Doing Good beyond the Office – Filling Hearts in a Landfill

December 10, 2018

Principal of My First Skool (MFS) at Blk 681A Jurong West, Paye Chia, oversees mentoring, projects, events and administrative work, amongst many more, on a daily basis. Outside of work, she took the time to help make a difference in Tondo, a district in Manila, the Philippines.


The overwhelming stench of the landfill hit Paye with a bang. It was a sensory overload.

As Paye walked through the mountains of rubbish, trying her best to maintain her balance, local children covered with thick dirt ran to her yearning for hugs. Naturally, her first reaction was to hesitate.

At that moment, Paye started to question herself. Why did she choose to come in the first place? And perhaps more importantly, what would be the consequence if she chose to go with her emotions and reject the child? Not embracing a child upon meeting for the first time was not limited to that particular moment, as the child might not come back to her for help in the future. Rejecting a child would also mean that she allowed herself to only serve the community on her own terms and level of comfort.

Summoning her conviction to help those in need and pushing past her negative emotions, Paye gradually became less averse to the area.

The dire living conditions of the Tondo district where Paye went to help out

It was an eye-opening experience when Paye first stepped into “Happyland”, a vast slum in Tondo where garbage was piled up everywhere. Poverty, malnutrition and diseases were a daily reality for the residents there.

The people living there made a living by scavenging for materials that can be resold or collecting food remains. They wash, sort and sell them just to earn a bit of money. This was hardly enough for the day.

“It was challenging and a culture shock for me, but sticking to my decision of making sure that my convictions were stronger than my emotions helped me to push on and do the best I could for the local community,” Paye shares.

Some of the living quarters of the local residents

Having grown up in an environment where basic needs such as cleanliness, proper meals, education and care from her families and friends are met, living in a landfill filled with garbage was something beyond what Paye could imagine.

However, as she heard more from her friends who had gone on mission trips to Tondo, and having seen the difficulties the locals faced through television documentaries, she found the determination to go and help.

Hence, in March this year, Paye together with her fellow volunteers embarked on a trip to Tondo, bringing supplies of clothes and shoes. They accessed the different parts of the rural areas on a jeepney, bringing the rations and supplies to families living in hard-to-reach places. At the homes, Paye and the volunteers played games and chatted with the families, gave them encouragement, hope and emotional support.

The local children teaching Paye local hand games

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John C. Maxwell. This was a quote that has continually given Paye the motivation to make a difference to the community, whichever community it is.

The experiences she had in Tondo impacted Paye so much that she continued to bring that continuous mindset of helping and giving time to others back to her daily life in Singapore.

Prior to being the Principal of the current centre, Paye was the Deputy Centre Lead at MFS at Yung An for six years, where she worked with children from disadvantaged backgrounds where meeting basic needs was a real struggle. The trip to Tondo helped develop a greater heart of compassion in Paye for serving this community.

Paye (centre, handing the box to the child) and her fellow volunteers distributing food to the local children

Seeing the families in the Tondo region struggling in the poverty cycle helped her better understand MFS families’ predicaments in getting out of the poverty cycle here in Singapore. Beyond material things, it was also about how schools teach children and families on principles and values. While children and families receive support from the community, they cannot be growing up with a “taker” mentality. Through charity events held in school, children and families from disadvantaged background can also see themselves as “givers”, where the giving could be in terms of their time and skills.

This could also be put into play through her pre-schools’ Start Small Dream Big (SSDB) activities. At MFS at Yung An, the book “The Giving Tree” was used to teach children that when they choose they give, they not only help others but also grow as a person with good character.

“Despite the difficult environment, the children in Tondo have such strong resilience in them. That is something I believe I can share with our children here at MFS and in Singapore. I am grateful to be able to be play a part in developing the next generation of children in Singapore. To me, it is easier to build up girls and boys, than to repair men and women.”

Note: All children’s faces have been intentionally blurred for privacy reasons