My First Ever Human Library Experience!


The Human library

 

I was intrigued the very first time I had heard, or rather read about the Human library. The Human Library, for those who don’t know, is a concept birthed in Denmark in 2000. It is now organised all over the world. In a Human Library, real people are on loan to readers, giving readers the opportunity to listen to their stories first-hand. The hope is to break down social barriers by providing a safe platform for individuals to challenge the stereotypes and prejudices that they may have.

I was so enamoured by the very concept, that I wanted to experience it first-hand. It all sounded so dynamic and empathetic! And so, I waited for the next event to take place. Finally, I got my chance last week, when I heard about The Human Library @Duxton, Singapore. All I had to do was register through email, and let them know my preferred time slot, and my preferred human book. In two days, I had my conformation. I was ready for my experience.

However, as I made my way to the event after a long day at work, I began doubting my intention to attend. What if I am disappointed? What if it’s a hype? What if I don’t reach on time? I was agitated enough as the taxi uncle slowly, and very cautiously inched towards the address that he clearly didn’t know. Eventually, I got down from the snail-like-car, and made my way, flustered and late to 99 Duxton Road.

The place was abuzz with activities. “Are you a book or a reader,” I was asked. The question was both intriguing and unexpected. I smiled. My very first Human Library experience had begun. “Reader,” I replied. The volunteers at the registration table handed me my library card, and I made my way to table 4. The book title was, Single Mum. As I hurried to my designated book, I had company. Another lady was late, just like I was and we happily spoke to each other, both glad to have company as we entered the “library” late.

 

 

My first thought was, wow, this place is full of bright energy, and lively conversations! There was absolutely nothing dull, or forced in there. What kind of people would come here? Who would want to be a book, and who would want to be a reader? I looked around at the room awash with warm light and smiling faces. There were people of different age groups and backgrounds, but they all had one common trait it seemed, they were all open to know more, and they were all open to share. Yes, that is exactly what was striking in this room. Everyone in the room was a communicator in some way or the other.

I found table 4. My human book, Sherlin, was a bright and vivacious lady, who introduced herself: “Hi, I am a a single mom. A widow.” Then she went on narrating her experiences of loss, pain and of bouncing back. The bouncing back bit was emphasised. She was clearly a lady who enjoyed communicating. The questions poured in, one after the other. The readers were clearly people who enjoyed communicating as well! There were no awkward pauses, or lack of interest. Those 20 minutes were enriched with constant and seamless sharing of ideas, thoughts and experiences. Questions directed at her ranged from financial situations, to grieving process, to even dating experiences, and oh my, my book was not shy! There were no euphemisms and no pretenses. There were also no barriers to communication. The books were there to share their stories, and the readers were there to know these stories. The goal was achieved brilliantly!

By the end of it, I started feeling a kinship with my book. I was proud of her, and thankful to have heard a story that was this personal. Few things stayed with me though, from that conversation. They were my lessons learnt that day.

First was on loss and grieving. Most people are uncomfortable around those who have suffered a loss, she said, and having lost a parent myself a few years ago, I could empathise. “Also, most people don’t know what to say to the one grieving”, she added. I agreed to that too. “I hate the phrase, stay strong,” she finally said, exaggerating the woeful face of a sympathiser trying to deliver a condolence message. We all laughed, guilty of having said that phrase to many people ourselves. “ You don’t have to say that, you know. Because, grieving is allowed, and it’s okay to be sad, and vulnerable, and weak sometimes.”

Lesson learnt in what not to say in a condolence message.

​Secondly, she spoke about volunteering as an act of empowerment. According to her, the act of volunteering made her feel good about herself, and infused her with a feeling of positivity. “The more you help others, the better (and stronger) you feel about yourself.”

Lesson learnt in empowerment and volunteerism

Lastly, I couldn’t help but notice, what a positive and bright energy she was. “How do you maintain this energy in spite of all the problems that you face in your personal life?” I asked. “I have a role model, she said, my mother.” Her mother, she informed us, was bright and active, and lived life to the fullest, inspite of many personal setbacks. Sherlin had learnt to do the same. “I want to be a role model too,” she said. Well, Sherlin, I already think you are!

Lesson learnt in living life to the fullest, in being inspired by those you look up to, and lesson learnt in aspiring to be an inspiration to others.

And thus my first experience of being at the Human library ended. If I had known it would be this invigorating, and informative, I would have registered for few more slots. There was so much more to learn, and so many stories to hear. And like always, the more I know about new experiences, and new things, the more I realise how less I know.

Lessons learnt in humility.

Read Sherlin’s story here

Learn more about The Human Library SG here

Origin of The Human Library

I lingered a bit more to take pictures, to speak to the organisers, and to look around at many new conversations that were breaking barriers, shattering the stereotypes, and bringing people together. After all, we are all stories separated by barriers of ignorance.

 

 

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The Dancing Lights of the Dark Nights


This post is dedicated to the warriors who shine their brightest when the night is at its darkest.

