Stories are Meant to be Shared


Hello! Hello! I have been missing, and that’s because April and May turned out to b
e real busy. They were full of happenings, events and collaborations. And so I had an enriching time meeting people, being inspired and then gushing about it all on social media. Amidst all these ‘gushing about’, I was faced with a dilemma: to share or not to share. But before I go to to that juncture of my narrative, let me step back and talk about the events that led me to it.

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It all began with a diplomatic event that I co-organised for my clients. And in the process, I had the privilege of meeting many strong, powerful and superbly talented women. These were diplomats, heads of organisations, Doctors, artists and professionals, who were not just talented, and confident, but were also women who believed in the power of their stories. Whenever people with passion and purpose articulate, there’s always much to learn from each view-point. I was not just inspired, but also heartened to see how stories had the capacity to reach out to people who would have never assumed what you have gone through and wouldn’t know otherwise, what your ideas are. These stories may have originated from a personal space perhaps, however, as soon as they were shared, they became a place of resource, a place to test ideas, to validate experiences and to learn. Learn, I surely did.

And on a morning, overcast with clouds, the guests arrived at the embassy, and  we celebrated 50 years of bilateral ties between Indonesia and Singapore. Along with that, we celebrated the inspiration behind Ibu Kartini of Indonesia. It reiterated the fact, that years after we are gone, our stories, our ideas and thoughts will be passed down. My sincere thanks to Indoconnect & the Indonesian Embassy for trusting me with such a beautiful and meaningful occasion.

For the second event, I had the opportunity to share my own story. This time, I was asked to share my ‘Empathy Journey’ as a mentor to teens-at-risk. This is a topic close to my heart. Nevertheless, it’s only when I began gathering my thoughts before the event, that I realised that even my own story needs introspection. I realised that empathy is not a tap to be switched on when I am mentoring or when I am volunteering, it’s a way of life  that should be a part of everything I do. I shared my epiphany, my leanings from the many inspiring people that I have met, and my learning from the many failures and successes that I have seen.

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Ted Ed @ NYGH 2017

As I shared my story, I felt grateful to have been given this opportunity to address a crowd of young impressionable students. I hoped that I left some bits of my stories behind in that glittering hall, stories that could be used as a resource, as a validation and, as a positive learning.

Eventually, I was asked: should stories be shared? I thought back to the many who would say no. And then I thought of the few powerful and inspirational ones who would say, yes. I paused and took a stand: Positive stories and positive emotions are meant to be shared. The more they are shared, the more they reach people and touch them, engulfing them in a mist of positivity. They validate a positive intention and allow a feeling of wellbeing. Asian culture frowns upon boasting. However, I have seen the stories inspire many towards positive thoughts and positive actions. Ok, so what about negative stories? That would be an interesting debate, and we shall keep it for another day. But I can safely say that some people have a knack of turning even the negative stories to a positive one. One such young lady is Aija Mayrock. The spunky author, performer and activist turned her bullying experiences towards a positive road to success. I greatly enjoyed interacting with her. Look out for her interview in my next post.

For now, keep sharing!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The young volunteers: Part I


volunteers

Today I am going to talk about volunteers (yes, the ones on the left), but that’s coming a bit later. Before that there’s something else that I need to talk about. I am unable to start this post without acknowledging that something has gone terribly wrong with the world. It seems that it houses strange creatures and they are all crazy. It is also safe then, to assume that since the end was once prophesied, the crazy earthlings are trying hard, oh so very hard, to meet that deadline of doom, and they are actually eager to hasten the destruction. An obedient and hard-working lot, they are. So what, if they are slightly deranged? So what, if they are simply selfish? So what, if they commit atrocities against each other?  They still have many endearing qualities. Don’t they?

After all, they are diligent when they grab available (and unavailable) land; they are meticulous when they shell schools; they are methodical when they shoot down civilian planes and they can justify when they kidnap girls. Heck, they even shrug responsibility when their own staff rapes their own 6- years old student in their own school campus! See?And seeing is all that we do. We see the newspaper coverage, the pictures, the news feed, the forwarded messages and so on. It is almost as if we are amused to see these earthlings as they massacre, squander, raid and rape. So, do you want to see some (more) heart wrenching pictures of blood and gore, of rape and despair?

