Be The Change 2018


Work and life have provided me with opportunities to witness the incredible potential of the young, and yet each time I come across a new opportunity, I am amazed to witness it all over again. I find myself drawn to the incredible potential of the human spirit and to the contagious enthusiasm that people display, especially when inspired. And so for the 6thconsecutive year, I cancelled every other appointment, and rushed to be part of Design For Change, Singapore’s Be The Change Celebration (BTC). This event was held on the sunny morning of 12thNovember 2018.

For those who haven’t heard of it before, DESIGN FOR CHANGE is the largest global movement that gives the children opportunity of expressing their ideas for a better world. Oh, and they don’t stop at just expressing their ideas, they put it in to action too. This global movement has inspired thousands of children to discover that change is possible and that they can lead and inspire this change themselves.

BTC 2018 was held at an auditorium at the SMU campus. As I stood at the bottom of this auditorium, I witnessed the beaming faces of students from 26 schools.  In them I saw the future and I am glad to say that the future looks to be in good hands. I also saw the caretakers of this future, the teachers and the parents who were proud to have accompanied these young change makers.

D8498A9F-B84B-434B-8852-5643D4A65598As the emcees cheerfully navigated us through the programme, the enthusiastic crowd chanted encouragements, played interactive games, joined the flash dance and some of them confidently marched up on the stage to receive awards.

 

It was celebratory indeed! These students from various schools in Singapore had followed the Design Thinking process to make a difference to the world around them. Overall, 17 schools presented their projects.

Though every attempt needs applause and every child is a hero, here are few of the projects that were chosen by the jury.

School                                                                             Project

South View Primary School Making A Difference with the SPCA
Holy Innocents Primary School Stars in Action (Project Smile to Children’s Home)
Yio Chu Kang Primary School Blind spot
Global Indian International School Beat Plastic Pollution
Keming Primary School See Well & Don’t Fall
ANDERSON SECONDARY SCHOOL Our Upcycling Project: “Transform trash to treasures”
WESTWOOD SECONDARY SCHOOL Virtual Reality: Balik Kampung Project (Back to Good Old Days)
WESTWOOD SECONDARY SCHOOL Eco Flowering Filtration Pot System
Overseas Family School Windows to education: Social Entrepreneurship project for underprivileged children in Nepal
Riverside Secondary School A Conversation with Migrant Workers
TANGLIN SECONDARY SCHOOL Tackling Gender Stereotyping in the Classroom

I was duly infected by the enthusiasm that was palpable in the auditorium that day. Many congratulations to DFC Founder, Madhu Verma and the team for another successful event! This incredible event shall return next year with the belief that we can be the change that we want to see in this world. This volunteer shall return too. Till then, keep believing in a better world!

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Yours truly with Madhu Verma (Founder, DFC, Singapore & Founder, SoCh in Action)

 

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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.

 

Be the change


Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. It’s a powerful thought but, unfortunately often forgotten.

We all desire a better society, a better country and a better world, so how do we achieve it? Why, by jumping in to make it better, of course! Hope you were not planning to delegate this bit of your responsibility. A better society is only possible if we stop complaining about what’s wrong and who’s wrong and instead, take ownership of our own actions. The buck stops here. We have got to be the change that we want to see in the world. If we change, so will the world and if we inspire and equip the next generation, then so will our future.

Needless to say, our future depends on what we do now and how we train the children of the world. ‘Exam- acers’, ‘trophy winners’, ‘fast texters’, ‘social -networkers’ and ‘Justin Beliebers’ are all fantastic but socially conscious, emotionally stable, secular, altruistic and responsible future- citizens are not just fantastic, they are imperative for a sustainable and safe future.

My work as an educator and as a volunteer with various NGOs exposed me to the potential of the young and I was amazed to discover endless possibilities of a child that could be brought to fruition with just a bit of adult support and encouragement. That’s when I realised that one of the greatest responsibilities of us adults, with a stake in the future, is to allow children to dream, encourage them to acquire the necessary skills and finally to empower them with the unshakable belief that ‘dreams are achievable’. Not just that, if we aspire to have a world that’s peaceful, beautiful and for that matter, still around, then we also have to  encourage the ‘little’ citizens of a family to accept differences, overcome mental barriers, cross religious and geographical boundaries and eventually become ‘citizens of the world’.

Getting in touch with Kiran happened at a time, when I was working with foster children and feeling the need to reach out to people who believed what I believed in, reiterated what I thought and marched ahead in spite of the countless difficulties. Finding her was momentous. My first sentence was a happy “Where were you all this while?” It turns out that she was around for a long time, but simply not in my line of vision. Kiran Bir Sethi, a resident of Ahmedabad, India is the woman who founded ‘Design for Change’ movement. The movement has spread or as Kiran says, ‘infected people’ in more than 35 countries and for which she has received ‘The Rockefeller Foundations‘ Young Innovator Award’ (2012).

Kiran had started this global movement with a conviction that if children are empowered and made to feel that they can take matters into their hands, they will change the world for the better. Their motto is ‘Every Child can’ and I say “of course!”  Based on a simplified design thinking process, this initiative asks students to FEEL any problem that bother them, IMAGINE a way to make it better, DO an act of change and SHARE their story of change with the world. Simple and yet effective.

Adopting ‘Design For Change’ in Singaporean context, is the organisation, SoCh in Action  (Social Change in Action), which believes that working with children can be an effective way to bring any change in our community, whether it’s a change in thought or in action. The Singapore based NGO organises a yearly event to showcase the best social change initiatives by children between the ages of 9 and 14. Madhu Verma, the woman behind SoCh, believes, “We all can make a difference in society no matter where we work”. Rightly said, Madhu!

So here are two organisations working relentlessly towards a cause that’s close to my heart. I commend their vision and hope that their work continues for as long as there are dreams to dream, future to look forward to and attitude of ‘I can’ to believe in. Having identified my cause, I jumped in, of course! I added these two organisations to my list of ‘ways to change the world’. I am humbled, empowered and proud to be a part of ‘Design For Change’ and ‘SoCh in action’ simply because I care and since ‘I can’. Now, the question is, have YOU found what you believe in? If so, are YOU being the change you want to see in this world?

In Kiran’s words, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”