Friday, December 31, 2010

The Journey 6

We had special days too! Sports Day, a Christmas party, and an outing to the nearby town of Lava!

Outing to Lava
Initially, we planned to trek all the way to Lava. In fact, this would be the same route that the children of Kolakham Village would have to take if they choose to continue their education after Year 4.

Then we found out - the trek would take AT LEAST 3 hours one way!

Uhrm... Not much of a holiday for the youths!

So the volunteers discussed, and some of the volunteers felt so sorry for the youths, they offered to put up the cost of hiring jeeps just so the youths would not have to make a 6 hour trek on their supposedly-day off!

Luckily we had enough INR left over that the volunteers didn't have to cough up from their own pockets!

So come the day of the outing, the youths and adult volunteers piled into jeeps and began .... a slow, winding, very, very TURBULENT ride up the mountains... to Lava village!


Along the way, we passed the forests where we were told the red panda and barking deer lived. But we were warned not to venture in alone as big, black, fierce and hungry bears also lived in the forests!

The temperature dropped even further as we slowly climbed to the very peak of the mountain.


Our first stop was a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The view was breathtaking, as the monastery overlooked the mountain peaks in the distance.


We went inside, and the youths hammed it up with the statues and took lots and lots of pictures :>.


And.... LOST OUR EA BANNER!!!

[Blame for the loss was eventually narrowed down to the B&T Law Firm, and is pending investigation of all video and photographic evidence.... The case is still ongoing at press time...]

An elderly man came into the monastery and showed us a delicious snack - honeycomb covered with sesame seeds - for just 5 rupees. One taste, and he was surrounded by team members clamouring for more!


We walked further into town where the youths were shown the weekly bazaar, and after being told precisely the time of lunch and where to meet, the youths (and adults!) were set loose to shop, shop, shop!

The weekly bazaar was filled with people haggling over clothes, shoes, bags, vegetables, fish, meat... anything you could want to buy at very cheap prices! The area where the bazaar was held was so tightly packed, it was hard to move in groups... most of the time we had to squeeze sideways through packed alleyways with market sellers' tarps spread on the ground on our left and right... the din of busy shoppers and sellers calling us to buy from them filling our ears.


Some of the adults were busy finding gloves, socks and foodstuffs for the children of Kolakham Village. The youths were busy finding bargains!

The boys came back with headgear that had cost them about SGD$1!

But Nina was eventually crowned Queen of Bargains when she came back and proudly displayed bags full of her wares... shoes that she had bargained down from SGD$15 to for SGD$10, for example!

Until, that is, Bhaskar, our guide, casually picked up the shoes and pointed out the actual price on the price tag... which was about 60 rupees cheaper... :>

We had a lunch of noodles and dumplings, but the youths declared the food at the chalet much more yummy-licious than the food at the restaurant up in Lava and we had to have a competition to finish up the dumplings.


After lunch everyone quickly bought snacks like chocolate and biscuits from the restaurant's counter and then climbed back into the jeep. Tired and happy, most of us dozed off on the ride back... it had been a wonderful day!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Journey 5

After our sweaty 'cool-downs' (some of the Team insisted they were 'warm-downs' as we would be shivering from the cool mountain air) it would be bath-time.

The adult volunteers would beg the youths to bathe as quickly as possible so that the adults could bathe after in time for dinner... to which the youths sweetly acquiesced and bathed lickety-split so that the adults had plenty of time for their own bath-time... yeah, right!! We wish! Adults were lucky if we had 45 mins for all of us to bathe!

To be fair to the youths, bath-time was quite a chore as iron pails had to be lugged up stone steps to a metal 'tong' that stood in the courtyard with a wood-fire burning under it all day long. The pails would be filled by the helpful staff of the lodge, and then hauled to the individual dorm bathrooms.


To save the hot water, we all bathed together-gether - one pail of hot water mixed up with cool made enough for two people usually. It was the only way to get hot water baths as the electric heater in the bathroom usually was out along with the electricity.

The boys saved a freezing cold bath for the last night of their stay when they crammed 7 people into the boys' bathroom, but that's another story... ;>

After the adults marathon showers, we would hurry the youths back to the dining room (amazingly, youths canNOT get dressed in the time that it takes for adults to bathe!) and hop over the doorstep before the Discipline Mistress could catch us late.

