Fearless


What is fearless (to you)?

When I asked this question to those around me, the answers differed.

“It is the ability to speak the truth without hesitation.”

“It is the belief that I stand with the truth.”

“It is the ability to share my emotional and vulnerable moments with those close to me.”

“It’s when you are not scared of anybody or anything, and even if you are, you don’t show it.”

“Freedom.”

“Fearless… is to be able to feel and act consciously from state of awareness and to own responsibility for everything that comes under it.”

What is fearless (to me)?

My favourite movie character is Mulan from Disney. The eponymous character brandishes her sword and saves her nation. In my eyes, she’s fearless, not just because she charges in to a battlefield, but also because she has the courage and the guts to break stereotypes and break norms of the society. She has the courage to stand by what she believes in. Fearlessness comes in many forms, and I have met great warriors of everyday life. They are resilient, sometimes quiet, and sometimes not, but they all have faced the battles of life, and won over demons, both outside and inside. That’s fearless to me.

Here I present to you my most recent definitions of fearless. These are two women I interacted with recently. One a mere teen, a young girl, who was bullied once but who, now has returned to fearlessly face her demons, and overcome them through her book and her performances, and the other, a 46-year-old international personality, TV host and speaker, who fearlessly tramples on every rule book, to say and do what she believes in.

Aija Mayrock: Author, Performer, Activist 

rent.com/aija-mayrock-interview-bullying/Aija was bullied as a child and as a teen. That kind of experiences affect most people negatively. However, Aija turned the same experience as a motivator to help others. I got to know Aija when I came across her very powerful anti-bullying performance. For someone to overcome the feeling of not being good enough, to overcome self doubts and hesitation that comes with being bullied, and still to be able to give such a power packed performance on her experience is fearlessness indeed! But she is not bitter. On the contrary, she was friendly, enthusiastic and prompt, when I approached her for an interview. Read the interview here

Anita Kapoor: TV Host, Media personality, Speaker.

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I met Anita at an event where she was the main speaker. She spoke on being fearless. According to her, the courage to be vulnerable, the courage to embrace whatever you feel, is what fearlessness is all about. On the surface, this seemed like a paradox. You could either be strong or be vulnerable. Right? But she proved it otherwise. And she proved it with a personal story, so poignant, that for the first time, I was blinking back tears in a live talk, and in a hall full of powerful, and successful women. Anita eloquently spoke of her bereavement, her fresh loss, and her journey of grief. However, she did it fearlessly. Anita is not new to such fearless show of vulnerabilities. Her documentary on living with the elderly touches on the same personality trait of hers. It’s raw, it’s sincere, and its powerful.

The above are just two definitions of fearlessness. They are not the only ones. As I meet new people, both men and women, my definition keeps expanding, keeps growing.

And then of course, Taylor Swift sings…

Source: Imgrum

So, maybe being fearless is also about being able to take a leap of faith. My definition continues to expand…

(This post is dedicated to the fearless. Thanks to The Asian Parents Magazine for endorsing the interview, and thanks to Primetime Business and Professional Women’s Association for the beautiful evening with Anita).

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Love


Love. It sure gets me verbose, taciturn, introspective, meditative, skeptical and mushy, all at the same time. The definition of love has actually changed with my age and my understanding of the world, or perhaps the understanding of myself.

When I was younger, a mere child, I lived surrounded by love, protected and nestled and cocooned by it. And that is my first memory of love without even knowing it was love. By high school, ‘love’ was ubiquitous, one couldn’t ignore it anymore or feign ignorance. Valentine’s Day was a word unknown to us still, but we loved and were loved. And that ‘love’ was defined by the movies, by the songs and in rare cases, by few books. MPK and QSQT became the parametres of love and those who don’t know what these acronyms mean are clearly not from my generation. But I am willing to help, so here goes… they stand for Meine Pyaar Kiya and Qayamat se Qayamat Tak, the teenaged, mushy block busters of our times. We watched those movies as many times as we could so that we could be completely sure what love meant. We were sure by the 12th viewing.

When I reached the late teens, Kevin Costner singing, “Everything I do, I do it for you” was the penultimate idea of love. It was the love anthem and I remember standing up in solidarity and in respect in the movie hall when the song played.

