#YearofAwesome

Since the start of the year, I’ve dedicated every day to living life as awesome as possible.   In some areas of my work, I’m officially known as the ‘Chief of Awesome’ but I wanted to take that concept a little closer to home ground and make it personal.  I know, I know, ‘awesome’ seems to be that phrase that everyone uses but how many of us take the meaning on literally and then choose to live it out?

As you can probably tell, ‘Awesome’ is my favourite word in the universe and it’s used to describe anything and anyone – because what gets me out of bed every day is the drive to help others realise their own inner ‘awesome-ness’ and potential to change the World.

Looking back, this is some of the ‘awesome-ness’ I’ve been up to!  Each day, week and month I’m always on the lookout for how else I can make awesome happen.  It’s been incredible being able to experience and inspire others via social media to personally reflect and see how they can live out their own lives of awesome. 

1.  I inspire the sweat out of people at a boutique fitness studio in Tanjong Pagar. 

1479466_10153480727435136_1132980175_nWhat this has taught me:  Everyone has bad days and their own set of struggles to deal with.  My role is not just to make clients do a million squats and burpees (or want to make them feel like throwing a kettlebell at myf ace).  My ‘job’ is to make sure that each and every person feels validated (awesome) and that they can take on the World the minute we wrap a class.

 

2.  I’ve been granted the amazing opportunity to share the latest tech and lifestyle news.

What this has taught me:  Even when you’re headed into uncertainty (like a casting call), just give it your best shot and you won’t look back with any regrets.  It’s also okay to have a co-host who has an extreme love for all things cats and kittens.

 

3.  I was thrilled to be part of a global Nike social media campaign.  We shot in some of the most amazing locations.  From ruined, ancient temples to running up a million stairs or running across a rickety bridge in a remote village.  #runjavaisland

10376859_10154098078845136_2914954461628917560_nWhat this has taught me:  You don’t need to be the ‘perfect’ person that you assume people want you to be.  Just be yourself, rock the inner confidence and OWN IT. 

 

4.  I was introduced to boxing and while I’m the only girl there most mornings, it’s super fun getting up at 5.45 in the morning just to get a good punch in.

10553520_10154290479300136_4385113391565929867_nWhat this has taught me:  It doesn’t matter what gender you are, just give things a go and have fun in the process.  Everyone you meet wants to cheer you on – no matter what the inner voices may want to make you think.  Oh and that I sweat just as much as anyone else in the boxing gym – #sweatissexy.

 

5.  I was hospitalised more than a couple of times.  Okay, so this isn’t very awesome but you’ll get it in a minute.

10376944_10154057098860136_2386185995259561852_nWhat this has taught me:  Even the most awesome people can run out of….well, awesome-ness if not careful.  From a tiny mosquito that can put you out for weeks or simply not having enough personal time can see you being rushed to the emergency ward.  In short, we need to each re-define our meaning of success in the World.

 

6.  Discovering the potential and connecting with people are my absolute fave things to do in the World!  From rallying 8 tonnes worth of relief supplies to the Philippines to running 3 social enterprises that work with youth everyday.

1453438_10153456651355136_818321549_nWhat this has taught me:  It’s a privilege to serve alongside youth #WorldChangeAgents who want nothing more than a community they can belong to and an environment to do good!

 

7.  Travel.  Make time for it or you’ll never have time to go.  A Euro Trip, Melbourne, Sydney, Java and many more places charted out (Umm….hello, Malaysia!  I was born in KL!).

1010117_10153823185695136_1986018670_nWhat this has taught me:  The World could be a better place if we traveled more, took the road less traveled and were more open to other cultures and ideas.  Oh and there are more socially awkward turtles out there like me than I thought.

8.  Returning to my all-girls high school where a few years were tainted with awfully mean people (Bullies, I’m looking at you!)

1798641_10153820997955136_670216956_nWhat this has taught me:  There are some incredibly mean people in this World but the underdogs always win.  Always.

 

I may be halfway through my #YearofAwesome but something tells me that at the end of the year, I’ll look back and realize that I’m just getting started. 

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Getting WorldChangeAgent ready!

“Wow, this space is boring…what’s going to happen here?”

And with just that one line,  I knew I had to do something.  ‘Blessings in a Bag’ has a space that we’ve moved into since the end of December 2012 and has remained pretty much inactive because much of my time is spent hopping on the MRT, bus or taxi to get me to various back-to-back meetings during the day.  So at the moment, if it was just me sitting in the WCA HQ, it probably wouldn’t do me or anyone any good as I would be rather unproductive!

