How are schools helping families through the pandemic?

30th July 2020 by Gracie Stewart 3 Min ReadFrom ensuring home-based learning matches the quality of education delivered in the classroom, to managing the financial impacts of the outbreak, SHINHE CHO, Digital Marketing Manager at International Community School Singapore, shares some of the ways the school is helping families through the pandemic.Tuition freezeSingapore is among the 10 most expensive countries in the world for an international education. So, it’s no great surprise that COVID-19 has brought about financial difficulties for many families. However, while school fees still need to be paid, there’s some good news for parents; many international schools are looking to freeze tuition fees for the 2020-21 academic year.At ICS Singapore, the Board of Directors has voted to freeze tuition at the current rate as a way to help support families during this difficult time. This means the current published fees will remain the same for the next school year.As a registered charity, ICS operates solely on tuition and donations. All profit is placed into financial reserves at the end of each school year to be reinvested directly into the school and children’s learning. The decision to not increase tuition for the upcoming  year means ICS will use its financial reserves to cover the difference between the originally planned 3% increase and the actual 0% increase in fees. Staff wearing masks, ready to welcome students backOnline learning hubSince the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures (including the Circuit Breaker here in Singapore), schools around the world have been rolling out online learning. This has allowed students to continue their studies without interruption. While home-based learning can’t substitute entirely for classroom learning, according to former Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, “it’s important that schools blend the two, so they can harness the best of both worlds in a modern education system”.As a result, ICS Singapore has introduced an Online Learning Hub to keep the community connected and engaged. The idea is to promote continuous learning whether at school or at home. The Online Learning Hub provides useful tips, resource recommendations, health and wellness advice, online learning expectations and more, and is a one-stop shop for students’ continuous learning. The school has also introduced an #OnlineLearningWins hashtag across its social media accounts as a way to promote positive home-based learning. Socially distanced desksNew health and safety protocolsThere’s plenty for children to look forward to when they return after the summer break; catching up with friends, for starters! However, not everything will remain the same. Schools wil be looking to introduce a “new normal”. This means finding ways to reopen without putting pupils, teachers and their families at risk.ICS has been working hard to get the campus ready to resume face-to-face learning on 12 August. The team says that they’re committed to providing the safest possible environment for children to learn in. To this end, they’ve implemented all of the protocols and procedures the Singapore government has mandated on campus. This includes evaluating changes in the following areas:Operations: How children access campus, the bus service, drop-off and pick-up, and use of the canteen, gym and playground.Scheduling: Safe distancing of students in hallways, staggered bell schedules, and altered recess and lunch times.Teaching and learning: Distanced desks in classrooms, equipment wiped down between classes, wearing masks, no mixing of small groups, and assigned seating and collaboration work.Social-emotional: Individual counselling available, and K-12 in-class presentations by counsellors about safe behaviours and safe classrooms.Find out more about ICS and contact the school at ics.edu.sg.