Being a little shy, I also had a quieter idea of love, one that was captured in the song, “More Than Words” or perhaps, “Aate Jaatey” (from MPK). Nevertheless, love was still decided by the media, still defined by the popular versions and still conveyed by the prescribed view of it. Even when I encountered the actual roses and the valentine-day cards, my definitions remained temporary and capricious, my understanding, swayed by what was expected.

As I grew older, love meant having a life-partner and then it morphed gently to include motherhood. I think motherhood still remains the most instinctive and beautiful love of all. But even that had a prescribed version of it. Prescribed or not, that love had the maximum changing power in it. It weakened the boundaries of love and seeped out of the prescribed lines. And then with experiences and age, the understanding of my ‘love’ grew.

Love was not about the movies, the songs or the people anymore. It became subtler. It was about the meaning of things and the depth of intentions rather than the visibility of the actions. It was about emotions, emotions that couldn’t be contained, that couldn’t be prescribed and that couldn’t be defined. It was all about colouring outside the lines, and overflowing the glass. It was about reaching out to the harshest of the people and feeling the beauty of all that was around me. The more my love expanded in meaning, the more I loved, and I loved grandly and lavishly, and I loved beyond the candle lights, and beyond the gifts, beyond the Valentine’s Days.

Today, love is gratitude, loyalty and unconditional support. Love is a promise that I make to those I call friends and family, a promise that I will stand by you, no matter what. It’s also a promise to those beyond my immediate circle, and to those I don’t know yet, that I will offer you a form of benevolent love that runs out of the prescribed lines. I offer you a non-judgmental and perennial hand of friendship.

Because, love, it can never be contained. So, I let it flow and I included it in everything I do.

Happy B’day dear H, wherever you are…


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Source: Etsy

Today is a special day. It’s my mom’s birthday. (Happy B’day, mom!) It’s also the birthday of a little girl that I befriended, a girl who touched my heart. She lived in a foster home and I was asked to go and meet her. It was a sunny afternoon five years ago and I still remember our first meeting. She looked at me, sizing me up, trying to gauge if I was trustworthy enough, funny enough, nice enough, kind enough…Those initial meetings were hesitant and she was cautious and closed. A little girl, who had seen enough of life, to be wary of situations and people both. I am sure, there had been many like me in her life too, trying to be kind and preachy and condescending.

One day, I stopped trying to be the adult that she met regularly and instead decided to be just a listener, a listener of her many small and big stories, a listener of her ramblings and a listener of her thoughts, spoken and unspoken. I realised that I enjoyed listening to her. I began to look forward to meeting her. Those warm afternoons, those rainy days, those overcast evenings, those little walks, all became special.

She was a kid when I met her first, but soon she turned in to a beautiful teenager, full of life and I grew very fond of her indeed! However, there were many unpleasant and pleasant turns on her road and I, as the listener of her thoughts, felt both her sadness as well as her little excitements along with her. Who was I to her? We spoke of that often. On official paper, I was a registered volunteer and a mentor. Was I a friend, a confidante, a counsellor? She couldn’t decide, so she just said, you are Prionka to me, as if that one word would explain what I meant to her. Having said that, she smiled her full smile. I smiled back.

Little girls grow up. H grew up too. She is integrated back in to the society and not under special care anymore. I have no way of contacting her now but I think of her often, especially on days like these. Doe she still like to eat the boiled eggs? Does she still forget unpleasant memories? Does she still hold dear, the teddy bear that I had gifted her on her (13th or was it her 14th?) birthday, I don’t know. I get to meet other girls but I miss her still. And I wish the very best for her.

My dearest H, if you ever read this, please know that you are amazing and I will always remember you! Happy B’day with love!

Prionka

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Human Library: Read with an Open Mind!


human-lib1The largest Human Library event in Singapore took place yesterday at The Red Box and 400 readers were in attendance! The event, organised by volunteer group, Human Library Singapore, comes from a Danish concept, in which groups in the community exposed to stigma, prejudice and/or discrimination become the “Human Books.” And thus the readers get that rare opportunity to challenge prejudices through respectful conversations. Human Library aims to establish a safe conversational space, where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and hopefully answered by the Human Book.

