Panellists (from left): MP Fatimah Lateef; Ms Trina Liang, president of UN Women National Committee Singapore; Ms Tan Su-Shan, DBS managing director and group head of wealth management; and Ms Elaine Yew, moderator.A look at Singapore’s CHIJ schools and their recent forum as the Infant Jesus order marks its 350th anniversary this year

Seven hundred students from the 11 Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) schools came together for a forum featuring some of the institutions’ most notable alumnae.

The Sept 15 event, titled Women as Agents of Change and held at Victoria Junior College Auditorium, was to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the IJ order.

“Don’t feel you mustn’t be ambitious. That’s old fashioned,” Ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee told her audience.

The convent education gives students “opportunities” to “learn leadership”, said the former ambassador to the US and keynote speaker for the event.

Keynote speaker Chan Heng CheeProf Chan also shared that she was part of the Legion of Mary during her years in Katong Convent, and that her favourite subjects were literature and history – because they “taught you how to think”, “be tolerant and understand” and “enlarged your experience”.

She noted that one of the legacies of the convent education is training girls to speak well. “The importance of … learning to speak properly will serve you well,” she said.

Furthermore, “convent girls are dutiful, and that is what has been said to me”, she added.

Three panellists then shared how their CHIJ education has benefitted them.

Member of Parliament Fatimah Lateef spoke about the Servant Leadership values she learned during her years in CHIJ Opera Estate and Katong Convent.

Servant Leadership is about honesty and integrity, leading by example, setting standards for yourself, good communication, having the courage to make tough decisions, having good relationships and giving recognition to others, she said.

“Serving the community is the best work of my life and it was inculcated in the convent school,” Dr Fatimah said in response to a question from a student.

The alumna also recounted her experiences leading humanitarian missions overseas in countries devastated by war, natural disasters and other calamities, and which needed her attention as a medical doctor.

Ms Trina Liang, UN Women National Committee Singapore president, spoke about her experience working with the UN to create gender equality in Third World countries.

“I learnt to help other people through my convent education,” she said.

She also spoke about rising above failure. “To approach failure as a lesson learnt is important,” she said.

Ms Tan Su Shan, DBS managing director and group head of wealth management, said that “IJ girls have humility and respect for everybody. IJ girls recognise and appreciate diversity”.

The Nominated Member of Parliament also shared that “as a boss you serve people” and stressed that it is as important to be just as “nice … to the cleaner” as to the CEO.

The students reacted to each speaker with cheers and applause, and also asked them questions.

Gabrielle Koh, a Sec Two student from CHIJ Toa Payoh, told CatholicNews: “Hearing all four speakers tell stories about their lives in IJ … it then struck me that the 10 years I spend in IJ will not just end at Sec Four, but would last me for a lifetime.

“Once an IJ girl, always an IJ girl,” she said.

Sonia Higgins, a Sec Three student from St Theresa’s Convent, shared: “One of the things Prof Chan said that really moved me was that women should not feel intimidated by men when they are in leadership positions.

“I feel this meant that whether you are a male or a female, you have the ability to lead.”

The Infant Jesus order was founded by Blessed Fr Nicholas Barre. The IJ Sisters set up their first school in Singapore, popularly known as Town Convent in Victoria St, in 1854.

Today, about 15,500 girls attend the 11 CHIJ schools yearly.

By Martin See
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