Sr Detha guiding students in gardening. Photos: HSCS

Hai Sing Catholic School (HSCS), located in Pasir Ris, was founded in 1959 by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM). Their patron saint, St Francis of Assisi, spent much of his time preaching about animals, exhorting that all creatures are brothers and sisters under God. Born in 1181 in Italy, St Francis was a pious figure who cared about the environment and wildlife, and made it his mission to spread awareness through his sermons.

Every year on Oct 4, we celebrate the feast of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecologists. Inspired by his teachings, HSCS seeks to play an integral role in bringing nature closer to our students.

The Garden of Peace

Nestled within the school grounds is a small plot of land named the Garden of Peace. This is one of many green spaces in HSCS, and is cared for by the Catholic students. The Garden is a place where students reconnect with nature by cultivating fruits and vegetables, and they learn many lessons through such interaction with creation.

Sister Bernadetha Kigo, the school chaplain, teaches students how to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables from seeds and saplings, transplant them into the garden, and care for them to maturity. She also explores with students how to make organic pesticides and in-house compost from food waste from fruit skins. The Garden of Peace is a space that is open to all students, and at recess time and in the late afternoons, students can be spotted tending to the plants or removing snails from the crops.

The #eggshellpot

Building on the basic lessons learnt from nature in the Garden of Peace, HSCS introduced the #eggshellpot project to motivate and develop a growth mindset in students. They were given a few seeds, some soil and an empty eggshell to use as an #eggshellpot. It was truly edifying how teachers saw self-doubting students who claimed not to possess green fingers delight in the growth of their seedlings after investing much patience and resilience.

It was also heartening to hear from students, through reading their reflections social media platforms and listening to them in casual conversation, to realise that they had gained valuable experiences. For one Sec 4 student, Izac Tan, his key takeaway from the #eggshellpot was “Whatever hard times you face, don’t give up. The work we put in is like the roots of a plant; it is the foundation of our goal. So don’t give up, even if it’s hard at the start.”

Juliana Lee, a Sec 1 form teacher, mused on her own experience. “Planting seems easy, but not everyone will succeed with the same seed. Different seeds need different types of environment and care. If you don’t succeed at first, try again with another seed! Students likewise, should aim to discover their talents and not be easily discouraged by failure.”

Indeed, their #eggshellpot experiences have taught students that some perseverance, dedication and eagerness in their endeavours can bring about great personal growth.

Sustainable living

HSCS also actively promotes the Franciscan message of conservation of the environment.

In 2019, some teachers and students shared various ways to encourage upcycling and reduce the use of single-use plastics in school. Catchy phrases such as “Don’t Use Straws” and “Bring Your Own Cups” played a big part in encouraging students to be environmentally conscious: students posted pictures of themselves drinking from their own reusable straws for their bubble tea orders on their social media accounts, and even the school canteen vendors participated enthusiastically in this project. HSCS students and staff also constructed art installations made completely out of recycled plastic drinking cups collected for a week from the school canteen. These were then displayed during the school’s 60th anniversary Homecoming dinner.

In 2020, students are encouraged to bring their own bottles when purchasing drinks from the drinks stalls. Any used plastic bottles are recycled into bottles for watering plants or even soap containers for wiping down their immediate areas of use during the post-Circuit Breaker period.

With programmes like the Garden of Peace, the #eggshellpot and the reduction and reuse of plastics campaign, students have learnt to become more environmentally aware, while also learning to care for and nurture Mother Nature to preserve the dignity of our common home, our earth.

Sr Bernadetha Kigo, FMM. Photo: Michelle Tan

Sr Bernadetha Kigo, who hails from Flores in Indonesia, became an FMM sister in 2003. “I am the youngest of five girls and one boy. My eldest sister, who joined the Carmelite nuns, could see that I was always trying to be a channel of God’s peace in our big, extended family, just like St Francis of Assisi in his community, so she secretly interceded for me to join the FMM sisters – and here I am!” she laughed.

Sr Detha, as she is affectionately known, came to Singapore in 2013 and became HSCS’s school chaplain in January 2018. Her traditional farming background and her love for peace explains the Garden’s creation and name.

“Today, many of our students live in flats. The school wanted to transmit the Franciscan ecological values to their students, so we started the Garden with Catholic Fellowship teachers and students. In the beginning, students found it tiring and didn’t like dirtying their hands. But they slowly learnt patience, and how to nurture young plants under their care with love and gentleness. Over time, we have harvested basil, spinach, chye sim, red ladies fingers, tomato, and even groundnuts and sunflowers.”

She continued, “When we ask the canteen vendors to cook the vegetables for us, many students are keen to try the school’s own organic produce, especially those who take care of the garden they are delighted every time they see and taste the fruits of their labour! Since we keep rotating our plants to keep the soil fertile, there is always new learning about different types of plants, and new wonder and joy. Even non-Catholic students and teachers are interested in the Garden of Peace!”

During this time of Covid-19, Sr Detha comes in once a week to the school to conduct sessions for the Catholic students. “Growing our Catholic faith follows the same principles; we have to be patient, and value and nurture our faith with respect and love before it increases and becomes strong. As Scripture says, if faith is planted in good soil, it produces harvest a hundredfold.”

She beamed with delight as she shared, “We find that students who help with the Garden are more compassionate, kind and gentle towards each other, with the stronger helping the weaker in many ways. They learn to work as a team, and take collective pride in the work of their hands. We too are very proud that the Garden of Peace promotes the Franciscan spirituality of our founders and the school’s Catholic ethos in this inspiring way.”

Contributed by Hai Sing Catholic School