceased both here and in Sabah.

In fact, Sabah is now experiencing landslides after the last three days of heavy rain. Our thoughts are with our friends in Sabah.

The healing process will take time. As we heal, let us remember to focus on our loved ones who are still with us, and let us help one another. I hope the hallways of TKPS will slowly but surely ring with the chatter of friends and with the way that students would naturally gather and make friends and play in the process.

So, children, when you miss your friends and teachers, and when you feel sad, I want you to remember the best thing about them, remember a joke that they told you, remember a good thing that they have done, remember a wonderful thing that you and your friends did together. And in your hearts: Emilie, Ryyan, Karyl, Sonia, Peony, Navdeep, Rachel, say thank you for being my friend, and your brother or sister. Say: Mr Ghazi and Mr Loo, thank you for being my teacher. And to Mr Daanish, thank you for guiding us in the mountain. I will be a friend in need to others, just like you. I will be the best person I can be, just like you. I will love and honour my parents, my teachers, and my friends. I know I am not alone. I promise I will ask for help when it feels hard. I remember you and miss you, and I will make you proud. So, children, are you able to do that? I am sure you can.

We will heal as a community. We will stay together, stay strong together as a community and we are in this together. On behalf of the Ministry and the Government, I want to assure every parent here that we will give you our full support as we go through this. We will give Caroline and the School every support to look after the many children that we have who are entrusted to us. So Caroline and team stay strong, and work with all our parents, so that we can come through this stronger and deeper in our relationship. Thank you all for coming. Thank you for your support.

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