6 ways to help out during COVID-19

9th June 2020 by Expat Living 3 Min ReadMillions of livelihoods have been affected by COVID-19 – and we’re not sure how long the situation may last. If you’re in position to help those in Singapore who are struggling in the pandemic, from small businesses to vulnerable communities, there are lots of options. Here are some ideas for starters – a small act can go a long way!#1 Shop onlineMost of our favourite stores may not have opened their doors yet, but we can still show our support by shopping online. Whether it’s your favourite furniture store or grocer, many companies have online platforms that are easy to browse and order from. Best of all, you can get everything sent right to your doorstep.#2 Buy cash vouchers or packagesSome brands and entertainment centres are offering advanced purchase packages and cash vouchers that you can use when things are up and running again. Not only will you be helping them through this difficult time, you can look forward to enjoying their services later on! #3 Choose localAnother thing you can do is to visit your local hawker centre and drop in to small neighbourhood eateries and cafés that may be having a tough time. It’s the smaller places that really need our help right now! Plus, there are also small home-based businesses that we can support.We also have a great list of restaurants with delivery and takeaway options – some have great dining deals to snag! And, if you’re able to, it’s a nice gesture to add a tip for your food delivery guys (or even order a meal for them – GrabFood allows this option).#4 Volunteer your timeCharities and organisations are working around the clock to help people in need. There are many ways you can help, from befriending and accompanying the elderly for medical appointments to packing meals and tutoring needy students. Head to sgunited.gov.sg to find out how you can help.There’s also Love Translated, a cool initiative where you can send encouraging messages to migrant workers in Singapore. Just WhatsApp your message to 8110 5683 and it’ll be sent to the workers in their native languages!#5 Donate moneyIf you’re keen to give a cash donation, there are many causes to contribute to. Giving.sg is a great platform for finding out who you can donate to. They include heartwarming ground-up initiatives that have started in Singapore. Virus-specific relief is also listed. For instance, you can contribute to the Migrant Workers’ Assistance Fund to sponsor meals for foreign workers, Beyond Social Services to provide Wi-Fi access for low-income families or AWARE to help women who are victims of sexual assault. The list goes on.We also shouldn’t forget practitioners in the arts scene – many of them are struggling financially due to cancelled performances and gigs. You can send in donations to help them during this period. Some non-profit local theatre companies to check out include Wild Rice and The Singapore Repertory Theatre. #6 Donate essential itemsAnd, of course, you can make in-kind donations for items that different communities need during this time. If you have working laptops lying around at home, for example, send them to Engineering Good. They’ll fix them up and pass them along to needy individuals. Or, if you’re good at sewing, join the efforts by Masks Sewn With Love to make reusable cloth masks for vulnerable communities in Singapore.Along with masks, sanitising products are also in high demand. If you’ve got some of these to spare, why not pass them along to others who need them more? Contribute.sg and Masks for All SG have teamed up to collect and distribute these items. Find out more now.City of Good is also working with charities to find out specific items that they need, from antibacterial soap to thermometers. Find out more about how you can help here. Looking for more about living in Singapore?Virtual therapy and counselling sessionsLook chic with a mask on!

Long-distance grief in the time of COVID-19

8th May 2020 by Melinda Murphy 3 Min ReadIt’s always hard to live overseas when there’s a crisis back home – family funerals, for example – but COVID-19 has created the worst kind of heartache and grief for far too many.I usually love living abroad – and I especially love living in Singapore. But not now, not today. You see, my sweet father-in-law died in the United States yesterday and we couldn’t go back to say goodbye. Nor can we hold a traditional funeral with everybody under lockdown.COVID-19 didn’t kill this dear family member of mine, but it has certainly changed the way we mourn him. I suspect there will be many more of these sad stories with people losing loved ones back home, many to the virus or perhaps just other natural deaths. And what if somebody dies here?In some ways, Flying Home specialises in long-distance grief. For years now, they’ve worked to repatriate people who have died in Singapore so they can return home for burials and funerals with their loved ones. The world’s current situation has changed this to some degree. For example, if a person here dies of COVID-19, they can only be cremated to return home at a later date, and funerals back home are often delayed.So, how then do we honour our loved ones? The Flying Home team has some great suggestions. #1 Don’t delay your griefFunerals help us heal, and delaying them also delays the healing. Work together to plan what will be said and what will unfold at the service, no matter how small the service will be. Working together to plan makes everybody feel a part of the mourning process. If there’s a small service at a church, consider live-streaming it to family members around the globe.#2 Mark the loss privatelyHave some sort of service, even if it’s only a private one in your own home with immediate family. Display photos of the person who died, light a candle, say a prayer or read a text aloud that is meaningful to you. You can even play music while sharing thoughts and memories. Or perhaps you’d rather release balloons at the beach or go to a park and pray with your family. Create your own version of a small memorial.#3 Plan a memorial service for laterWhile it’s impossible to really know when the pandemic will end, you can still talk about what a memorial service will include and where it will take place. Doing this now rather than later helps the healing process begin and deal with their grief. When the restrictions are lifted and we can all be together again, gather with your loved ones and say a proper farewell.#4 Use technology to connectIn times of grief, it’s important to connect with loved ones. Sadly, several of my friends in New York have already held virtual memorial services for family members and friends who have died of COVID-19. One of them had almost 100 attendees. It’s hard for everybody to talk during these, but the chat function helps everybody share memories while one or two people say something meaningful. It may seem a bit hokey, but by all accounts, these virtual memorial services are healing.#5 Write!As a professional writer, I find sitting down and writing about the person I’ve lost can help. I write about them, reminding myself what I loved and what I’ll miss. Sometimes I even write to them, telling them things I’ve left unsaid. Or, I write to the other people who are also grieving, sharing my memories and love. I was surprised when my 11-year-old daughter did the same yesterday. Writing does heal.I’ve really struggled with not being able to be there for my family, not being able to say goodbye. I tried to explain to my nine-year-old son that it’s okay. We can still say our own goodbye. And his grandfather will be remembered over and over in small ceremonies across the globe, each of us saying our goodbyes before we get together to say the final farewell.For other ideas about how to celebrate the life of someone you’ve lost, see this article. Find out more about Flying Home.This article first appeared in the May 2020 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!