Dinner at 6:30p.m., and the menu would be carefully written on the wall for our reference each day, so our tummies would be growling by the time it was served. The boys agreed to wait for all of us to go at least one round before taking a second helping, so Tank would wait until he was the last person, and triumphantly take TWO helpings of dinner at one go!


After dinner and clearing up, the adult volunteers would lead a debrief of the day's activities, running through what had been done in the various areas - primary, pre-primary and infrastructure.

A short stretching break, and then would be a time of sharing...

Every other day, the adults would facilitate a sharing based on a topic... These were special moments as the youths openly shared thoughts and dreams and wishes and life-experiences... and the adults shared too!

Thomas facilitated a time of examining what we wanted to see during Expedition, why and how we were going to achieve it. The room was quiet as he shared his own story of growing in confidence and self-belief... and his dream to see the youths, too, grow in this area during Expedition.

Another session examined how we saw each other as leaders... what were the strengths and what were the weaknesses? The youths honestly fed-back to one another, and to the adults!, the areas to grow and to improve and the areas to acclaim and to praise in each. I was not at this session as I was taking care of Nuraini with a super-high temperature :>, but I received my feedback card from the boys in my team. I cherish it <3

David and I did a session on CHANGE - how had we changed during the Expedition and what were we going to bring back after the Expedition? I will never forget seeing the eager sparkle in the youths' eyes to share as they took turns to tell us how they had grown as leaders during the Expedition, and what their plans were to bring those changes back to their futures.

Shufen and Wendy did a session on culture, and so clever - they got us to sit in the centre in a circle of chairs! Otherwise we were dopey by that stage of the Expedition from the decreasing temperatures and late nights! The ladies asked the youths what were the differences they had seen between the people of Singapore and the people in Kolakham?

The youths shared how they had seen contentment in the people's faces, the simplicity there... some wanted to stay on in Kolakham and not return to Singapore! ... And some shared how they were thankful for things that we took for granted back home - electricity, public transport, schools!

Serene had a thought-provoking statement... she shared that she wondered if the people in Kolakham were truly contented, or if they, too, longed for the better life that we represented. She reminded us that Bhaskar, our guide, had told us that the population in the village was decreasing as the youths would leave the village in search of jobs and a better life.

Calvin and Sophia led a session that had all of us break into groups and share about the lowest point of our lives. In the quiet security of our assigned small groups, with promises to keep whatever was shared private, youths and adults opened up to share about painful moments in our pasts and how we had grown from those moments to where we were today.

Adults had a glimpse into the struggles that our youths faced - stories that broke our hearts but which showed us too, the resilience, the strengths to overcome of the youths of EA.

And the youths had the chance to see into the lives of the adults :>... to know that we, too, had gone through tough times to become stronger, and to give and love and be there for those coming along the journey behind us.

Tears flowing freely... voices faltering and growing stronger... we shared. And grew bonds of love and trust that will last a lifetime.

After the sharing times would be free time! By then it would be about 9:30 p.m. - insanely early in Singapore, but not in the frosty mountains of India! And certainly not with the electricity off (usually!) and shivering in our winter gear in the unheated dining room!

The youths would troop off to the boys' room for youths debriefing (a meeting they initiated to which adults were strictly not invited!) and the adults would stumble down to the girls cottage for adults debriefing... which normally lasted not longer than maybe two and a half hours... *grin*

These 'free-times' were fully used... The dorm next to us had a 'Ladies Night' with the youths and adults - the youths loved it! ... There were appreciation cards to get ready and the youths would bundle themselves in their sleeping bags and jackets to design 50+ thank you cards for donors ... And some of the youths would be sitting outside on the garden benches looking up at the clear night sky hoping to see shooting stars!

By midnight, almost everyone would be cosily snuggled into their thick caterpillar-like sleeping bags, off to Dreamland... knowing that tomorrow would be another beautiful day with exciting possibilities awaiting - to share together!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Journey 4

Kolbung Primary School comprises a single wooden building perched on the edge of the side of the mountain. Inside, there are no walls dividing the room. All seven classes sit together on wobbly benches and tables, squeezing tight to make room.


