I Will When…


Robert Winson shares his trials and failures in life with IBWSC students in North America’s “Most Sustainable Building”.

“I will when” hits home, and reminds me of an earlier post from 2009.  Life is what happens today, not what is to come.  You’ve got to define the difference between significance versus success for yourself and decide which you’d rather strive for.

There will be people in your life who will try to convince you that their way of life is the right way to live, but as long as you are happy with what you’re doing, you’ll be okay.

– Rob’s grandma


The Possibility of a Thousand Lives

If we are each born with the possibility of living a thousand different permutations of lives; possibilities that shift and change, narrow or expand based on the life experiences we do or do not go through, which of these thousands of lives are you unconsciously choosing through your every attitude and action?

Who are you being and becoming?

Sing to the Dawn

In 1994, this book heavily influenced my perspective on Southeast Asia. Minfong Ho introduced a generation of Literature students to the social injustices that were systemic in this region we lived in. More importantly, it planted the seeds of thought in this 13-year-old: that poverty didn’t occur because people were incapable, stupid or lazy, but because of structural inequalities in society; that charity wasn’t the solution, that people could help themselves, if the rest of us would stand up for the right of marginalised people to help themselves.

Minfong Ho nurtured the idealist, and for that, I am grateful.

Being Appreciative

Abbas MEXICO. State of Guerrero. Village of San Augustin de Oapan. Boy wears a mask made of cardboard. 1984.

At the ‘Abbas, 45 Years in Photography’ exhibition at the National Museum last weekend, a mother was standing with her child in front of this photograph. Mother told Son to observe how poor the child in the photo was, “so poor that he has to make his mask out of discarded cardboard, unlike the store-bought mask you have at home, the one with the fancy feather, remember? That is why you must learn how to share, because there are less fortunate children like this Mexican boy.”

At first I was impressed by how she incorporated values education into their exhibition viewing outing. This is good, yes. It’s a start, certainly, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised what I was uncomfortable with. I’d like for us to aspire to more. Not to settle for mere pity and charity, which creates an unhealthy power imbalance that perpetuates the unfair social structures that created these economic disparities in the first place. Instead, I’d like for us to appreciate and celebrate. For who amongst us can look at that same photo and instead applaud this Mexican child for his creativity, ingenuity and do-it-yourself spirit to be able to fashion something of value out of something others see as trash? Perhaps, just perhaps, the child who can see this will grow up to become one who is part of the solution, not the problem.

Because We Love Her

Today we celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day.

While it is a time to reflect on the progress made, for me, it’s also a time to remember how little has changed in some of the areas I take for granted and to make a commitment for that to stop.

Last week, I attended “A Call for Help”, a UNIFEM Singapore video screening cum talk about domestic violence, organised by a group of young ladies from Temasek Junior College.  Their aim?  To educate the public on the prevalence and seriousness of domestic violence and encourage the masses to be more proactive in taking a stand against it.

Domestic violence is appalling, yes, tell me something I don’t already know.  The big question on my mind that whole night was: so what can we do about this thing that seems so invisible and private?  As the evening unfolded however, and the clear messages never to condone, commit or keep silent about violence against women rang out, a long buried memory surfaced.

When I was 17, I had a classmate who, every now and then, would walk into our class with bruises on her arms.  We all knew she and her boyfriend had a tendency to get into heated arguments (or rather her boyfriend had a tendency to get angry while she attempted to pacify him) but did that have anything to do with her tendency to bruise?  Surely he wouldn’t be violent, or would he?  One day, she walked into class with a big, ugly bruise on her cheek and claimed she’d walked into a door handle.  That was probably the day we all realised that something really bad was going on, though we refused to admit it to ourselves, much less to each other.  Such a thing could not be happening to our friend, not from the guy she was madly in love with, and who claimed to love her back, not from the guy who could make her so happy, surely?

And it was because of this ridiculous naivety that I never did anything about it.  I rationalised to myself then that I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, nor get either of them in trouble.  As her friends, we’d give each other puzzled looks when she walked in with yet another bruise, but it was as if by not speaking about it with each other, we could magically make it true that this nightmare was not happening.

Fortunately, the two eventually broke up, the volatility of their relationship unable to survive his graduating from school a year earlier than her.  Unluckily for me though, I ended up in the same faculty as the guy in university, and had to endure the sight of him in the corridors throughout those years.  Yes, there was anger emanating from me every time I had the misfortune of bumping into him, but what use was that?  Too little, too late.

What was the anger all about?  I think it stemmed mainly from the guilt of wishing I had actually had the guts to admit to myself that all that was happening and that I needed to report the guy.  Whether my friend would choose to hate me for jumping to conclusions or for messing up their relationship was beside the point.  I know now what I didn’t know then, that when it comes to abuse, you do not keep quiet, even if you’re only operating on suspicion.  Err on the side of caution.  Trust your instincts.  Speak up.  Because violence isn’t right.  Because she needs you to break the silence, even if she doesn’t know it yet.

If you suspect someone is a victim of domestic violence, don’t hesitate.  Do something…because you love her.

The Universal Right to Education

I realise I’ve completely neglected this little space, which means I’ve probably been hibernating in the last half a year it’s taken for me to come to terms with my long journey towards recovery.  In no way, however, does my failure to blog indicate that “I NO LUV MY READERS” (and yes, this means you, you know who you are!).  Thing is, this is supposed to be a spot of cynspiration, and I’ll have to admit, I haven’t been awfully cynspired for awhile.  Until now that is…  Hullo!  We’re back!