Take the “Pay a Meal Forward” Challenge

27th April 2020 by Melinda Murphy 2 Min ReadMy friend Melody sent me a text the other day.“My friend sent our family a Peking Duck dinner earlier this week. We’d like to pay it forward and do the same for you. Is tonight okay?”It was perhaps the nicest text I’ve ever gotten. My eyes welled up with tears. After all, we’d had a pretty hard couple of weeks with the death of my father-in-law in the US. The simple act of somebody sending us a meal was an incredible lift — a virtual hug in the days of no hugs allowed. It made the whole family feel loved and cherished. I grew up in Texas where families always bring food after a death, but things are different here and times are different now. People can’t whip up a homemade meal and then just drop it off. COVID-19 makes that impossible. Which is why this simple act of food delivery meant so very much. And not only did sending the food boost us, but it also supported the local restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis. It was the ultimate in giving back.And you know what? We decided to pay it forward by sending a meal to our friends who also had a death in their immediate family this week. And you know what? She said she’s planning to pay it forward, too. So I got an idea.The “Pay a Meal Forward” challenge for youDo you know somebody who could use a lift? A friend who has also lost someone? A family having a particularly challenging time? If not, how about an organisation that works with the needy? There are so many people in these times that could use support. So I challenge you — yup, you sitting right there reading this: help the restaurants and help others at the same time by Paying a Meal Forward. It doesn’t have to be as fancy as Peking Duck. It truly is the thought that counts.Just choose your favourite restaurant and then do it: Pay a Meal Forward and make somebody feel loved.And if you are one of the lucky people to get a meal delivered, please share on our Facebook page. Let’s spread some joy, people!Need help finding a restaurant? Check out our article on great restaurants that are doing deliveries or browse options in Dempsey.

