SINGAPORE – It was a weekend unlike any other for Madam Patsy Chong.
She had to fire an SAR 21 gun, take the standard obstacle course, make a short march route and spend the night in a military cage.
The 61-year-old was one of 103 women who on Saturday (September 1) booked "in" at Maju Camp in Clementi for a bootcamp for women to experience what the national service (NS) looks like.
The overnight camp, where more than 1,000 candidates compete for about 100 places, was organized by the Ang Mo Kio Women's Executive Committee. It was an initiative of the Advisory Council for Community Relations in Defense (Accord).
Each person pays $ 55 to participate in the camp.
Madam Chong was one of the oldest participants. But age and health – she undergoes treatment for breast cancer – were not a deterrent for the mother of four.
"I am very happy that I came, I see that this is a very challenging job," said Madam Chong, a freelance enrichment teacher who is also an active dragon boat.
She only signed up for the camp. "Although I have three boys who have been to the NS, they have not told me much about what they do in the camp," she said.
Her favorite activity: firing the SAR 21 gun. "It's tough, and to shoot down your enemy, you have to have accuracy, judgment and focus," she said.
For two days the women got a glimpse of the life of NS. They learned to evacuate wounded platoon pangs, to maneuver the standard obstacle course, and made a short route march. They also ate and slept like a recruit – eating in the kitchen and staying overnight in military cages.
The first day started at 10 am and ended only at 11 am. The next day started early at 6 am.
The youngest participant was 13 years old and the oldest was 64. The average age was 29.
Some have signed up to friends and relatives, although a few came alone.
Athi Ramesh Athirah, 13, was encouraged by her father, who is a member of the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps, to join the camp.
"He asked if I was interested because I had already told him that I did not want a job and wanted to be a regular customer," said the student Secondary 1 of the Raffles Girls School.
Mrs. Joanna Portilla, Chairman of the Ang Ma Kio Women's Executive Committee, said the committee hopes to organize similar events in the future. Because of the overwhelming reaction to the camp, the organizer had to keep a vote.
"Women are the backbone of support, especially when their husbands, sons or brothers start training or being called into the camp," she said.
Senior Minister of National Defense Maliki Osman, who is co-chair of Accord, joined in a dialogue with the participants.
"I am glad that many of you come from different layers of the population, different professions, different professions and what binds us together is this strong desire to know more about what we can do to support NS," he told them.
Some said that they had reserved the camp on Sunday with a better appreciation for NS's requirements.
Balloon sculptor and event organizer Brenda Eng joined the camp with her mother, sister and aunt. The 31-year-old said, "We're from a woman-dominated family, so now if my cousin takes home a friend who's in the army … I'll tell my cousin if he has to go back to serve, go please come back and serve.
She added: "Do not tell him to join our family gatherings because he may be super tired."