Having right mindset is vital, say volunteer tutors

Apart from full-time teachers, there are 12 volunteer tutors on the books at the Prison School.

Mr Tan Cher Chong, 40, who heads pastoral care and career guidance at NorthLight School, is one of the volunteers, and he conceded that he initially felt apprehensive about the environment.

But Mr Tan, who has been volunteering every Wednesday for the past six years, pointed out: “If you come in with coloured lenses, it will cripple you before you even started.”

Another volunteer, Mr Chan Kai Ler, a sales executive, said: “Volunteers must be aware that they are not going in for a tour but to impart skills … The mindset needs to be corrected as the prison is a high-security place and there are restrictions.”

For the past five years, Mr Chan, 31, has been teaching adventure skills such as ropework to inmates. He also looks for volunteers and he revealed that, while there are people who are keen to work with inmates, the challenge is in “finding the correct participants with the correct mindsets”.

Unlike most community service stints where long-term personal relationships are encouraged between volunteers and recipients, clear lines are drawn in the prison school. Among the basic rules, volunteers are not allowed to exchange contact details or share personal information.

Mr Chan said: “The idea is to go in with a purpose in mind and to complete this task.”

And according to the volunteers, there is an immense sense of satisfaction.

Said Mr Chan: “The skills and knowledge that you have might not mean much to you but, when (the inmates) come up to you to say ‘thank you’ … you will know that you have actually imparted something meaningful to them.”

The staff and the volunteers are reminded of their purpose each time they walk past a mural on their way to the school.

The mural tells the familiar fable of making a difference by throwing starfishes one by one back into the ocean. On the opposite wall is the school’s motto: “Rebuilding lives, awakening hope”.

This article was first published in TODAY