It is somewhat myopic and perhaps, superficial to think of lights, colours and music in terms of happy spaces, effervescent emotions, and expressions of many beautiful intangibles. Because by relating happy to beauty, we leave out the beauty of the spaces that are vacuous, the music of the silence, and the emotions that are dark, and yet beautiful. It is impossible to ignore darkness in a world that stays dark half the time. So, today I applaud the, ‘not so bright and happy.’ After all, shiny is a facade, happy is momentary and success is fleeting.

Beauty this week has presented itself in the darkest of places. I have witnessed souls that shine in the dark, music that’s made out of nothing, and brilliance that emerges from melancholy.

The first set of warriors came on a cadence of music that was built on the world of silence. At the MSF Volunteer Awards night, the group, Redeafination enthralled the audience. The deaf dancers danced, and oh so gracefully to the music they couldn’t hear! Or maybe, to the music they heard in their hearts. And thus, the music of the silence became the happiest dance that I had seen in a very long time. Here’s Singapore’s Deaf Dance Crew, Redeafination

Next came the play that explored death, and dealt with loss through metaphors, symbols and a performance, so raw and powerful, that it left the audience sobbing. Yes, me included. With an uncomfortable name like Poop, I had expected humour or worse, an attempt at humour, but what I encountered was an exploration of darkness, both on the stage and also in the crevices of human minds and hearts. The most melancholic and heart wrenching subject of death and loss became the most sublime form of artistic expression. Though the topic was devoid of colours, the storytelling, the acting, and the stage direction of Poop by The Finger Players was anything but colourless.

Poop. Source: The Finger Players

Poop. Source: The Finger Players

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another form of beauty presented itself  through the dark narration of pain, longing and yearning in Rupi Kaur’s poetry. The poems are too raw in places, too uneven to be conventionally pretty, and yet its honest exploration of the secrets of human yearnings took my breath away. It’s candid and how!

 

Thus, in the acknowledgment of failures, and blemishes in our lives, the beauty lives on and the warriors of the night, stay relentless in their efforts to turn their darkness in to beautiful light. They turn failures of life in to successes of a different kind. And I am fortunate to have witnessed the darknesses turn in to dancing lights!

Bringing People Together


A community is where people reach out to each other in different ways, for different purposes, and in the process create something lasting and beautiful. There’s nothing more heart warming than people coming forward as a community, as a society, exactly as humanity should be. There’s much happening in our community as well. A quick look at few events in Singapore:

The Human Library

The largest Human Library event, termed, “Moving Foreword” took place on 27 August at Taman Jurong Community Club, and it brought 234 Readers in conversations with 42 Books and 11 Community Partners. Organised by Human Library Singapore, the event  aims to provide a safe space for conversations to occur between various groups, and in the process, create positive experiences and mutual respect amongst individuals.

Among the Human Books at this event were a wildlife rescuer, solo female travellers, an atheist, a vegan, ex-offenders and suicide attempt survivors. Care was taken to curate as diverse a range as possible as all identities naturally come with stereotypes, not just those that are typically thought of as stigmatised. A first-time Book, Rolinda, Foreign Domestic Worker, added “As a Book I come to share what I had learned; but in the end, I learned more than what I shared. Empathy begins with a conversation.”

More information about Human Library, Singapore

Click here for other community programmes in Singapore

Coming up!

Star Wars Force Friday II

At the stroke of midnight on Friday, September 1, 2017, the Force will be strong at ION Orchard with the launch of Star Wars: Experience the Force Singapore festival. The 10-day festival will take place from 1 – 10 September and will kick off with the worldwide celebration of Star Wars Force Friday II. All festival experiences along Orchard Road are free-of-charge. The festival culminates with an immersive experience over at STGCC, where an entire zone has been specially dedicated to Star Wars. The fans will be offered the chance to get up close and personal with fan-built vehicle replicas, games, releases and collectibles!  Click for more information on Star Wars Force Friday.

Bringing people together. That’s today’s theme and the need of the hour. This large hearted living has been expressed by the poet, playwright, short story writer, and essayist LeRoi Jones, better known as Amiri Baraka (October 7, 1934–January 9, 2014).

Want to do your bit? 

Direct help to Houston

Donate to North East Flood in India

Volunteer in Singapore

So, bring people together, stay united and reach out! Till we meet again!

 

In-Group Support Group for Youth


We have a group and we call it, In-Group.

What does In-Group actually mean?

In sociology and social psychology, an ingroup is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member. By contrast, an outgroup is a social group with which an individual does not identify with.

The Famous Experiment by Jane Elliot

Iowa teacher, Jane Elliot conducted an experiment in 1968, (A Class Divided) that showed how easy it was to turn students as young as 7-year-old  into hate mongerers by targeted discrimination. Since the time of Elliot’s experiment, social psychologists have warned us of the causes, and consequences of ingroup-outgroup stereotyping. The experiment and the numerous studies after that showed us how easy it was to divide, to break bonds, to forms acrimonious groups that would stick to each other and against anyone they perceive as different.

 Philosophy behind In-Group Support Group for Youth

In-Group Support Group challenges the whole idea of discrimination based on perceived differences, and aims to unite teens and kids instead. It aims to build positive self-image and increased self-worth in kids and teens, and in turn ensure a future society that is more positive and inclusive.