So I invited one of our awesome WorldChangeAgents, Karin, to begin sprucing up the space and prepping it to be ‘WorldChangeAgent’ ready.  We want it to inspire.  We want it to fuel the passion and heart for the things we’re setting out to achieve and take action.  We want a space that we can call home and we want a space that can include community.  But we can’t have that happen when one of our own shares how uninspiring they feel the place is.  Something’s gotta be done!

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One of our first steps was to do something about the dreary walls.  I won’t even get into the amount of dirt that existed in this place till we stepped in and our goal is to do some real good cleaning once we officially make our move in.

So we selected some of our favourite photos and never-been-seen footage and strung them on twine.  Did I mention how much of a mess we made?  Each time I clipped a different photo on the line, I just felt a rush of memories flooding through.  How times flies and how far we’ve come.  How much we’ve learned and how many trials we’ve faced to get where we are today.  And still, the challenges are far from over and the heartache, too.

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Selecting photos was a seemingly easy task.  It was co-ordinating it all on the various lines that was a tough challenge for me.  Karin shared how I needed to co-ordinate the colours and make sure everything was ‘balanced’ so to achieve something that was aesthetically pleasing to the eye when you scanned across it.  What a headache!  Here I was thinking I could just print a whole bunch of photos and then stick them up however I pleased.  Oh boy, do I have many things to learn with each new day!

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Here’s a quick Before/After shot of the space.  Still a long way to go but I’m feeling pretty good that we’re starting out from somewhere and we now have a wall to add on to.

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Next on the list?  Meeting some awesome WorldChangeAgents that will hopefully run this space and eventually…call this place home.

[Blessings Trip] Philippines – Cagraray Island: Meeting the Islanders!

For much of the ‘Blessings Trip’, I decided to try to absorb as much as I could.  Every experience, every location, every person I met – I made it a point to make sure I learned something new or reminded myself of something I might have lost amidst all the stuff that goes on in my crazy mind.  We began to walk up the hilly terrain and mostly undeveloped landscape of the Island.  We passed by a few calves, a cow and took in some beautiful scenery which my photo-taking skills always seem to miss capturing!  Because of wet weather, going up or down on the cemented pathways (when there were), it was a death-defying near-bone-breaking experience.  The rainy weather meant that the cement proved way too slippery to walk on when going down and I found myself crawling on all fours most of the time or walking in the shrubbery to prevent falling on my bum or breaking my camera.  It was amazing to witness the locals walking with such speed and ease.  I must have been doing something wrong.  Oh and see that bright pink umbrella of mine in the photo below?  Well, that never got used properly as all my limbs were needed to hold myself steady on the slippery pathways that frustrated ol’ me just snapped the umbrella closed and went all the way in the rain – without cover.

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Some of the locals could be seen bundling abaca leaves which would be woven by the women in the community and sold.

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This is the result (hours and hours later) of the above photo.  Provided the rains don’t ruin the process!

Woven Mats

And then we finally reached the first group of ladies we wanted to interview and assess our impact with.  I have fallen in love with how welcoming they are and how, despite everything, they manage to laugh and smile.

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If you’re my friend then you will know how much I love bananas.  Okay, more like obsessed.  And the ones with a green tinge to it are my absolute fave.  It was practically almost love at first sight for me when I saw theses hanging from above one of our interviewee’s homes!  Too bad they were TOO green but I got excited nonetheless. Isn’t it wonderful to be so psyched up with something as simple as a bunch of low-hanging fruit?

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Doesn’t this lady’s smile say it all?  One of my favourite photos from our ‘Blessings Trip’.  She shared how the only way she could earn any sort of income was to be part of our women’s livelihood program, OKRA.  Due to her old age and lack of skills it’s certainly hard for her to find a suitable job.Blackberry x BIAB

[Blessings Trip] Philippines – Cagraray Island

Finally on Cagraray Island!  When you look across the water, you can see San Miguel Island.  I cheekily asked if that was where a particular alcoholic beverage company was based but alas, nothing there but vegetation and pockets of communities!  While on the Island I felt a wave of calm wash over me (apart from the rain that came in on the first day we anchored the boat to the shore) and that quickly dissipated when my fear of lizards and all things ‘creepy-crawly’ descended upon nightfall.  I won’t even get into the details because just thinking about it makes my hands sweat and heart palpitate at an abnormal rate.  This would soon become my morning view every breakfast – not bad, huh?

