It was a big day for me as I sat in front of my Mac, clicking “invite” to every single of my friends for them to like my earthleng Facebook page. And the notifications of friends accepting my invite streamed in. It was such a warm fuzzy feeling – the many nods of approval. Not just that. I had a couple of friends chat me up and asking me about the page and encouraging me for what I am doing. Yes! Small pat on my back accompanied by reassuring smiles. A big THANK YOU to the friends who liked the page and gave their support.
Amongst the encouraging words was the comment – “I never knew you were so into the environment”. The truth was – I didn’t know it either. I never knew I rooted for any cause. In school, I was never exceptionally drawn to clubs and societies like Interact Club or Social Enterprise Clubs that revolved around making the world a better place for others. I did what I enjoyed – sports, and what I could flaunt on my CV as a testimony of my leadership skills – Student Council and Organising Committees. I enjoyed all of those experiences, and they provided me good leverage for getting involved in high profile activities. Learnt a lot, contributed (I’d like to think so) back to the school communities. Made student life a whole lot better for others.
But never have I paid special attention to the various communities on various ends of the spectrums in society. I haven’t particularly cared for the elderly, people with special needs, children from troubled families… – they didn’t jive with my type A personality. Yes, I was very much a type A person growing up – do well in school, get straight As, get involved with co-curricular activities, clinch a good scholarship, study overseas, return and climb the ranks.
Somewhere along the way, my plans were foiled by my strong-headedness, getting into an argument during one of my scholarship interviews as they questioned the longevity of my future service as a child-bearing female. So no more scholarship, no overseas college degree. Just Singapore. OK, so no more fancy degree titles accompanying renown university names. I’ll just settle for a local business degree. Seems like the most versatile, could land me a good variety of jobs. I did pretty well in school, was still very involved. But my experiences with people, with traveling, with various internships, doused the fire in be to always be so competitive. I morphed into much less of a type A person and embraced type B qualities in myself. (Thankfully for that, otherwise I’d have a lot of problems reconciling facts around the unprecedented job sabbatical I’m so enjoying right now.)
That was a pretty long backstory to how I started paying attention to causes. Anyway, I did. And it was influenced by work. No, it wasn’t some corporate social responsibility (CSR) weekend involvement. (Because I think I’ve established that those didn’t manage to tug as my stone of heart strings.) I worked with one of the big names with big values. And inclusion was blood in the company’s veins.
My manager spoke to me one day and asked if I was keen to take on a side project with the special initiatives team on accessibility projects. It would involve reaching out to government and non-profits about our technology and how it helps transform the lives of various communities, often overlooked by society. I agreed in heartbeat, mostly because I knew the members of the team and I love the passion that the lady in charge of the program exudes each time she talks about her work and our products at that. It was infectious. And I was infected.
Here’s a satirical comic illustration she uses all the time:
I started reaching out to NGOs, sharing with them our idea and proposal. Most of them were just really happy that we’re doing something that. And taking the initiative to reach out to them. For free. I remember one organisation that was absolutely grateful for our engagement. They are a great organisation, very well-run, with great programs for their client base. But they never knew how our products and platform could help benefit their teachers and therapists more. When we shared some of the functions, their eyes lit up. And they thanked us profusely after the meeting when we left.
That was when it first struck me. I’ve never had anyone genuinely thank me for taking up their time, talking about my stuff, before. Usually, I’d get a “thanks for coming” or “thanks for your time”. Not someone reaching out to me with both hands, holding mine and saying “thank you so much for sharing with us – we’ve learnt a lot and are really excited.” I figured that this did matter to them. I remember going home and sharing this highlight of my day with my good friend. I enjoyed my day-to-day work but there’s the inevitable drawl that comes with it. This broke the monotony.
Then came the series of sharing sessions with the organisations and finally, being part of an accessibility-focused event organised by IDA – e2Connect. We had a booth displaying our products and technology. We spoke to attendees with various needs and helped them understand how technology could help them in their everyday lives.
I remember talking to this teenage boy and his parents. The boy was in a wheelchair, well-dressed and well-mannered. He suffers from progressive muscular dystrophy, which means his muscles degenerates over time and he loses more and more of their functions. I spoke to him and asked him what he does. He said he used to do art but can’t anymore because he cannot control the brushes anymore. That he is in a wheelchair, but he will also lose the ability to move about with it. I was stumped. So I brought our consultant over to speak to him about how he can replace some of these everyday motions with something as simple as the iPhone or the iPad.
The day passed by and I got better with my spiel, talking to different people having different queries. It was not easy because I had such little idea the limitations faced by someone who’s completely blind or deaf. And I had to be mindful not be offend them or make them feel inadequate as I try to engage the sense of touch and hearing of someone who is visually handicapped with what I am sharing. When, really, all I needed to do most of the time is look into a screen. I hate being a cliche with feelings but the experience was, for lack of an illustrious word, humbling.
Then I saw a familiar face walk purposefully back to the booth – it was the dad of the teenage boy we’d spoken to earlier in the day. I smiled at him. Maybe he had left something behind. He approached us, shook our hands and said, “Thank you for sharing. You’ve opened up a world of possibilities for my son” and walked back to his wife. My heart melted.
I wasn’t involved in these projects for much longer because I left. But these projects struck a chord in me. I remember confessing to the lady I was working with when she asked me how I was getting along with the projects. I told her I never thought I would feel so touched by experiences like these. Because I have never been much of a feelings person. But somehow, I felt really good about what I was doing. And that I’ve surprised myself at that.
I know I wanted to start a website and have something to call my own. But what would I write about? Not another one of those travelogues. Definitely not a food blog. And I’d be horrible with a beauty blog. I thought – why not have a blog that is maybe a little purposeful and in-line with my inclinations. I’ve always suffered that minuscule twitch in my neurones throwing away one-time-use plastic cups and bags and cutlery. Maybe I really do love Mother Earth a lot more than I think I do. Maybe I should read up more about it and express this love.