Minding Their Language At House Of JOY

At the graduation of House of JOY’s English students, staff members from City Harvest Church played a special role.


Food? Check. Drinks? Check. Music? Check.

The “JOY Café” was ready for business. But this was not your ordinary café. It was a one-off setup for the 16 elderly students graduating from an Intermediate English Course, organized by House of JOY.

HOJ is a senior activity center run by City Harvest Community Service Association for the residents of Mountbatten Estate. This English course is one of its ways to help seniors lead an active life right in their neighborhood.

The “café” was setup by five full-time staff from City Harvest Church’s Creative and Editorial departments. They volunteered to play pretend waitpersons that day to help the students practice using their newly acquired language in a café setting.

“We thought of bringing the students out to a real café initially, but these elderly students may not be ready to speak to the servers in a real café,” said Debbie Wong, project manager at HOJ. “That was why we asked the volunteers to set up a café to allow the students to practice ordering food in English.”

Thee items on the menu were simple–curry puffs, fruit tarts and coffee–and the students learned these words with much zeal at their final English lesson.

“I want a curry puff and a coffee,” said one of the graduates, Tan Choon Sang, 70, a homemaker. “No sugar in coffee? I cannot take sugar.” Learning that the coffee was instant coffee mix containing sugar, she settled for a green tea instead.

Tan told City News that she wanted to learn English so that she could communicate with her grandchildren. But her newly-acquired tongue has come in handy in other ways as well. She related her experience having to give an Indian taxi driver directions to her destination. “I could tell him ‘opposite the police station’,” she said with a laugh.


This graduation party is the first of many collaborations that are to come. In the 1990s, CHCSA was a result of CHC’s efforts to build a “church without walls”, to bring the Gospel beyond the four walls of the church and to leave an impact on people who would not otherwise step into a church. The non-profit organization plans to bring back the good old days by getting CHC staff and members on board to serve the community.

“CHCSA has always been the channel to allow CHC to serve the community in non-religious settings, to make a difference in the community,” says Kenny Low, executive director of CHCSA. “In 2016, we would like to encourage CHC members to volunteer their time, talent and resources for community causes. It is apt for the staff to take the lead in the initiative.”

Mark Kwan, creative director at CHC, also the main person in charge of this event, echoes: “We want to encourage our staff to be more involved in different types community work related to CHCSA, so we are the first departments doing it,” he says.

“Church Without Walls was my first ministry in CHC,” added Kwan. “It has grown into CHCSA and they have been doing such a wonderful work touching the local community. I feel that it is really good we bring it back to the old days where staff and members of CHC can be involved in this good work reaching out to the community in practical ways.”

Besides the “food-ordering” exercise, the volunteers also played simple games like Human Bingo and Charades with the graduating students. They were especially excited while playing Charade, shouting out answers in their limited vocabulary.

The event ended with certificates being presented, and photos being taken. As the students left the center, they shook each volunteer’s hand gratefully, saying, “Thank you, we had fun” repeatedly.

Volunteer Huang Shilin, 32, said, “We could see that they benefitted from the lessons. They are very happy to have a place like this where they can learn and grow. Some of them are as old as 80, and today when they graduated, they looked so proud of their achievement. It was a very heart-warming experience for me.”