Oh, you do? Bad luck mate, I refuse to pander to your curiosity. I refuse to be a part of this ‘they;’ ‘they,’ who are mad enough to massacre this world and ‘they,’ who enjoy these stories of gore. Yes, I agree that we need to know but no, we don’t need to glamorise. We need to empathise, yes, but no, we don’t need to pry in to their grief. They deserve the dignity of pain and they shall have it.

Whose side am I on?

It is that elusive side, where people give peace a chance; where war is not an option; where no one, I repeat, no one, for any gain, political or otherwise, have the right to violate another life, in any way. Yeah, I am on that unpopular side. With such non- confrontational attitude, I will never attain success: so be it. I am also on the side, where hope is brought in to the forefront; where inspiration is celebrated, where empathy is a quality that makes you want to do and not just simply a quality to be talked about. And so, people who have done something beyond the ‘usual’ should be celebrated or at least congratulated on a job well done.

So, what about VIBGYOR High school in Bangalore? Do I want to congratulate them as well? Nah! Here’s their website. You can congratulate them yourself for allowing the rape of a 6- years old student by their own Physical Ed. teacher. Feel free to pass your ‘congratulatory’ message.

VIBGOR HIGH School

People to contact: Rustom P. Kerawalla (Founder-Chairman); Ms. Kavita Sahay (Director – Schools & Academics); Mr. Pratik Patel (Director – Strategic Planning & New Initiatives); Mr. Vispi J Vesuna (Trustee).

 

Meanwhile, even if this world is crazy and dark, there are indeed some stories that inspire and so, this is where I let go off my sarcasm, and present The Young Volunteers, Part I.

These are the ‘bright sparks’ of the world and they represent the youth that refuses to give up on humanity. Not only are these youngsters smart and driven, but they also are resourceful in their own small ways and show us some simple ways of giving back to the community.

 

Nidhi & Ishita Thakkar

Occupation: Students

City: Mumbai

Cause: Teaching slum kids.

 

Nidhi & Ishita Thakkar

Nidhi & Ishita Thakkar

 

Determined to make a difference in their immediate community, Ishita, and her friends, Arpit, Bhumika and Parth, set out to meet the people of the slum nearby, and convinced them to send the kids for ‘free tuition.’ Thus their first class was ready but the lack of space proved to be a deterrent. The team wanted to reach out to more students but didn’t know who to approach. Eventually, the Principal of KVIS, Ms Reshma Hegde, allowed them the use of the school premises and in barely 3 months, their class strength rose to an astonishing 20. This has encouraged the teenagers to cruise ahead and Ishita, aged 18,  is now determined to start her own NGO.

 

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IMG_3691Nidhi, on the other hand, started out by volunteering for The Candle Project and a year later, moved on to an orphanage, to teach a group of children, aged, 8-11 years. The engineering student, likes calling them, ‘my kids,’ as they have become much more than just ‘her students.’ She teaches them basic English & Mathematics  and now they are able to spell, read and count. She is ‘proud of them’ and justifiably so. Nidhi says that she may have started volunteering for a cause, but now she is there every weekend, simply because they end up teaching her ‘more’ than she teaches them: from being ‘oh so patient…to being satisfied with what you have.’ When they scribble ‘thank you’ note to her, they mean it and that’s what, she says, makes it all ‘so worthwhile.’

 

Kokila Bhattacharya

Occupation: Student

City: Bhopal

Cause: Activist, Volunteer & Artist

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Kokila’s biggest mission, she says, is to ‘spread awareness about corporate crimes and corporate responsibilities.’ The teenaged activist likes to ‘decode advertisements that brainwash’ and feels strongly about all ‘aspects that encourage futile consumerism.’ Recognising the role of activism in the present scenario, she is equally vocal about Climate Change, Social justice and Journalism through design. Her mission, she says, is to be a ‘good human being.’

