Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).


When Adversity Forges Strength

A self-guided lesson on resilience and nation-building with accompanying videos, quizzes and more.


Subject: Language & Literature, Character and Citizenship, History, Social Studies


Level: Lower Primary, Upper Primary

Recommended Time: 60 minutes

For Educators

Lesson Objectives:

  • Identify the challenges faced by the Samsui women working in a foreign land
  • Identify the challenges faced by residents of Bukit Ho Swee after the great fire
  • Reflect on beliefs and attitudes that can help overcome adversity
  • Identify and reflect on actions that demonstrated care and empathy in a time of adversity

Through this self-guided lesson, students will gain an overall understanding of two significant events that have shaped Singapore today – the arrival and contributions of a group of foreign workers turned immigrants, the Samsui women, as well as the great fire that swept through Bukit Ho Swee in 1961 and its impact on residents and the nation. 

This lesson features excerpts from Samsui Women: One Brick at a Time (2015) by The Finger Players and Bukit Ho Swee: A Musical Journey through Chinese Chamber Music (2017) by Ding Yi Music Company, productions that were part of Feed Your Imagination (F.Y.I), a series created for students. Through narratives that were based on historical events leading up to the inferno at Bukit Ho Swee, students will be able to gain a better understanding of the lives of these two groups of people and how the characters overcame adversity to build a better life for themselves and others. 

For Students

Do you know who the Samsui women are? What was life like living in a village in 1960s Singapore? How much do you know about the fire that swept through the village of Bukit Ho Swee? Who helped them get back up on their feet?

To answer all these questions and more, you will be doing these activities in this lesson:

  • Watch video excerpts from two productions, Samsui Women: One Brick at a Time and Bukit Ho Swee: A Musical Journey through Chinese Chamber Music
  • Take quizzes and polls
  • Self-reflect and have a discussion with your friends

Who are the Samsui women?

Where did they come from? What were the obstacles they faced? What values can you learn from them? Watch excerpts of the performance from Samsui Women: One Brick at a Time to find out and answer the questions in the quiz. 

Activity 1: Watch & Answer 

Activity 2: A reflection on the journey to Nanyang

Put yourself in the shoes of the Samsui women and reflect on the questions posed. There are no wrong or right answers. Instead, have a chat with a friend and share your thoughts after you have taken the poll.

Life in Kampong Bukit Ho Swee

What is a kampong and what was life like in one? How is it different from city life? Watch excerpts of the performance from Bukit Ho Swee: A Musical Journey through Chinese Chamber Music.

Activity 3: Watch & Answer

The great fire of Bukit Ho Swee and its aftermath

While the stories revolving around the rebuilding of Bukit Ho Swee in the productions are works of fiction, the traits and actions portrayed by the characters mirrored those that the residents in Singapore had in response to the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961. 

Read about the fire from Roots.sg and find out how different communities worked together to help rebuild the lives of the victims of the Bukit Ho Swee fire. Next, answer the quiz.

Activity 4: Watch & Answer

What makes us stronger?

Activity 5: Reflection on overcoming adversity

Adversity means difficulty or hardship. Have you or someone else you know faced a period of adversity? Watch the video from the productions and think about how the characters face adversity and how they or the people around them get through it.


Activity 6: 3, 2, 1

Now that you've reached the end, think about these questions and share your thoughts with your friends. It is also a good opportunity for you to listen to what others might have to say! 

  1. 3 things you have have learned about the Samsui women and Bukit Ho Swee Fire.
  2. 2 qualities that makes a person resilient during a period of difficulty.
  3. 1 action you can take to help another person or group of people who are facing hardship.


If you would like to challenge yourself a little further, give the optional activities below a try.

Optional activities

Activity 1: Tabletop Puppet Theatre Stage & Puppet

Recommended for: Lower & upper primary students

Download Handout 1 and 2. Make a tabletop puppet theatre stage and puppets using items you can find around the house. Then, think about putting up your own puppet performance. Here are some stories you can think about putting up.

  • After the fire: What would you do to help Ah Ho and the kampong of Bukit Ho Swee if you were Ah Swee?
  • The kampong spirit lives on in Bukit Ho Swee HDB estate
  • What if the Samsui women were really called back by the government to help rebuild Bukit Ho Swee? What would it be like?
  • Stories past and present: Read about the lives of other early tradesmen and write a play about them on the theme of adversity and resilience

Activity 2: Facing adversity in a time of COVID-19

Recommended for: Upper primary students

Download Handout 3 below and complete the worksheet on overcoming adversity in a time of COVID-19. How can you overcome hardship and how can you help others during a difficult time like this?

Activity 3: Explore more

Recommended for: Lower & upper primary students

  1. Singapore Infopedia – Samsui Women
  2. Channel News Asia – Days of Disaster: Bukit Ho Swee Fire
  3. Singapore Memory Project – Overcoming the Bukit Ho Swee Tragedy