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What Outdoor Education Done for Me

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What Outdoor Education done for me….by Abdul Kahlid, 25 May 2010

As I ponder on the question that stares into me, I sit writing this piece of reflection with the knowledge that I benefitted from an institution which the late Dr Goh Keng Swee created – Outward Bound School of Singapore – in 1967, as a form of holy order that all young Singapore pre-National Servicemen had to undergo as a preparation before the actual military service. He was certainly ahead of his time and who would have thought the institution he created in 1967 is now one of the leading institutions that shape character and leadership for people of all walks of life and age.

My early experiences and exposure of the outdoors was through Boy Scouts. I was conscripted into the boy scouts unit when I was in secondary 2, though there was no scout unit in my secondary school. This was to be made possible as I joined an Open unit, which was open to students of secondary school who had no scout unit in its premises. My very simple reason for wanting to join the Boy Scouts unit were to have a chance to experience the outdoors, get close to nature, be skilled in craftsmanship (I learnt that I would learn to tie knots, pitch tents, use a stove, operate kerosene lamps, learn some survival skills and many more), as well as forge friendship and brotherhood with others. I was curious about expeditions, mountain climbing trips and wondered what it would be like to trek through one. My years in Scouts opened my eyes and ears and introduced to me a world I had only read in books and seen on television. I recall my experiences at Mt Ophir and Gunung Tahan with a lot of fond memory. I also recall our trips to Pulau Tekong when it was still open to civilians before it was gazetted by the government for military training. I recall bathing by the well waters and walking past hot springs at Pulau Tekong, and these were normal experiences then. I returned during my Pre-U days to serve as a volunteer cub scout leader and the joys of interacting with younger charges embarking on this journey filled me with a sense of pride and joy. There was one time I remember an incident that was indicative of the level of outdoor skills and awareness of safety management. As Scouts, we are always proud of our pioneering skills. We set up a Flying Fox as a demonstration activity and showcase of our skills. We self tested the pulley and stopper functions till once the pulley was trapped at a height of 2 storeys along its line of flight. Being the person where I think I need to solve the situation, I actually climbed on the Flying Fox flight rope and unshackled the trapped pulley, much to my horror and realization I was 2 storeys in height above ground. I lost my grip and landed the ground. To my relief, I landed unhurt somehow.

Now as I look back, that was really a spontaneous reaction without much risk assessed and managed. But that was how I think most people learnt and did what we had to do during outdoor activites. It was just one of the many immature decisions. I also remembered canoeing across Coney Island to Pulua Ubin on a double seater kayak, loaded with our food and equipment and no safety escort boat providing supervision during the channel crossing to Pulau Ubin. To our relief, the SAF boatman were nearby and offered assistance to escort us across the channel to land us safely on Camp 1 OBSS at that time, after which we hugged the coastline and made our way to Kampong Bahru campsite.

As I reflect, these were the experiences that made me resilient, and toughened me up. It build up my reserve and perseverance and determination. It made me aware of what I must not do the next time I did something like that again. It also brought a certain awe about nature and its surroundings, that I enjoyed being in its midst. I loved it so much that I made it a career when I joined Outward Bound Singapore after being awarded a New Zealand Tourism Board scholarship to experience what OBNZ had to offer me in 1990 October. I will never forget this experience as this opened up numerous doors for self improvement, development as well as personal and professional growth. I often liken my story to the famous one titled “The Path Less Travelled”, by M Scott Peck. It is so true in spirit to that title. There have been many moments throughout my Outward Bound journey, which made me think how fortunate I have truly been to bask in this rare opportunity to help others become a better and confident person by having challenges and nature provide the teachable moments. I have never once felt I was doing this as a job. The work I am doing and the strong affiliation for what I do and believe in about the outdoors blurs the boundaries of what is work and what is hobby. Providence has always overlooked my shoulder and once again, I find myself in a position I never have imagined would happen. Right now, I am responsible for training and educating the future of outdoor educators in Singapore, as well as in a position to give it all back to Singapore and Asia, through my networks and co-operation, collaborative projects with outdoor educators in the Asian community. My sincere wish is to write a book or books that will contribute to the past legacy of outdoor education in Singapore and preserve and present to the future a way of knowing about outdoor education in Singapore.

I have received much from my personal engagement with outdoor education through Scouts, Outward Bound and now at Republic Polytechnic. I am in the process of paying it. I hope to continue doing this, so that outdoor education in Singapore can bring forth many more benefits for the future generation of Singaporeans.…...

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