SINGAPORE – They went canoeing and sailing in the sun and the rain, and spent a day hiking from one end of Pulau Ubin to the other.
They also did orienteering and “often got hopelessly lost”, recalled Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of the 17 days he and his peers had spent at Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) 50 years ago. Mr Lee, then a 15-year-old student, was among the first intake of participants of the adventure school in 1967.
Speaking at an event to mark the golden jubilee of OBS, he shared that those experiences pushed them to the limits. OBS ended a year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary with the ceremonial unfurling of the OBS Indiana sail on Wednesday (Nov 29) on Pulau Ubin.
“My coursemates and I found OBS a challenging experience, but we also enjoyed ourselves immensely,” Mr Lee said. “We came from different schools, different social backgrounds, different races, boys and girls. We made friends quickly. We also had to get fit, to learn new skills, to encourage one another along on exercises and adventures.”
He added: “Those 17 days had a lasting impact on us, and certainly on me.”
The event marked a new chapter for the adventure school, which has seen more than 500,000 Singaporeans participating in its activities since it began in 1967.
Currently, about 14,000 young people take part in OBS programmes each year. This number is set to more than triple to 45,000 by 2020, when a new OBS campus on Coney Island is expected to be ready.
From 2020, all Secondary 3 students have to go for a five-day OBS expedition-based camp which gathers young people from different schools and aims to impart skills such as leadership and teamwork.
At the event, Mr Lee, together with OBS youth alumni, also took the helm of a cutter sailboat headed for Coney Island from Pulau Ubin. He later mounted a nautical wheel at the site of the new OBS campus before visiting its facilities.
Mr Lee, who had also visited OBS 10 years ago on its 40th anniversary, shared that its mission to develop rugged young people is even more relevant now.
“Our children are growing up in a much more developed and urbanised environment,” he said. “There are fewer opportunities to rough it out in the outdoors, and shelter from bad weather is usually just a few steps away. Nowadays, parents, teachers and schools are also more protective.”
When children go “camping” now, they often sleep in the school hall or the classroom, he added. “So that sense of nature, the outdoors and adventure is not quite the same.”
Mr Lee noted that outdoor adventure learning is useful in imparting life lessons, such as teaching young people to be adaptable, which are hard to teach in the classroom.
To mark its 50th anniversary, OBS, now part of the National Youth Council, held a series of events this year. This included a homecoming where some 500 OBS participants, instructors and staff – past and present – relived memories, and also took part in water and height activities, and nature and heritage trails.
OBS offers activities that include a mix of land, water and height elements. Trainees learn everything from kayaking to cooking outdoors.
On Wednesday, Mr Lee also launched the OBS50 anniversary book, which includes personal stories from participants, instructors and partners through its years of youth development.
Among those who benefited from the adventure school was St Patrick’s School student Jonas Koh, who attended OBS last month.
For the 15-year-old, attending OBS helped him to step out of his comfort zone. “Before this, I’ve never slept outdoors before. So it was an eye-opening experience and taught me to appreciate the simple things that I have,” he said.