How did this happen?  Well, sometimes a simple change of scene is all it takes for inspiration to strike.  Last week, the light flickered back to life while I was attending an educators workshop in Gurgaon, Delhi.  Soaking up stories of the good work being done by this community of idealists, I was reminded of exactly why we do what we do.

The community work undertaken by our host school, Scottish High is one such example.

The Universal Right to Education

Like many other cities around the world, the rapid development and construction of Gurgaon is built on the backs of a large number of Bangladeshi labourers who live illegally in Delhi and Gurgaon. With them are their children who usually have no access to education.

As a service to the community of labourers who live and work illegally in the neighbourhood surrounding Scottish High, the school offers classes to the migrant children. The programme includes free lessons, school materials and uniforms.

The migrant children go through 3 levels of classes in Scottish High. I was told they leave the third level equipped with the basic language skills necessary for them to cope in mainstream schools.

Taught by Scottish High teachers after their regular lessons, the teachers are assisted by Scottish High students taking the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme. Their contributions count towards fulfillment of the Creativity, Action, Service component of their diploma requirements, but more important hopefully, towards their belief in the universal right to education.

Mari kita…

The thing about being on a doctor’s rest order is that it forces you to stop running around like a headless chicken, doing ever more things, and instead leaves you with time to actually, wait for it…*gasp*, think.  Yes, that’s right.  Another thing about being on a no-travel rest order is that unlike so many a National Day come and gone, I spent this one in Bali (2009), Kuching (2008), Bangkok (2007, 2006, 2005), Perhentian (2004), familiar ol’ Bedok, reflecting on what will be the twentieth year of my love affair with Singapore.

Twenty years ago today, this newcomer drew a birthday cake for her newly adopted country’s birthday, and in true-blue Singapore style, won a prize for it.  And thus began our relationship.  But as with all relationships, we’ve seen our fair share of ups and downs, extremes of intense love, and intense hate.  And as it turns out, I’m slowly coming to grips with being the island girl with the blue IC whose traitorous heart, damn it, can’t help but swell to the tune of “Majulah”.  So today, at home, with space to think, my thoughts turned to the “Magic of Marikita” (kudos to the ever spot-on Colin Goh for coining the term) – what it means to me and more importantly, what I want it to mean to me.

This time thirty days ago, I was admitted to Changi General Hospital.  They didn’t have enough beds in the orthopedic ward then, and so I was initially placed in the Accident & Emergency Department’s observation ward, together with what at 1am, was about twelve other people.  After the nurses, doctors and my friends were done fussing over me, utterly exhausted from the ordeal, I managed to get some sleep despite the persistent light and noise, only to wake up and find that while I had been sleeping, the ward had so completely filled up that access to my bed was now completely blocked by other beds.  Of the three beds placed at the foot of my bed, two were occupied by migrant workers who appeared to have sustained injuries in worksite/industrial accidents.  One guy was unconscious and wearing a cervical collar.  The other guy was conscious but could only lie on his front because his back was in so much pain.  Asked if anyone had accompanied him, his heartbreaking response was, “No one.”

No one.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  It’s a scary situation to be in.  In pain, miles away from family and friends, terrified if you’ll have enough money to cover the medical fees, but most of all, scared of what will happen to you, and unable to find out the exact details of your situation because these people, they don’t speak your language, and you, you’re not all that proficient in theirs.

When I was doing the hospital admission paperwork, I momentarily fretted over the prospect of the hospital bills, but the hospital staff were quick to remind me about MediSave and MediShield, should all else fail.  Over the next few days, my supportive, understanding employers told me to concentrate on getting better, and not to worry about finances; that they’d have everything covered.  Today, a whole month after the accident, I’m still on medical leave, and a complete recovery of the use of my ankle is not guaranteed.  Whatever the eventual outcome may be, I still have an income, and the job I love to return to.  What of the two migrant workers who lay in that observation ward with me that morning though?  Will their injury have permanent repercussions, and if so, will they have a job to return to?

Lying in the same ward with injured migrant workers – the people who’ve helped build our roads, schools, hospitals, offices, homes and countless other essentials, I worried about their welfare but felt powerless to help.  The good people of The Cuff Road Project though, are doing something about it.  A project by Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and ONE (SINGAPORE), The Cuff Road Project provides daily meals to homeless and jobless foreign workers, workers who have had their employment terminated due to injury or whose errant employers haven’t paid them their wages.  But a sharp increase in the number of migrant workers seeking food aid from the project is threatening the survival of the project.  To continue the programme, the group launched an urgent appeal for funds from individuals and corporate bodies, stating in a press release last month, that:

“Some 450 men depend on the programme for their daily meals. But without new donations or grants, the project’s funding risks drying up within a month.”

Of course, a food aid kitchen isn’t a permanent solution to this problem, but that isn’t their aim.  As Sha Najak, TWC2’s Communications Manager puts it,

“…as a charity, we would rather create an environment where migrant workers do not need our assistance.”

While they work towards such an environment, there are daily needs today.  In the state I’m in, I can’t run over and volunteer my physical help, but I can and have donated funds for 100 warm meals with a little clicking at GIVE.sg.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Mari kita…  Come, let us…

Help each other do something, however much or little we can, to build the kind of community we want this to be.