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While on the Island, I had the opportunity to check out some of the Island projects underway such as an organic farm and experiments which involved chemical free pesticides.  Here, some of the Island student-interns were helping to pot some seedlings.  It certainly got my green thumbs itching again!IMG_1030 IMG_1031

Such is Island life that even the local cat came to slumber while we had meetings with our local partner teams!  I would soon learn that a lot of the community strays and animals would travel out to where we were residing because there was a higher chance of scraps of food given away.  One of the dogs I saw towards the end of my stay on the Island was a severely malnourished dog – I wanted so much to just run up to him and give him food but all I had was a banana which he was swift to nibble on but couldn’t stomach too much of it and soon the other (stronger and well-fed) dogs descended upon it.  IMG_1032 IMG_1033

I noticed a lot of the local women would lay out leave fronds and wait till they were dry enough to weave into bags and mats for others in the community.  It’s a way for the local women to earn a little pocket money but not enough to supplement the family needs or help with day-to-day living.  One of the problems with this type of work is that it relies heavily on the supply/demand as well as the weather.  If it rains, there goes a day’s work of waiting for the leaves to dry out.IMG_1034

The local Island school .  It was great to hear classes on-going as we slowly walked by the school walls.  Certainly not as well equipped than what we’re used to seeing but I’m glad that there was at least an emphasis on education and every day you could see some students wander into our residential compound to just ‘hang out’ and listen to the local radio station which our local partner teams have managed to set up completely on their own!IMG_1035IMG_1036

The day we arrived seemed to be swirling with such gloom – rain, winds and overcast skies.  We decided to head immediately into the neighbouring areas so that we could speak with some of the ladies who have impacted from our women’s livelihood project, OKRA, and find out more about how we could serve their needs better!

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Blackberry x BIAB

[Blessings in a Bag] – Small things for a big, bright future.

It never tires me when I click on my ‘Blessings in a Bag’ inbox and in comes a stream of beautiful, happy, smiling faces from one of the communities we work with.  I still get filled with the same excitement.  I still clap my hands with glee and turn up the volume of the music I’m listening to at the very moment I view the photos.

Box Drop - Philippines March 2013 (1)  It doesn’t happen all the time but people do send me emails or ask me in person when they meet me for the first time:  “So how exactly does sending all this excess stuff from Singapore make such a difference?”.  Perhaps you’re imagining the sight of huge cargo loads of items being dumped from one community to the next.  Or maybe it’s the vision of children being spoiled rotten by all the good stuff that comes our way.  Nope.

We hear it from the ground first rather than assume the needs.  We send out an online form that can easily be accessed and filled out by our local partner teams as often as they can and we’ll sit down to go through the never-ending lists.  Just the other day we heard of the need for something we aren’t able to provide:  medical equipment.  Three people had died due to the fact that they weren’t able to get the medical attention they required through something as simple as oxygen supply.  We heard the need for warmer clothing as newborn babies weren’t getting enough warmth and were usually sent home with their mums, naked.  And while we take all requests seriously, sometimes it isn’t just about contributing to only ‘life and death’ causes.  It’s about doing what we can, with the resources we have available and doing as much as we can right where we are.

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So when we get requests for something as simple as school supplies, we do our best to fill those requests.  To us, they matter as much as any life or death situation.  Why?  For some communities, primary school education is provided for free for the government but even then poverty-stricken children aren’t able to attend simply because their basic needs aren’t covered:  a uniform, school supplies, school snacks, project work fees, etc.  So for us, being able to supply school supplies is just like giving a child new life.  An opportunity to break free from poverty and to go the road less traveled, a road most of their family have never had the chance to head toward.  We’re giving them the tools for success, the rest is up to them.

If you’d like to help:

  • Check out our WISHLIST of needs and see what you can give.
  • Make your own ‘Blessing Bag Pack’ at home
  • Help spread the word by sharing our Facebook Page.  The more people hear about it, the less we’ll have to hear from people “I wish I knew about you guys years ago!”.

Here’s to enabling more kids with the tools of success.  Here’s to giving our WorldChangeAgents the strength to provide more blessings and fulfill more needs that we continue to receive from all over Asia.

Box Drop - Philippines March 2013 (2)

[Blessings Trip] Philippines: Bring on the Bangka!

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If there’s one thing that’s certain whilst traveling it’s these two words:  Murphy’s Law.  One morning you could be looking out your window, overlooking the puff of the clouds over the active Mayon volcano and squinting past the sunshine spilling into your room.  The next, you’re crossing your fingers and making yourself believe that you really do know how to ‘read the clouds’ for signs of rain or better weather.