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Among the Human Books at the Singapore event were people from a wide range of diverse groups. They included a former sex worker, migrant workers, a bipolar sufferer, a journalist, a foreign business consultant, a Muslim, MMA fighters and individuals with cerebral palsy and alopecia. Event lead organiser Kelly Ann Zainal said, “We are incredibly encouraged that so many individuals not only registered their interest in the event, but even set aside time to volunteer with us. The success of this event really shows that people are willing to have open conversations to challenge preconceived stereotypes.”

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Similarly, the discriminated group felt equally fortunate to have the opportunity to share their personal experiences with others. Shafiqah, a Human Book and a suicide attempt survivor was surprised that there were many, who earnestly wanted to know about suicide, and they also wanted to know ways in which they could help in such situations. In a society where such topics are considered taboo, the event urged people to open their minds and to understand things that went beyond their experience range. Though some conversations were uncomfortable, there was a compelling need to understand and respect others by withholding prior bias or judgement.

A society can only succeed when people lay their differences aside and forge ahead together. It is therefore, not just advisable but also essential that people accept others sans judgment. The 400 Readers and the 48 Books at the Singapore event yesterday began such conversations. And this may just be the step in the right direction!

(To read other posts, click on ‘prionkaray’ on the title bar)

Acknowledging the Bitter


I usually write about the inspiring, the positive and the bright. However, there is no inspiration that has not struggled first, no positive that has not been engulfed in chasms of negativity and no brightness that has not been swathed in dark at some point of time or the other. To ignore these negatives would be great injustice to the spirit of positive. It is imperative for the pain to be acknowledged before any healing can ever begin. So, here I present a conversation with a broken soul that acknowledges the dark, the dull and the low. It is the silent musing that is often felt by many and yet seldom aired. The conversation may be between  two individuals, but it echoes the general melancholy of a generation that has waded through enough experiences, circumstances and hopelessness of the mundane.

A tinge of something bitter, that I have recognised in countless eyes and yet they deny its existence. Lots though, can be read between the lines…

 

Bitter

How bitter? said I

Very, she replied.

What’s missing, do you know?

Or is something missing at all?

It’s incomplete, she said.

And yet it’s heavy, dark and slow.

What’s the reason, tell me why?

No reason, she said, but there’s no pulse, no fire and no wings to fly.

Are we talking about you? I said in alarm!

She continued,

It sheds no tears. It doesn’t even cry…

It causes no ripples. It’s something curled up and dried.

Is it you? I asked again.

She stayed ominously silent,

Then she said, no, it’s my empty inside.

(Source: Prionka Ray©)

This poem is dedicated to all the struggles, the doubts and the lows that make any comeback a victory of human existence. And to those, who have felt this at any point of time, you are not alone. Reach out and seek help. Acknowledge to yourself, if not to others! It’s only in acceptances that the healing begins. And then let us know of the comebacks because these comebacks become inspirations to many!

 

Contact:

ingrouphelp@gmail.com/ rayprionka@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Miracle of Big and Small


Today’s post is dedicated to a precious little boy we loved. Knowingly and unknowingly, he touched as many with his presence as he did with his absence. What I remember most, is his unconditional angelic smile. That smile prophesied and the smile said, “I know.” He did. He knew more about giving back than many of us put together. He inspires me to look around for more of the exceptional, the miraculous and the unconditional. He inspires me to look around for what he perhaps already knew and what we will only begin to comprehend little by little, with time.

They say miracle can only be extremely outstanding or unusual. They say that miracle goes beyond the ordinary, beyond the normal and sometimes even beyond comprehension. Put across like that, it seems almost impossible to believe that miracles exist and even more absurd to expect that it will ever cross your path. However, it does. Perhaps, it depends on what you call a miracle. For me miracle is in the exceptional as well as in the ordinary. It is in the unconditional as well as in the intentional. In a way, it is as much in the act of an organ donor as it is in the story of a student’s resilience. Somehow, it is as much in the act of kindness as it is in the extended hand of friendship. Miracle is both big and small.

