I have previously mentioned Care2Run, a sports mentoring programme I had recently become involved in.
Sometime in December, my fellow mentors requested me to to write an article on it for publication in The Star, as one of the editors of the weekend pages had expressed an interest in our project and a willingness to run a story on it. This is the final draft, which was accepted for publication and was published on 23rd January 2016. The mentors and mentees were all very proud to have been featured, and although my involvement in the group has since reduced somewhat due to work commitments and time constraints, I still believe we have a really good thing going on here and I am glad the article generated enough interest that we managed to recruit more volunteers.
Care2Run, A Sports Mentoring Programme With A Difference
It was to be a lesson in empathy and teamwork.
THE teenage boys were surprised by the reversal of roles. The mentors they had looked up to as coaches had assumed the role of weaker, slower runners and the boys found themselves playing mentor instead.
Several were bashful and tongue-tied, and some were resentful at being slowed down as they believed their goal was to be the fastest. Most, however, jumped into their new roles with relish, supporting, encouraging and watching over their newly feeble charges.
One even used psychology, talking to his partner about footall to take his mind off the uphill climb.
At the meeting point at the top of the hill, the adult mentors provided open feedback on how the mentees performed as coaches without nagging, lecturing, or instructing them. The mentees learned from observing their mentors and each other, and the empathetic mentees were applauded.
On the run back down the hill, the mentees were noticeably gentler, more responsive and more thoughtful. The objective of the exercise was to prepare the mentees as running buddies for cancer survivors.
Welcome to Care2Run by Project H.O.P.E. (Healing Opportunities for People Everywhere), a volunteer-run sports outreach and mentoring programme with a difference, where corporate stalwarts, ordinary professionals and service organisations collaborate to enable both children and adults to achieve greater things through sports and outdoor activities.
Three adventure and fitness enthusiasts, Prem Kumar Ramadas (a HR consultant by profession), Chia Mee Leng (a tax consultant) and Elgy Tan (a corporate lawyer) established the programme in 2014.
Since then, Project H.O.P.E. has benefitted over 150 children. Its pilot programme in December 2014 saw its team of volunteer mentors taking 60 children from different age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds to the Kota Damansara Community Forest, Petaling Jaya, to trek and take part in experiential games. For many of the children, it was their first time in an actual forest. Through the activities, the children were given the opportunity to think, create, connect and engage with one another and demonstrate teamwork.
The following excursion in September 2015, branded as the Coastal Obstacle Reconnaissance Experience (C.O.R.E.), saw 30 volunteers accompanying 40 participants and seven caretakers from the Women’s Aid Organisation and Prudential Welfare Home to explore the beach and mangrove forests of Pantai Cermin (near Port Dickson’s Blue Lagoon), where participants were given lessons in basic environmental awareness, natural history and astronomy.
The first-hand experience of trekking, handling and observing mangrove flora and fauna, cleaning up the beach and climbing up to the Cape Rachado lighthouse proved to be an empowering exercise for the participants.
Chia says Care2Run has given her the opportunity to bond with the children while training in the great outdoors.
“This brings out compassion and love which nurture my inner self before it does the children! Reminding the children of the do’s and don’ts also remind me to reflect deeply on whether I practise what we are preaching,” avers this senior accountant who has done numerous humanitarian and medical relief missions worldwide.
Rudhra Krishnasamy, Care2Run Game Master, relates his experience: "Sharing my love of running with these youngsters was a great experience and watching them improve from session to session was inspiring and gratifying. I'm really looking forward to the next series."
"Mentees observe good values demonstrated by mentors during activities and are inspired to follow suit. They learn in an environment that encourages good behaviour. It's like a family," reports Chong Yao Jung (YJ), Project HOPE Co-Founder and Care2Run Game Master.
The beneficiaries of the programme come from diverse backgrounds, and some come from children’s shelters and welfare homes.
They were enthusiastic when asked for their feedback. Jaswindran Kaveendar, 14, was hopeful that the programme will continue for many years: “It is really fun and we love it. Every Wednesday and Saturday, we wait for our mentors to come and pick us up. They are really cool people and we have fun when they teach us new things.”
"Care2Run programme has increased my confidence, taught me responsibility and unveiled my potential in sports. I am keen to join the programme again." enthused Hamzavilarosa bin Sainin, 13
Lau Wee En, 7, had this to say following the Fruity Fun Game session, which incorporates sports and nutrition education: “I eat more fruits now because it makes me stronger and also run faster than you.”
The latest mentoring programme, which commenced in October 2015, aspires to use sports as a platform to build character. The mentees get frequent lessons on being considerate, responsible and helpful.
Running workouts, games and hikes improve their physical strength and stamina, but it is the lessons imparted and desirable behaviour modelled by the mentors, all working professionals who carve out time each week to volunteer with this programme, that will ultimately inculcate good values in the youngsters.
Running was chosen as the preferred sport because it is inclusive, and no one is left on the bench. It also needs very little equipment or resources compared to other sports.
By holding weeknight sessions on the hallowed grounds of Universiti Malaya, the mentors also hope to inspire academic ambition in the youngsters.
“One day,” the youngsters are told, “You could end up studying here or other leading universities. Work hard. Never give up on your dreams. See yourself as a winner and a leader.”
The mentors play the role of older siblings, guardians and coaches, not only pairing up with mentees during activities but also driving them to and from activities, ensuring they are well-hydrated and not running on an empty stomach, taking them to shop for proper footwear, securing sponsorship, and providing counselling, feedback and advice when requested.
Values driven home to the mentees with each session include:
-Celebrate each other’s successes.
-Take responsibility for your own faults and shortcomings.
-Work as a team. Encourage and support others.
-Being helpful and polite is the responsible and grownup thing to do.
-Speak kindly and positively to one another.
-Take care of your environment and surroundings.
Mentors lead the way in assisting and encouraging others, cleaning up after activities and ensuring that health and safety protocols are met.
The real test of the effectiveness of the mentoring programme arrived at our first group race, the Blue Cap Relay for Prostate Cancer, held at Universiti Malaya on Nov 29, 2015. The morning, admittedly, did not get off to a perfect start. Some mentees were tardy, some had overslept, and some of the teens were in such high spirits that they started roughhousing each other. The younger children had an attack of the nerves and some started crying. But as the day went on, the mentees all rose to the occasion, and the lessons learned in all those weeks of training kicked in.
The teens ran alongside their mentors and companions, shouting words of encouragement. They observed their mentors cheering the elderly, the differently-abled, and young children, and did the same, bashfully and awkwardly at first, but with more gusto and conviction as more runners started approaching the finish line.
When the younger children crossed the finish line, some were in tears after tripping and stumbling. However, for most of the children (and even adults!), upon receiving their first ever finishers’ medals, beamed proudly and nodded when asked if they would do the run again, having internalised a lesson about finishing what one started and not giving up even when tired.
After lunch, the mentees helped to clean up the event site and picked up litter as a lesson in responsibility, gratitude and leaving things in a better state than when they found it.
Project H.O.P.E also won three race trophies – for the Cancer Survivor, 50s and Mixed Age Female categories, victories which would certainly inspire the mentees to continue with the programme and set greater goals for themselves.
The success of this programme relies heavily on the availability of reliable mentors and sponsors. We welcome more volunteers to join us so that we include more children in our project. Interested individuals are invited to apply via email and fill in a basic questionnaire. Volunteers are required to attend four sessions of mentoring training beginning Jan 30 (Saturday).