It was supposed to be a celebratory weekend, with Singapore hosting the SEA Games. Then out of the blue, horrifying news emerged that a team of Tanjong Katong Primary kids with their teachers was trapped at Mount Kinabalu when an earthquake hit Sabah.
I felt heart sick at the news, especially when updates came in on the rising death toll. What a terrible, terrible tragedy. As it stands now, six students and one teacher have lost their lives. Tomorrow has also been declared a Day of National Remembrance in sympathy and support of the families who have lost their loved ones.
But even as condolences poured out for the victims and their families, there have been infuriating comments by netizens who are baying for MOE or the school’s blood with righteous indignation, saying “they have to be accountable”, also they need to “learn from this”.
It made my blood boil. Why is it there are always folks who deem it necessary to open their mouths and say things that have no value to anyone whatsoever? This was an ACCIDENT. I capitalise it cos some people seem to have trouble understanding the meaning of the word. An appalling, tragic accident but an accident nonetheless. Accidents can happen anywhere, anytime. They are unforeseen.
This was not a case of negligence. Many have climbed the same route on Mount K before this group (yes, even kids) for years, without incident. It’s considered challenging but not dangerous. An earthquake is something out of the ordinary. In the Borneo region, earthquakes aren’t even that common. There was no reason to suspect that anything out of the ordinary would happen on this trip.
What disgusts me is that some people just have the need to blame others when something bad happens. Somebody must pay! (Worse still are those who use incidents as simply another opportunity to take pot shots at the gahmen). Newsflash: bad things do happen to good people. All the time. It often doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily somebody’s fault. All that group did wrong was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I think MOE, especially Minister Heng Swee Keat, has handled the situation with sensitivity and promptness. Much appreciation and admiration also go to the Sabah mountain guides who risked their own lives to save others, unlike some allegations of the ineptness of the Malaysian government.
Some people are saying the incident was preventable and why should 12 year olds have to go to Mount K. I can understand that people are more upset cos it’s kids. There’s something about young lives cut short that’s especially tragic and heart-wrenching. But behind the sentiment that we shouldn’t allow kids to go to Mount K is the belief that I find more and more prevalent among Singaporean parents these days – that we should shield our kids from anything that has even the remotest possibility of danger.
If we follow this argument, there will be no end because what one person considers “potentially dangerous” can differ drastically from the next. Go South Korea can get Mers. Go Middle East got civil unrest. Fly over Ukraine can get shot down. Go to NZ, Japan or China can have earthquakes. Maybe that means we shouldn’t go overseas. But wait, my kid can also get hurt at Outward Bound School! Go camping can get dehydrated because not used to the heat. Or get hurt by wild boar. Ok ok, maybe no need to teach 12-year-olds leadership skills? Just go to school and back (and maybe tuition centre). But leave the house also can get knocked down by crazy drunk driver! (And anyway go to school also quite inconvenient these days. Must go all the way to Mount Sinai leh. MOE so one kind.) Maybe just stay home is best. Home-school lor. Wait a minute, stay at home also can have danger. Can get scalded by hot water, cut by sharp knives, suffocated by leaky gas pipes, etc. How liddat??
Ok, I may be exaggerating but you get my drift. At what point do we stop treating our children like they are made of glass? If parents feel that every accident is a justifiable reason to force the authorities’ hand, very soon, we will be stunting our children’s life experiences by curbing their every movement. As a result, we will be bringing up individuals who are completely incapable of functioning in society, let alone be a contributing member. As I’ve said before, if our entire life’s goal is to not let anything happen to our kids, well…nothing ever will. We can’t protect our children from every single “what if”.
Everyone has their own risk appetite. If you really feel uncomfortable about letting your child go on an expedition, by all means, don’t give permission. That’s your right. But please don’t strongarm MOE into mandating that every other parent should toe the line that you set. Here, a mum of an ex-TKPS student speaks up on the value of the Mount K expedition.
Back to the topic at hand, which is the responses to the incident. In a crisis, the most valuable people are those who offer help, offer support and if not, at least offer prayers. Not the ones who point fingers and think they are so brilliant cos they speak with the benefit of hindsight. These contribute nothing and make a difficult situation worse. Furthermore, I suspect many of these empty vessels are those who in a crisis, would be the least likely to help others. The ones who talk the most tend to do the least.
How we choose to respond to any situation is up to us. If there’s something I “learned” from this episode, it’s that challenging times reveal true characters. I cannot even imagine the pain the parents of the lost ones must be going through. The least we can do is show our solidarity and grieve with them. May we show ourselves to have a gracious heart.