Organ donor (Singapore)

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(Image: The Bone Marrow Donor Programme, Singapore)

Herlina was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and would have died but Xu Kang, her bone marrow donor saved her with his extraordinary act of kindness. For Herlina, Xu is nothing less than her “angel from heaven.”

 

2) The miracle baby (New York)

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(Image: The Buffalo News)

4 days old Wyatt Eli is the, ‘miracle baby’ born to mum, Kim Vaillancourt. Kim is currently battling terminal stages of brain cancer and for her the baby is exceptional in all ways possible.

 

3) Charity Worker (Nigeria)

(Image: Anja Ringgren Loven/ Facebook)

(Image: Anja Ringgren Loven/ Facebook)

This Nigerian boy was found emaciated and riddled with worms after wandering streets for eight months. His family had deserted him but he was eventually rescued by aid worker, Anja Ringgren Loven. She gave him food and water and took him to the hospital.

Hope

Hope

Now named Hope, the little guy has put on weight and is doing well. As Loven says, ‘He’s a little strong boy. This is what makes life so beautiful.’ It does!

Student (India)

(Image: Hindustan Times)

(Image: Hindustan Times)

Born in the outskirts of Lucknow, India, Sushma’s father was a daily-wage labourer and mother, a homemaker. Financially, there was an acute struggle. The opportunities were abysmal too but that didn’t stop a little girl interested in books and Sushma went on to create history as the youngest student, aged 7, to pass the class 10 Board exam. This exam is usually taken by 15 year olds. Sushma is now 15 and enrolled in a PhD course!

Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis (Singapore)

(Image: Prionka Ray)

(Image: Prionka Ray)

And lastly, the miracle of creation, hope and beauty that is ubiquitous. Like this little flower that chose to come to a plant long forgotten and long barren. And like the angelic little fellow we loved. And like that lady who lends her voice to the books for the blind, the man who sponsors education for the needy and many others who in their small and quiet ways, reach out. They remind us that sometimes exceptional is not about how little you are but it is about how you impact the ones around you.

 

Coming up next…

Singapore International Festival of Arts

The Great Equaliser


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An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces.
Like rootless weeds, the hair torn around their pallor.
The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-
seeming boy, with rat’s eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir
Of twisted bones, reciting a father’s gnarled disease,
His lesson from his desk. At back of the dim class
One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,
Of squirrel’s game, in the tree room, other than this.

On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head,
Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.
Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map
Awarding the world its world. And yet, for these
Children, these windows, not this world, are world,
Where all their future’s painted with a fog,
A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky,
Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, and the map a bad example
With ships and sun and love tempting them to steal–
For lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes
From fog to endless night? On their slag heap, these children
Wear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles of steel
With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.
All of their time and space are foggy slum.
So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.

Unless, governor, teacher, inspector, visitor,
This map becomes their window and these windows
That shut upon their lives like catacombs,
Break O break open ’till they break the town
And show the children green fields and make their world
Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues
Run naked into books, the white and green leaves open
History is theirs whose language is the sun.

(Stephen Spender)

 Education, the great equaliser

Written in 1964, the poem reflects a class- conscious society and captures the poet’s stand on social inequality. It also reflects Spender’s belief, that education can be the great equaliser.

I believe in it too. However, over the years I have realised that education means different things to different people. For some, it is about the grades, about the institute, about the prestige and the accompanying opportunities. Perhaps, it is all of that and I especially agree about the opportunities, but for me, education is also about learning to learn, learning to question and striving towards answers. This quest of knowledge is the great equaliser and the confidence it provides is the harbinger of opportunities. We must, therefore, allow children, whether rich or poor, to have an access to education. Education, I believe, brings about a social change.

So, teach, help out or volunteer. Support the organisations that have endeavoured to educate all. The only way for a society to move ahead, is to move together.

Organisations to support

(Singapore)

* Student Care Service (Hougang, Clementi and Yishun)  work with government agencies, national organizations, community groups and business corporations to support and help marginalized students and youths at-risk.

MILK (Mainly I Love Kids) Fund reaches out to disadvantaged children and youth, both in Singapore and overseas, in the hope of developing them into contributing members of society.

* UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized.
* Singapore Children’s Society protects and nurtures children and youth of all races and religions. Each year the Society reaches out to 67,574 children, youth and families in need.

(Thailand)

* MILK OF LIFE  is a Thai NGO that helps impoverished families and their children.

(Philippines)

 * TULOY FOUNDATION  runs a street children centre at the Tuloy sa Don Bosco Street children Village in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Philippines which seeks to transform young boys and girls at risk, particularly the ones of the streets, to become valuable members of future generations.
(India)

* Teach For India is a nationwide movement of college graduates and professionals, working towards educational equality in India.

* Make A Difference (MAD): Along with education partner, Cambridge University Press, Make A Difference or MAD has initiated a unique project ‘The English Project’ to educate children from poor homes, orphanages and street shelters.

* Pratham: Established in the year 1994, Pratham is dedicated to provide education to children belonging to the slums of Mumbai.

* Godhuli is a Charitable Society for the Education & Welfare of Street Children.

I am currently involved in a project that involves children, involves writing and involves an entire nation. I marvel at the creativity and maturity of these young children and I am assured….the future is in the right hands.

More about that in my next post.

 

My interview with Budi Soehardi


In 2009, CNN honoured a pilot who had founded an orphanage and funded it with his own salary. This man was Budi Soehardi. I had the chance to interview Budi recently for a publication and I am happy to say that my faith on humanity is completely restored.  Though, I meet inspirational people in all the fields that I work in, some leave their mark a bit more than the others. Not surprisingly, Budi is one of them. So, presenting a man who’s extremely genuine and humble in every interaction and whose positive outlook touched me greatly.

He ends his emails with, ‘Life is good, please be in it’ and that’s the sentiment that stayed with me.  It is a privilege to bring here the words of a true hero, Captain Soehardi.

CNN Tribute to Budi Soehardi

 

And here’s my interview, as published in Indoconnect

(Please click on the image for an expanded view)

Budi Soehardi Budi Soehardi

Dedicated to the extraordinary in each one of us.

Be The Change Exposition- 2014


When 1,500 students, educators, parents and social sectors come together with a shared goal of doing good, there is just one way of describing the result: electrifying! And what a joy it was to be back at the event!

Madhu Verma, SoCh

Singapore’s largest showcase of social initiatives by children, the Be The Change Exposition (organised by SoCh in Action), saw another successful event on the 11th of November at SUNTEC Convention Centre and the event venue was abuzz with ideas, creativity and energy that synergized beautifully all over again! This year’s Exposition theme, ‘Unplugged’ was reflected in the various activities that encouraged the young to connect with themselves and with each other, without relying overtly on technology. The resulting response was both overwhelming and gratifying, as the children came forward with ideas, thoughts and creative suggestions that took the adults by surprise. Founder, Madhu Verma, echoed many other adult sentiments, when she said, “the children were so engaged… why can’t all the learning be outside the four walls of the classroom!”

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Whether the students, danced to the energetic Zumba, engaged in the craft activities or captured their thoughts on post- its, hand prints or paper bricks, they gave it their 100%. As representatives of the future generation, they were engaged, interested and phenomenal! The 200 change makers, who showcased their social initiative projects talked passionately about their work and were excited about making a difference. As Nur Syariana from Greendale Secondary puts it, “we feel proud that we can actually help the society. It was difficult at first, but we enjoyed doing the project very much. It feels good to know that you can help people.” It feels good to know teenagers like you, Nur Syarina! In fact, it feels good to know each and  every student, who contributed to the society, with the intention of doing good. You make us proud!

Students from Greendale Secondary School with their brilliant prototype

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting nugget of information. Researchers Rosenthal and Jacobson suggest that every child is capable of extraordinary feats through self- fulfilling prophesies. Called the Pygmalion effect by psychologists, this theory refers to the tendency of the students to perform according to the expectation placed upon them. Thus, children tend to do better when treated as if they are capable of success. Does that mean every child can achieve great goals? The answer is indeed ‘yes,’ but first the right ecosystem of environment, encouragement and guidance have to be provided and that leaves us adults with a big responsibility: to nurture the next generation and bring the best out in them.

