When Dick Lai and his family first arrived from Hong Kong in 2020, Dick didn’t quite know where he could get to know more Singaporeans and start to form roots in the new country he and his family wanted to call home. The FamilyTrees project was what got him started in volunteering with the community and strengthening bonds within his tight-knit family at the same time.

The father to two girls aged 9 and 7, Dick was first introduced to the FamilyTrees project by his company, coming onboard as a volunteer with the larger OneMillionTrees movement led by the National Parks Board. He is motivated by a desire to forge bonds with his new community and to spend time doing meaningful things as a family outdoors.

As a dedicated volunteer, Dick has spent many hours teaching other families how to plant trees and he finally got the opportunity to plant a tree with his own family by a stroke of luck: his friend had a child aged three, so he and his family could tag along and join in too. “That was in November 2021, and it was the very first tree we planted as a family at Fort Canning Park” beams Dick.

They've since planted two trees as a family, and he says it's been a real thrill for everyone in the family to spot their special trees whenever they visit the two parks for leisure family time on the weekends.

Tree-planting is full of life lessons

One of the first impressions Dick and his daughters had of Singapore when they had just arrived was how green it was.

“One of my daughters noticed that there were trees, plants and flowers everywhere, even in the Central Business District, and that it was very beautiful,” Dick says. “So when we had the chance to participate in the FamilyTrees project to plant our own tree, we jumped at it. It’s not often you get to plant your very own family tree, definitely not something you get to do in Hong Kong!”

Likening the process of tree-planting to life, Dick muses that there are many lessons to be drawn from tree-planting, lessons he hopes that will stick with his daughters as they grow up.

"Planting a tree requires a lot of hard work and effort, and you don't see the results immediately either," explains Dick.

"Sometimes, the tree will grow well if the conditions are right but other times, the tree may not grow well, no matter how much work you had put into planting it. That's really like life. I hope my daughters will remember this process and keep this memory close to their heart, especially when they are called to work hard in future."

Making it even more meaningful for your children

Ever mindful of the experience for the young children who participate in the project, Dick has some wise advice for parents.

Cautious Dick said with a knowing smile, "Firstly, it will be hard work so you will definitely need to help your children a lot. My elder daughter, who was 8 years old when we planted the tree, had trouble lifting the tree up to place the root ball into the soil as it was really heavy, I guess about 20kg! The changkol is really heavy too and may be dangerous for your little one so you'll want to watch the demonstration carefully."

With the technicalities out of the way, Dick says parents can maximise their experience by being very deliberate in explaining what's going on at all stages of the activity, from even before the activity has started, all the way through to after the tree has been planted.

"Kids will not understand the significance of this activity without your guidance, so you really should put in the effort to explain the steps in simple language that your young child will understand," says Dick, elaborating more on how parents can help their child get the most out of the activity.

"Parents could slowly explain why you need to dig a small hole in the ground to fit the root ball in, why the tree needs soil to be placed into the hole, and what will happen to the tree after it is planted."

Dick is so enthusiastic about this project that he still keeps up with the progress of his family trees at the NParks portal, and he hopes to share his love for the activity with others.

He says, "Tree-planting is truly such a richly meaningful activity for parents and children, and I'm really glad my kids, wife and I got to be a part of this project. And it’s even better that I can continue to spread the joy of planting trees with other families as a volunteer."