Kokila started volunteering in her early teens by joining ‘Justice for the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy’ and other related environmental concerns with the Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal. At age 16, she had organised an awareness event, called, “Bhopali Bachche,” that aimed to sensitise the young about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, arguably the worst industrial disaster in the world. They went on to raise money for the victims who are still suffering from the aftermath of the tragedy. This was achieved through film screenings, photo exhibitions and signed petitions.

The designer is also associated with creative projects, where she writes, designs, ideates and volunteers. The list of projects includes, The Peace Gong, a children’s newspaper based in Kashmir, AFRC India in Kerala, Prayatna and Ahambhumika Bhopal, a rural education centre where she volunteers as a teacher. Kokila works untiringly and when she says, “The youth are an invulnerable force,” I am inclined to agree.

Whether it is Ishita’s quiet determination, Nidhi’s easygoing camaraderie with ‘her kids’ or Kokila’s focused activism, the youth has arrived with a calm confidence and we should heave a sigh of relief.  Even in Singapore, the pilot intake of youth corps are ready to embark on community projects and more youngsters are finding innovative ways to give back to the society.

Here are some of them:

Halogen Singapore

Project Sunshine

Mother Teresa Club

The Volunteers Switchboard

Care Singapore

 

There are many more stories and many young volunteers to celebrate but that’s for another post. Till then, here’s hoping that the world stops spinning so precariously. As I pray for the families who have lost their beloved around the world, I look at the youngsters and say…

There’s hope still….

 

 

 

 

Be The Change Exposition- 2013


Source: SoCh

Source: SoCh

I went looking for big accomplishments,

I thought bigger the achievements, better it would be…

And then the little ones came marching along,

And in a firm voice one said, ‘well, you can look at me!’

 

‘I am neither big, nor grand,

And I only make promises that I can keep,

My solutions are simple yet effective,

My feelings though are true, and my thoughts deep.’

 

‘I don’t give up till I succeed,

Because I’ve been told I have great power within me,

It must be true and I do totally believe,

That I will be the change that the world wishes to see!’

© Prionka Ray

 

That in short sums up my entire experience at the ‘Be The Change Exposition’ that was held on the 12th of November at #2, Orchard Link, Singapore.

I had promised in my last post to introduce you to some real life young heroes and this was the place to find them. So, I had braved gloomy weather, rain and a chaotic traffic to reach the venue but once inside, I found myself transported to a different world, a world that was bursting with vibrant energy and was far removed from the gloomy streets. The place was full of educators, parents, supporters and students, aged 9 to 14. Each of the students believed that he or she could change the world. It was not an empty boast, either. They had indeed changed a few lives, in a small way perhaps, but changed them, nevertheless. In fact, the exposition’ 2013 celebrated these achievements and hoped in turn to inspire the others, by these success stories.

Inspired I definitely was, but I also realised pretty soon that it would be unfair to hand-pick a couple of heroes in a room that was full of heroes. No one there was better than anyone else, so, before I go any further let me say that I am honoured to be among these bright, passionate and creative kids who didn’t wait for the world to solve their problems, but jumped right in with whatever little resources they had, and came up with creative solutions. When asked, what bothers you, these kids had not only come with an extensive list related to stress management, peer pressure, body imaging, loneliness, etc.,  but they had also come up with ways to handle these issues around them. They had worked systematically in groups, reviewing and revising plans, using design-thinking skills that the ‘Catalyst for Change‘ workshops had equipped them with, and then implemented these plans. It was heartening to know that each student group had tried out their solution and now these solutions could be emulated and implemented by anyone, anywhere in the world with a similar issue. It was good to know that people across the world could connect in this way. Going around the venue hall, where groups displayed their causes, I was struck by one recurring theme, bullying. This seemed to be bothering most students these days, and if so it was a worrying trend and reflection of the society.