Some of the benches are so low, the students prop two benches, one on top of the other, to get the bench to the right height. This, of course, at the high risk of toppling over!

As soon as we arrive, little faces start popping out from all over the compound. The children look Chinese/ Tibetan/ Mongolian/ Korean... anything but Indian! And each little face has a big, wide smile to greet us.


Our team will descend to the play/ meeting area (a big sandy lot) and put our bags at the side.

Then it's a quick briefing time as our four buddy groups - EA, SSBD, Bandito and Happy - are assigned to do either Primary School, Pre-Primary School or Infrastructure.

Oh, and one person gets to do Kitchen Duty if they wish!

10a.m., the buddy groups climb back up towards the school building (for Primary School), tug the littles to the playground (for Pre-Primary) or march off to get gloves and paraphenalia for Infrastructure.


What did we teach? Oh... anything and everything! Balloon-sculpting, Origami, English, Math, Shapes, Colours, Numbers, Dog and Bone, Skipping rope, Sign Language, Duck Duck Goose... even Scissors, Paper, Stone!


The biggest surprise was the day we tried to teach the kids 5 Stones... and found out that not only were they better than we were at the game, they had variations that we did not have! I guess it's an international game!


The youths picked up a good smattering of Nepalese, but whatever language they spoke it didn't matter, as the kids adored our youths!

Bob looked like a Christmas tree with kids dangling off his arm, back and neck as Christmas decorations!


Azhari's little girl, Kritika, was so attached to him, she would hold his hand and drag him round and round the playground every day.

Effa was always surrounded by at least 3 kids chattering away happily to her.

And Nuraini would perch on the pile of logs for infra at the side of the playground, patiently feeding the tinies as they opened their little mouths wide for the next spoonful of rice at lunch.

12:30p.m. is the kids' lunchtime, and they would let us know that it was lunchtime by racing to get their lunchboxes as soon as they knew it was time to eat. Because the families in this mountain region are very poor and live so far away, the government entices the kids to school by providing a free lunch for the kids.


The children will patiently line up outside the kitchen - a tiny wood building with a huge wok/ pot cooking over a wood fire located right in the middle of the floor - and collect their food in their own plates.

The amounts of food the children ate has to be seen to be believed... we were all shocked! Even the champion eaters amongst us could not compare with the mountain of rice that the kindergarten children could eat!

Our youths would scatter all over the playground and feed the tinier kids their lunch. When they had to stop though, the kids would pick up their own spoons and keep going! We couldn't stop gawking some days as the rice disappeared into tummies that appeared too small to contain it!

After lunch, lessons would continue for a short while more. Infrastructure would be busy at work digging ditches, carrying piles of wood and other building materials up the side of the mountain, painting wood.


By 2:30 p.m., the kids would come pouring out of the classroom and the playground to meet in the sandy lot. Hands tightly clasped in a prayer position, they would close their eyes, and sing a beautiful prayer song at the top of their voices.


With a loud 'Namaste', the song would end, and the children would wave cheery goodbyes with their beautiful smiles before starting the long treks back to their homes.

All the four buddy groups would gather, drink tea provided by the kitchen, and laugh and chat about what we'd done before packing up to leave.


Then... a long, long, LONG tramp back UP the mountain! Everyone would be panting and struggling as we made our way along the same path we had just taken down, except with a steep gradient upwards this time.

This was the point when Shufen would cheer us all up by telling us "We're reaching already! Around the next corner!"... like, long before we would reach the camp!

Phi Fern would try to get us to sing a song, but as it's kinda hard to sing and pant at the same time, only the fittest would join in!

And the Team would encourage each other up by asking eg., "Bellah, okay?" and Bellah would reply, "All right! Tank okay?" and so on and so forth until EVERYONE had asked 'Okay' and answered 'All right'!

Sweetest of all were our guardian angels! Little ones! The children from the Primary School often met us on the way and would wait for us to catch up with them, much to our shame! They would stop when we would, and stare at us with puzzled expressions as we gasped for air. They never moved until we were ready to.

When they reached their houses, the children would wave goodbye and disappear inside, no doubt to tell their parents about the strangely unfit visitors from Singapore!