Research shows that most teens and pre-teens go through issues like anxiety, bullying, stress, stereotyping, body imaging, depression etc. These arise from the very thought of being different. In fact, researcher, Yurgelun-Todd believes that a lot of teenage behavior is about avoiding the anxiety of feeling left out and not being a part of things. Though In-Group is targeted at teens and kids, it hopes to reach out to everyone in the community:  teens, kids, parents, educators, counsellors and policy makers, by raising awareness and by allowing a space to share stories, resources and solutions.

In-Group, Support Group (Kids/Teens)

In-Group is a non-profit initiative. It’s an advocacy, support group and a shared resource on stereotyping, bullying, peer pressure, anxiety and other issues faced by kids & teens. We believe shared stories not only increase awareness, but they also help build empathy in the community. The aim is to build a nurturing, supportive and inclusive society. If you would like to share your story (anonymously or otherwise), donate, collaborate or enquire about our workshops, or if you are an expert who could help us with building shared resources, do email us at ingrouphelp@gmail.com.

We are thankful to the following organisations for their support:
* The Bully-Free Committee, Singapore Children’s Society
* Tinkle Friend (www.tinklefriend.com)
* Coalition against Bullying for Children & Youth (Singapore)
* Association of Women for Action & Research, Singapore

Blog Contributors  & Writers Wanted!

We are blogging and are looking for opinions, articles, real stories, and resources (from kids, teens, parents, educators, counsellors, or anyone in the community at all)! We are looking for personal stories when things went wrong, for solutions that worked, and then those that didn’t. We are looking for some cool stuff too! Opinions, current events, music and feel-good articles (less than 300 words). If you would like to contribute, write to us at ingrouphelp@gmail.com or rayprionka@gmail.com. The articles and contributions can be anonymous if you so want, and if you don’t, then we are more than happy to publish your name.

Blog: https://ingroupsupportgroup.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InGroupSupportForYouth/

InGroup, Support Group For Kids/Teens

We founded In-Group, so that we could belong. Yes, all of us. Together.

Majulah Singapura! (My Singapore)


From the HDB art to the sophisticated art festivals, from the magnificent sky scrapers to the neighbourhood parks, from the humble food courts to the gourmet delights, and from fast city lanes to the kampong style living, presenting the place I call home. Happy 52nd Birthday Singapore!

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My Singapore! Sentosa cable cars (Image: Prionka Ray)

Gardens By The Bay

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Gardens By the Bay (Image: Prionka Ray)

Orchard Road

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Orchard Road (Image: Prionka Ray)

Din Tai Fung

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Din Tai Fung (Image: Prionka Ray)

HDB Art

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My Singapore! HDB Art (Image: Prionka Ray)

Old Supreme Court

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My Singapore! Parliament House (Image: Prionka Ray)

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My Singapore! Neighbourhood Parks (Image: Prionka Ray)

My Singapore! (Image: Prionka Ray)

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Singapore Colours! (Image: Prionka Ray)

Singapore River

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Singapore River, Clarke Quay (Image: Prionka Ray)

Arab street

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Street party @ Arab Street! (Image: Prionka Ray)

Marina Bay Sands

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Marina Bay Sands (Image: Prionka Ray)

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Near China Town (Image: Prionka Ray)

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My Singapore! Singapore Port (Image: Prionka Ray)

My Singapore!(Image: Prionka Ray)

Clark Quay

Singapore River (Image: Prionka Ray)

My Singapore! (Image: Prionka Ray)

My Singapore! (Images: Prionka Ray)

I Gathered What I Needed


From things, tangible and intangible, I gather what I need. And then I walk under the blue sky, lighter in steps, unhindered and free. I am done paying my dues, and I am done fighting the battles. But I am done now, and as I lay down my arms, my mask, and my armour, I let the runners pass me by. They run past with their shiny badges, picking up speed. But then their road is not mine to take. Their lofty promises are not mine to make. Their goals, they weigh me down. Their shiny baubles, they blind my eyes. So, I shy away. But a few noble ones extend their hands magnanimously. I feel awed by their presence. I am dwarfed by their stature. I am grateful of this gesture, I say.

But I am done treading paths not mine, so, thanks, but I will stay.  Then they promise me a land of treasure and I assure them that I have treasures of own. Yes, those (irrelevant) gratitude notes, the (invaluable) hand-written letters and the (little) acts of kindness. They are confused by now but I carry on. I tell them of my valuable memories, my hefty faith, and my dazzlingly impossible dreams. I have indeed gathered what I need. And now I walk barefoot on this dusty road, free to believe, free to be. This race is yours, not mine, I tell them. The battles are yours, not mine. And this pace is yours, not mine. I have slowed down, and happily so. Run past me my friends, I say. I will surely cheer you on. Do share with me your stories someday. Oh yes, I will still be awed, and I will still be pleased! But if you decide to walk with me, then I will share with you, my peace.

 

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 Mayrock Interview by Prionka Ray

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).

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)