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“Why did you choose ‘bullying’ as the issue to tackle?” I asked the students of Tampines Primary School, and the smallest boy there, Samuel replied, “It’s because I was bullied.” Two other voices echoed in unison, “he was bullied, so we decided to do something about it.” I smiled and looked at the serious faces of the girls who supported Samuel. These students, along with few others had formed a group. Their message was, “I may be different, but that does not mean you can treat me this way. Stop bullying!” When asked if things had improved at school after their project, the answer was a shy ‘yes.’

Wellington Primary students echoed the same thoughts on bullying and had created an anti-bully song which they dutifully sang for me. They had performed the same song at their school assembly, at various classrooms and many other places where they thought they could shame the bullies. Their simple and catchy song was based on the tune of ‘Best Song Ever’ by One direction and so I knew that our ten-year old heroes had a favourite boy band that didn’t differ much from other girls of similar age. So heroes are like you and me and like any body else. Perhaps what differs is their determination and the way they look at things.

Sengkang Secondary was another school handling the issue of bullying, but with a different perspective. They wanted to help the bullies overcome their problems. Why? According to Humairah and Janice, (both 13), when you help the bullies overcome their anger issues, listen to their problems and perhaps provide them with a channel of communication (sometimes even with their own parents), you tackle the ‘root cause.’ Curious to know why they had come with this slant, I probed further. “How do you know this works,” I asked. “I was a bully,” one of them replied “but now I am here, helping others with the same issue that I had once.” I looked at the pretty girl with the kind eyes. It was difficult to believe she could be a bully. Strength of character is not limited to adults or famous personalities. These kids had conviction that many adults lack. Maybe, that’s why children make better change agents. I sincerely believe more children should be encouraged to lead changes and this belief had resulted in my association with SoCh and Design for Change movement. I looked at these kids and knew the movement was on the right track.

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Half a day in such a place is enough to get a person inspired, overwhelmed and emotional, and I was no different. It was like recharging my batteries. I visited many more student run stalls, where passionate team members talked about the ways to save the strays, stop food wastage, handle study pressure, help peers cope with studies, rise above body imaging issues and integrate students with special needs among other relevant issues. Having faced the problem either themselves or having seen some one around them facing it, they were determined to come up with solutions. To my question, is change easy? The answer  was a consistent “No.” Change, they acknowledged, was not easy to come by. There had been failures, disappointments, oppositions and many false starts before they had achieved any kind of success, but at the end there was an immense satisfaction and that to them, mattered the most.

(My heartfelt gratitude to the teachers, educators, parents and the SoCh team members, who had facilitated these young heroes to reach their full potential and a big thank you to the young heroes for leading the change and for inspiring others to do the same. (To read all the change stories, please visit www.sochinction.com).

Before I go, I would like to thank another educator who turned her teaching experiences in to stories of a different kind, ones that entertain. Author Barbara Park, who recently succumbed to cancer, created the adorable, funny and spunky character, Junie B. Jones, who is a shade younger to the kids I had met at the exposition. I know that I should have read the ‘Junie B. Jones’ series when I was a kid, after all it’s a kiddy book. Instead, I discovered them as an adult and realised that as an adult, I need the laughs more than I did as a child. So, thank you Ms Park for your stories and farewell!

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Source: Random House

“When you’re in between dreams, you get to lean back and relax and stop trying so hard. Trying to be somebody, I mean. It’s not as exciting as being a television star, but it’s not that bad, either. You just have to learn to be satisfied with the way you are for a while. Not Forever. Just until you’re finished resting.” (From the series- Junie B. Jones)

Meeting Motivational Speaker, Shiv Khera


We tend to follow, so we look for people to lead. The leaders, we presume are different; they have new ideas, they are fluent and they have mastered their craft. We are pleased with the package. We are also pleased that the leaders radiate charm; are great orators and have impressive personalities as well. What more could we ask for? Accessibility, perhaps? Why not? After all, we do live in a world of accessible information and if inspiration can be made available at a click, or between the pages of a readily available book, then so be it.

My meeting with Shiv Khera was short and yet it was adequate enough, to glimpse the traits of a leader in him. His followers have chosen well. This leader speaks with a conviction that convinces. Here’s our chat session that appeared in ‘India News’ (Oct/ 2011).