I leave you all with this thought and here’s a page from a book (by Edward Monkton) that I have been gifted recently.

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The Young Volunteers: Part II


Two months ago, I had introduced you all to some young change makers in the community. It is my privilege  to present a few more of these blazing renegades who have not only rebelled against being passive but also retaliated against being helpless. Lamenting about a situation and waiting for someone else to help out is definitely not their working style. Their motto in life is to, ‘take action’ and to do it ‘now.’ I totally approve their style and that’s why they are mentioned here.

People generally have a tendency to group these individuals as people fired up with a passion and that’s all they are credited for. Pity, they missed half of the impact. I suggest that you take a closer look because most of these youngsters are not only passionate activists, but they are also amazing at time management, equally easy with being PR savvy and can teach the world a thing or two about being ingenious and creative. So, let’s read between the lines. These youngsters didn’t just make a difference to the less fortunate, they also managed their resources well, they garnered support from people who mattered and they found new solutions to old problems. They implemented a project and in turn, helped the community. So, if any one reading this post has ever felt strongly about a situation, here’s the ‘inspiration- pot’ to dip in to. If you have ever wondered how to go about doing something difficult, yet meaningful, get to know these stories. Perhaps, the fictional  Superman can take a little snooze, because in The Young Volunteers: Part II, I present you the real stories of real heroes.

Stefan Lyon

Stephan, aged 18, is one such young renegade. He has written and sold four non-fiction books for children and raised $120,000 over ten years, to build three schools in Kenya that educate nearly 1,000 children. He has also traveled to Kenya and visited the schools to connect with these children. In his most recent book, An Extraordinary Journey, Stefan tells these children’s stories and explains how he and they share a determination to live lives of strength and purpose. “I’ve learned that life can be unfair and it’s up to us to change that and make a positive difference,” says Stefan. “You don’t have to be rich, famous, or even an adult. You just need to have an idea and act on it.” No wonder then that our Superman, Stephan is the recipient of the The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. The  Prize celebrates inspiring, public-spirited young people from in America and each year, twenty-five outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18 are selected for the honour.

 

Real Kids. Real Stories. Real Change

These children are extra- special or are they? Can the right amount of inspiration combined with right opportunity turn every child in to a hero? Garth Sundem thinks so.  “With the right role models, any child can be a hero,” says  Sundem. His book, Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change: Courageous Actions Around The World includes such heroes. The book is a compilation of thirty true stories of kids who used their heads, their hearts, their courage, and sometimes their stubbornness to help others and do extraordinary things. A story in this book is about eleven-year-old Tilly, who saved the lives of 100 people in Thailand because she knew the warning signs of a tsunami; another is of ten-year-old Jean-Dominic, who won a battle against pesticides – and the cancer they caused in his body and another is of fifteen-year-old Malika, who fought against segregation in her Alabama town.

 

Some of the stories are closer to home and there are incredible young heroes in Singapore too. For example, Crescent Girls’ students have led campaigns against smoking in their neighbourhood; St Hilda’s Secondary students have helped autistic adults by collaborating with Anglican Autism Centre; Greendale Secondary students have designed special exercise equipment to help the seniors to socialise while exercising in the elder home and the Clementi Primary students have addressed exam pressure and held motivational classes for their peers for better results. Isn’t it time that the world knew these stories? Young volunteers and change makers are the same all over the world. They think, they feel, they do. They hold on to their faith and they need a bit of the world’s support. The world in turn, needs more of these real heroes.

Here’s Noor Adelina’s story about the elderly cleaners and how she and her friends tried making a difference.

Singapore’s young heroes

 

To showcase the stories of the young change makers in Singapore and to inspire a fresh wave of change, Be The Change 2014 is back in its 5th year. For those of you interested to join in, here are the details:

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And in case, you are wondering how my previous volunteers are faring, you will be glad to know that the passion hasn’t dimmed. Here’s an update from one of them.  Nidhi’s blog

So signing off for now. I am currently reading Alice Munro’s collection of short stories and find them incredibly powerful in their subtlety. More on the fictional stories in my next post. Till then, inspire and be inspired.