The last lap was the best, as we would be able to see the girls' bedroom chalet in the high distance, often with somebody's CampVision t-shirt drying outside! We'd haul our heavy bodies up the last slope and slap high-fives as we finally reached the driveway.

Inside, we had to do cool-downs, and suppress snorts of laughter as Bob always tried to crack us up at this time. It is really hard to cool down cramped muscles and laugh at the same time, seriously!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Journey 3

Every day's routine seemed to slip like beads on a string... uniform, and yet different in colour, flavour, texture.

Everyday, my dorm mates moaned as I woke them up relentlessly at 5:45a.m. *grin*. A warning call would come at 6a.m. when reluctantly, the lie-a-beds would shiveringly unzip our cosy cocooon sleeping bags and wriggle off the beds.

Then would come a quick dash to the bathroom (girls being girls, we ALL shared the bathroom together-gether) and a speedy change of clothes, teeth chattering from the chill all the while.

By 6:45a.m., we MUST be in the dining room, for the Discipline Mistress (DM) aka Shufen would punish those who were late with washing-plates duty and carrying-water-for-DM duty!

Then we would have morning exercise by the Group incharge of Fun for the day - hup, two, three, four! Depending on which Group was leading, it could be strenuous or lax and lazy!

Usually we'd still have a few moments before breakfast, so next on the agenda would be a feedback session for the Youth In-Charge the day before. Hadi invariably gave the same feedback, "Flawless!" until we banned him from using the word!

Then a formal handover ceremony would take place between the Youth In-Charge from the day before and the Youth In-Charge for the day, with a photo-taking session as the Team Journal was solemnly handed over, complete with handshakes and cheesy photo-taking smiles.

Yummy breakfasts would follow next, and Tank especially seemed to be competing for World's Biggest Eater of Roti every meal. He couldn't beat slight Hadi though... for all his slim build, Hadi could comfortably pack 10 rotis into his skeletal frame.

Then the Team in charge of cleaning would start hassling everyone to pleeeeaassseeee finish eating so that they could finish the plate-washing in time. The rest of the group would disappear to individual dorms and toilets...

8a.m. sharp, we'd descend to the 'starting point' of our long trek. The Youth In-Charge would hustle us like so many unruly chicks into line, always starting with those who needed to set the pace first.


Then Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off we'd go! Down... down... down the mountain we'd trip... stumbling over rocks and hidden crevices... sliding down steep sandy slopes... losing and regaining our footing... ambling over the easy places... cursing the tough spots... scratches, bruises and an occassional stubbed toe!


But worse of all was the ... uhm... vast amounts of flatulence experienced by all the Expedition Agape members due to the vegetarian diet... Thus necessitating occassional breaks of gas. O... M... G!!!! The smell!!! Invariably somebody would have a sudden, painful urge to 'release wind' and sweetly apologise to all and sundry behind him or her. The mountains never stank so bad!


In between farts, the Team still found the energy to exchange lame jokes. Giggles would permeate the air as the youths and adult leaders competed with their best and exchanged barbs. Phi Fern had brought along a Book of Jokes on the Expedition, and every morning she would chirp, "I've got a new one!". The lame-ness of the joke could be gauged by how loud were the groans and howls of protest!


Along the way, there would often be one of the little kids passing us on the way to school. The kids would greet us with bright smiles, slap high-fives with the Team and then jump, hop and skip down the mountain, leaving the rest of us still panting on our trek and looking on in envy!

A tough 1.5 hours hike later, we would slide down the last steep slope and Kolbung School would appear in front of us.

The Journey 2

When we arrived at Bogdogra, we crammed ourselves into 5 jeeps. Then off we bounced down road!

The jeeps ran through dusty streets. I saw wooden houses on stilts to keep them far above the mud and filth below. The streets were chockablock with vehicles honking and swerving, and I was somewhat bemused to find us driving straight down the middle of a two-way lane facing other oncoming vehicles doing exactly the same thing.

Out into the countryside we went, and here we saw fields and fields of paddy ending in high mountains in the distance. We passed by many rivers, and we could see people, adults and children, working in the river, collecting things to put into their baskets.

The weather was cool, but it became steadily colder as we climbed. We stopped for a while at a little resthouse where the youths were fascinated by an enormous beehive just outside the window. After buying water and drinking tea (and letting the ill ones amongst us throw up in the washroom :>), we continued on our journey...

