Happy helping

LIFE has a way of coming full circle sometimes. For 72-year-old Morni Sulaiman, who has returned to his teaching roots after close to three decades in the finance industry, this is especially true.

In 1974 he left his job as a teacher after spending 11 years teaching the Malay Language and Science at Newton Boys’ School, Buona Vista Secondary School and Maktab Paduka Sri Begawan in Brunei, where he was seconded by the Ministry of Education for two years. He moved on to join Overseas Union Bank Limited as a Bank Officer where he spent 28 years. When he retired in 2002, Mr Morni felt he still had a lot to give and continued to be busy as a grassroots leader, Health Promotion Board Senior Ambassador, Pioneer Generation Ambassador and volunteer with RSVP Singapore – The Organisation of Senior Volunteers, which he joined in 2011.

RSVP brought him back to his first love, teaching. He became a part of RSVP’s Mentoring Programme, where senior volunteers serve as mentors to impart moral values and life skills to primary school children who are considered at risk of dropping out of school.

Mr Morni with Marsiling Primary School students during a learning journey to URA City Gallery (photo credit: RSVP Singapore)

He and the other volunteers in RSVP’s Mentoring Programme went through a two-and-a-half-day workshop to prepare them for their sessions with the students. But even the training and Mr Morni’s past teaching experience could not prepare him for his first encounter with some of the students.

Mr Morni shared: “I was shocked when I returned to school as a mentor, more than three decades after I left my teaching job. I was there to help, but I met with Primary 5 and 6 children who used abusive language, even in the mentors’ presence! It was disheartening.”

He overcame his disappointment with the students’ behaviour by reminding himself why he had stepped forward to volunteer in the first place.

“These children were facing problems; some came from single-parent families or had ‘absentee’ parents. I told myself, if I don’t help them, who will? The children might fall into bad company and go astray. With that in mind, I persevered and managed to carry on,” he added.

During each three-hour mentoring session, Mr Morni and other RSVP volunteers would engage the students with activities such as story-telling, word and puzzle games, mathematical crossword puzzles, arts and crafts and role-playing. These activities allow mentors to share with the children values such as perseverance, responsibility and empathy, as well as life skills such as financial management.

The amiable senior may have been a mentor for five years, but the students sometimes still try to push their luck with rude behaviour. Two years ago, a Primary 4 student was extremely rude to him and constantly spewed vulgarities. Another student taunted him by propping his feet on the teacher’s desk. Instead of reacting harshly, Mr Morni kept his cool.

He knows blowing his top will not help and hence corrects them calmly and firmly. It is not easy but eventually Mr Morni’s patience and kindness pays off: “When I see improvements in their behaviour over time or when the children tell me they miss me on the last day of school, it gives me a sense of satisfaction, knowing that I’ve made a positive impact on them.”

Besides being a mentor figure to children once more, you’ll find the inspiring senior spending his time volunteering for one of the many causes he believes in. “I’ve been so blessed, I’m in good health and I’m grateful for what I have, so I believe in giving back to society and helping others,” said Mr Morni with a smile.

“I feel happy when I make others happy. What is more meaningful than helping others?”