I can count the amount of times I’ve been on a wooden boat on one hand, unsure if it could carry my weight (and baggage).  This day was no different, I had packed a backpack full of sewing supplies for OKRA, our women’s livelihood project.  We’ve been trying to support two main groups of disadvantaged women, living in poverty in the Philippines.  Now, I just needed to navigate through the throngs of people who were at this small port.  Many people were on tricycles, pedicabs and motorbikes – weaving in and out between crowds of people trying to board or just arriving on the mainland.  Sacks of produce lay on the ground and I walked by stalls of snacks and sweet treats.  A casual game of basketball was already underway and I managed to skirt past the main action heading straight toward the water’s edge.

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I was now officially on my way to meet the women of Cagraray Island for the first time and I was filled with excitement and of anxiety as to how exactly I was going to walk this thin, wooden plank to board the bangka (local term for ‘boat’).   Otherwise known as an outrigger canoe, the bangka is one of the main modes of transportation, especially for those commuting between islands.  It’s main shape reminds me of my favourite fruit, the banana, and I noted that many had at two outriggers made of bamboo which acts as a stabilizer in the waters.  Every bangka I saw that was docking at the port were brightly painted, each with an individual painted name – similar to how jeepney drivers will proudly adorn and decorate their own.

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We soon met Than (short for Jonathan) who has a heart full of gold and I would soon learn to call him ‘Super Than’ as he would prove to be awesome in chasing the local lizards I was so petrified of away.  Than lives on the island together with the main community that Blessings in a Bag works alongside to support.

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One last look behind as I prepared to put my balancing skills (or lack of) to use. Even their sacks were in an array of bright colours!

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And just as we set off on the bangka, the clouds began to form and gather above us.  The wind gradually grew cooler and the splash of the waves grew with it.

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The locals used tarpaulin to act as a cover on the boat and these proved to be a real blessing in disguise.  Days later I would hear of how the local community were appreciative when Blessings in a Bag had sent them supplies of blankets and tarp-like material.  I made a mental note to try to send over more of such material, something that is in huge abundance in a city like Singapore which thrives on advertising.

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And in came the rain as we rushed to protect cameras, laptops and whatever electronic gadgets we had brought with us on the boat.  Thankfully, I had an umbrella and two raincoats I had purchased for the Blessings Trip, so I was pretty much covered. (Sorry, I just had to!).  We headed straight between two large islands and I noticed one single electrical pole line propped precariously on a tiny bit of shrubbery, surrounded by the water.  I learned that that was one of the main sources of electricity to the islands but that most of the community still had no access to it and relied on the basics:  candlelight and battery-operated torches.

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And as we gradually drifted closer to the shores of the island where we would spend the next few days on, I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself of why I had come.  A simple question of:  How can I help you?

Blackberry x BIAB

[Blessings Trip] Philippines – Legaspi City: Pigcale vs Victory

We visited a barangay (community) known as Pigcale Village, also known as ‘Victory’ which had me scratching my head for a while as it’s one of the poorest communities.  There are tall walls that surround the barangay, hiding all the haphazard bits of material used to build homes and groups of children darting in and out of narrow walk-ways.  I wanted to see the other side.

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The photos that were taken don’t show too much of it but the walls were built so that if there happened to be visitors coming to town for whatever reason, the village would go unnoticed.  It irked me that there were those in power who thought believed that likened walls to band-aids.  Nothing but a quick-fix, a cover-up of all the icky stuff that you wish not to be exposed.  It will only be a matter of time before someone needs to rip that band-aid off and provide real solutions.

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I quickly got out my notebook and started scribbling notes after one of our local teams began sharing about the community.  While there are big numbers of people living in the community, only 3 have made it to the scholarship program.  I asked why this was so and quickly found out that many of the parents were simply not convinced that education could lead to a better future.  In the barangays that I was able to step into in later days, I saw a rather large contrast between communities that believed in the power of education and those that didn’t.  And while it does sadden me at the loss of opportunity for education, it also emboldens me and gives me hope that the communities we do support are focused on the same cause and believe in helping themselves up and out of poverty – rather than a handout.

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One thing I’ve always been fascinated by is how happy people are with whatever they have been given.  And this daily gratitude is something I often miss when living in a city like Singapore.  Out of the many complaints I have to filter out:  Just the other day, I had heard of a young man complaining to a friend about not being given a nicely situated desk at the office and then I thought about all the kids who simply loved to run where the waters kissed the shore and shared everything that they had.  Always smiling, always laughing and more importantly, always up for a big hug!  This strong sense of family, of friendship and of community was evident in every barangay that I had the chance to visit – something I’ve come to miss sorely of the Philippines.

Blackberry x BIAB