Now the roads grew steadily rougher and we bounced about like marbles in the jeeps! The roads were made of broken rocks, and even the jeeps squeaked and whined in protest.

At last, our poor youths' tummies gave out, and we had to stop to let three of them throw up in the grass. That was the point when the 'macho men' had to show off how little they could wear in the cold mountain air... Thomas won hands-down with just ONE t-shirt in below-10 degrees celsius!


We stopped just outside Neora Valley Jungle Camp and stumbled in. The first sight that greeted us was a lodge made out of warm wood and a stone foundation. It was so reminiscent of an expensive ski resort that it augured well for the rest of our stay.

We climbed up the stone steps to a beautiful wooden chalet with tables and chairs for dining in.


Our hosts had prepared two lovely surprises for us... one for the Team, and one just for Serene because it was her birthday!

For the Team, there were welcome drinks - unfortunately alcoholic, so the youths were forbidden from touching them. And our hosts put welcome scarves around our necks for blessings.

For Serene, there was a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a Happy Birthday message on the wall... and something which Lin Lin had secretly planned in email exchanges sent just after her recce trip to Neora Valley with Nicholas...

Lin Lin took Serene and Calvin down to the lodge that we had passed by and opened the door.... SURPRISE!!! It was a Honeymoon Cottage booked just for them and on the floor, a welcome message spelled out in flowers for Calvin and Serene.

But being the sweet couple that they are, they chose not to stay there anyway.

Chilled and longing to see our own rooms, we grabbed our bags and lugged them to our chalets. And wowwwwwww! The chalets were amazing!


They were so huge, they could have comfortably fit our team into two. Beds were downstairs and in the attic with three cushy winter sleeping bags laid out side by side. Everything was done in natural wood - the chairs, tables, even the lamp shades!


The rooms were chilly as there were no heaters though.... so we did not linger long. Pausing just long enough to pull out winter gear, we trooped towards the dining chalet.

Just outside the bedroom chalets were benches for us to sit... and we could see the twinkling lights of the houses spotting the mountains around us... and far more beautiful, the twinkling flurry of stars in the sky.

We had arrived!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Journey

I know everyone is waiting to hear about the trip... It's just that I'm feeling so 'blur' after the trip that it's hard for me to express it in words. Still... for all of you....

My journey started very early on the 6th of December, just after midnight, when David, Tank, Sharifah and myself bunked out at the airport to wait for our morning flight. Thomas was supposed to come over after packing more logistics for us, but he didn't arrive until way past 3a.m.!

Early in the a.m., Nicholas and Angel stopped by to wake us up for an early breakfast. Since the team was meeting at 6:30 a.m., we had to scarf all the food we could down our throats and quickly rush over to the check-in counter.

The members of the Team started arriving, along with loving well-wishers like Suan, Rena, Paul... all giving us their blessings and smiles to start our journey off.

The check-in desk was pretty horrified at the number of boxes and bags we had along with us.... each member of the Team complete with one suitcase/ backpack each AND an assigned bag from logistics! I remember the man at the desk protesting, "Miss! Your weight for luggage has exceeded..."!!

Luckily, they let us through without a fuss after we assured them that we were travelling as a group, and not ALL the bags were that heavy; it was just that we were checking in the heaviest first... ahem!

Families of the youths went off to have breakfast, and then we all congregated again to enter the boarding gate. Jermaine arrived just in time to wave a frantic goodbye from behind the other well-wishers, and I received an SMS from Ayu to say, "Oops! I just woke up!" and wishing all the best for the trip!

When we'd entered the boarding gate, we all sat on the floor in a circle. Each of us gave one word to say how we felt. The youths gave a lot of 'excited's! Nina was 'nervous' as this was her first time on a plane, and Farhan expressed 'sad' because Zhan Yang could not be with us.


Serene and Calvin quickly ran through the itinerary with us and then we boarded the plane. We sat three to a row, and the youths were anticipating the first lift-off. Nina was right behind me and I could hear her worried, nervous squeaks as she waited for take-off!


Once in the air, we hit rough turbulence only once and the 'aaahhhhhssss' and 'oooohhhhhsss' of the youths, I will never forget! It was definitely an experience to travel with them!