Craving Normalcy & Fighting the Panic

Being in the middle of this pandemic or COVID-19 (couldn’t they have come up with a catchier name?) is starting to wear on us all emotionally. Even if we don’t quite realise it. The big extension until 1 June didn’t help. I’m guessing you’re feeling a bit like I do: depressed, panicked and a bit fearful. But I don’t think we can let it win. We need to acknowledge whatever negative feelings, and then fight like hell against them. Here are my thoughts – and how I’m fighting to stay positive.Sleep — or lack ofThe clock reads 3.47am. Again. For what feels like the gazillionth night, I am wide awake. It’s not like insomnia of days of old when I was worried or panicked about something in particular. Rather, it’s just I can’t sleep anymore. My new routine is lay awake all night; manage the day pretty well; take a 20-minute power nap at 4pm; push through dinner and the kids’ bedtime; try to watch Netflix; fall asleep on the couch at 9pm; wake up at midnight; climb straight into bed; and wait to fall asleep at 4am. It’s like jet lag without the fun of getting it. My nine-year-old son can’t sleep either. It makes me so very sad when he peeks his head into the family room at 10pm (waking me up on the couch for a brief few minutes).Unexpected panicAnd when I went to the grocery store last week, I found myself in a mini-panic. It happened in the canned tomato aisle. Or what used to be the canned tomato aisle. There were no canned tomatoes. And no flour or sugar a couple of aisles over. I wanted to make my husband a cake for our 20th wedding anniversary, but I couldn’t find anything I needed. I settled for a frozen cheesecake. Lucky, I guess. It was far less work and tasted okay.But that panic — that panic was unexpected. That’s just not me. I’m a glass half-full kind of gal. My eyes peeping above my mask started to well with tears. I found myself breathing a bit faster and I had to work to slow it down, to not let the panic seep in. I found myself wondering yet again if I was living in the early scenes of one of those end-of-the-earth movies we’ve all watched. Did the horror start with a few news stories on the radio that became wall-to-wall news and then silence? Will this end in a few weeks or just get worse? Is this what happened before The Hunger Games or The Walking Dead? All those shows always seem to feature presidents not listening to scientists, don’t they? As an American, that feels a little too familiar just now.And again, I had to fight to keep that panic at bay. “It is not going to win. I am not going to give into this.” Undercurrent of concernBut the point it, this whole pandemic is getting to me in ways I don’t quite realize and it’s probably getting to you, too. On the surface, I feel okay. My kids are doing their best to soldier through eLearning. I’m so very proud of how hard they’re trying, though I see it getting to them, too — some days more than others. Me? I’m busy working on stories for Expat Living. I have lots of teleconferences with friends — even friends I haven’t seen in a long time, which is super nice. Life is pretty good, actually. I even started a website of nothing but good news and resources just so I would make myself create a daily gratitude list for all that is still good in the world.But just the same, the coronavirus is wearing us all down whether we realise it or not — and I’m not alone. It seems lots of people are in my boat, depressed and panicked both here and across the globe. A mattress company in the US called SleepStandards did a survey and found that about three quarters of those surveyed said they aren’t sleeping well.That’s not good news. Why? Because chronic insomnia can lead to all sorts of health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s. Equally bad? It can leave you open to getting COVID-19. All the more reason to get a grip on this before the panic gets a grip on you.Getting better sleepDonn Posner, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a founding member of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine, gave the Harvard Business Review a few steps to fight the panic and help get your sleep back into a rhythm.Don’t take napsDon’t try to sleep in after a bad night’s sleepDo spend time in the sun during the dayAvoid nicotine and caffeineGet plenty of exerciseIf you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do somethingDreamsGreat. So now you can get to sleep, but even if you do sleep, you might not sleep well. Are you dreaming like a crazy person? That apparently is pretty common just now, too. In fact, Google searches for “Why am I having weird dreams lately?” have quadrupled in the US.Research shows that stress during the day affects what you dream about at night. Asleep, your mind goes where it dare not during the day sometimes exploring things that frighten and panic you.“COVID throws up many questions,” Anjhula Mya Sigh Bais, a psychologist, told the Huffington Post. “Your dreams are playing out survival scenarios in a bid to maintain hope, preparedness and stability.Truly, psychologists are having field days helping you explain your wildest dreams. But dreams are good. They help us work out what we cannot during the day. Our minds are taking care of us. Embrace it.Feeling unsettledBut what about that feeling of unease during the day? That folks, is grief. I remember this feeling after 9/11 when I lived in New York. The whole city walked around in a bit of disbelief, longing for life to return to normal. I’m guessing this is how people feel during war, too. And while we weren’t attacked by a typical enemy, it feels the same. COVID-19 truly is an enemy.It’s normal to feel this way. It’s normal for the days to blend together. And it’s normal to feel blue. Life as we know it has stopped and it may never quite return.It’s normal …  but these feeling don’t have to take over.The solutionSo what can we do about it? Well, for starters, you can’t give in. You just can’t. Feeling panicky and being enveloped in grief actually lowers your immune system. This means we need to be kind to ourselves. Accept that you’re hurting even if you don’t quite realise it. Don’t pressure yourself to write the next great novel or solve world peace. Breathe. Look for the positives. Realise you aren’t going to be a perfect parent during all this. Are your kids safe? Healthy? Fed? Then you’re smashing it as a parent.And then think ahead to what you want life to be like again. Plan for that day. Dream about it. Hang onto the knowledge that things won’t stay like this forever. There is a lot of good in the here and now, too. Search it out. And mostly, just be grateful that you now realise just how good life was – and will be again.Remember, this too shall pass.For more tips on how to fight the panic, read our top five tips on how to stay healthy.