We were late arriving in Chennai, and before we landed, the adults warned the youths that we would have to make a mad dash through the airport. We hurried through immigration, only to have Farhan stopped!

We picked up our soggy bags, soaked with rain, and tried to get out of the international departure hall, but this time Razanoor could not exit because he had given his passport to Umi who had run to domestic departure with the earlier group! Whoops!

Razanoor slipped past the armed guards and the adults shielded him as everyone ran off to domestic departure as fast as we could. At domestic, the officials kept telling us, "M'am! Sir! You're going to miss your flight!"

Panic amongst the Team! Run and hop onto the transit bus, where we took turns counting team members "15...16...17... are we all here? No! Who's missing?!" Aiks! Bob this time for not having a carry-on board luggage tag!

Finally everyone was on the transit bus, all sweating and panting heavily despite the cool India air! Once on the plane we sat down and ... waited..... HEY!!! Thought they said we would miss the flight?! The plane took its own sweet time to leave anyway!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Today...

I'm still feeling disoriented... It feels strange to be back in Malaysia and back in the office. Ayu assured me yesterday that she felt the same way when she got back from her Cambodia expedition, and that the feeling takes about a week to pass!

The past few days, especially after the youths told us they did not want to do education anymore, I've been asking often in my heart, Have we impacted the youths?

Even after all the warnings from C and S that there will be no visible results after the trip, I still want to know! I still want to see 'results'.

Paul yesterday asked me if the youths were able to share with me and open up? And I said yes, and he said that meant they trusted me.

But that isn't the point. I KNOW the youths can open up and share with me and that they trust me... but what about them? What has happened inside their hearts, their guts? Have they grown in confidence and strength? Have they received lessons of gratitude and fortitude? Have they developed compassion and have we modelled kindness and care?

Sending back the youths is incredibly painful because we know where the youths come from.... Families and backgrounds where there is pain and sadness and anger. It's not the best environment to 'go home' too.

Have we given them enough 'cushion' in terms of love and lessons of resilience so that they can stay strong and choose to reject negative influences? Can they pull themselves out of hopelessness to believe that their future can be different, the families they create will be different?

In my heart a hungry cry, "Did we make a difference? Did I make a difference? Was it worth it?"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Leaving tonight for Singapore...

Going off to Singapore tonight, and planning to bunk over at the airport on Sunday night with David and some of the youths...

Can't believe we're really going. Gosh.

Felt slightly deflated to think EA is almost over :>. It's not been an easy ride, but it's been amazing, nonetheless. It has been life-changing; I've grown so much and I have much more to give out now to the youths I meet than I had before I embarked on this wild ride.

I'm looking forward to spending more time with the youths, and sharing the trip with my friends in the Team. I don't know what it'll be like... travelling with teams hasn't been a good experience for me (as TOD'ites know only too well!)... I realise when I travel in teams just how much I need time and space alone to refresh and replenish and renew.

But we've been through so much already... I think each of us in the Team have each other's backs.... each one is supported by, or supports, another... Different team members click with different team members, and that's okay.

God grant me physical strength :>. I've been feeling really physically tired lately, goodness knows why, and it's going to be physically gruelling when we go up there.

I can't wait to see the youths in action :>. We'll be doing most of our planning up there, I think, on an ad hoc basis. It's different from the way I normally work, but it's been fun to see how the Team pulls together things at the last minute.

Okay, you can tell I'm rambling at this point... I'm just believing God that everything is going to be okay. Not perfect. But okay :>.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Come to Me

Matt 11:28-29 Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

It really hurts to know you've hurt someone... and this morning, I was just asking God to help me grow more loving and more caring...

And at the same time, resting my weary head on His shoulder because, around me, I see so many who need love and care and attention... and there is only so much I can give each individual person.

And this verse leapt out at me as I was reading God's Word... It was rhema word for me... That His yoke is never heavy, but will be light.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Anticipation :)

Feeling tons better :>. Okay, acknowledged and agreed... It DOES help to talk things thru instead of sweeping them under the carpet... even if it IS far more tiring to do so!

God, I need Your wisdom too... I don't know how to help my team, but I know You do. And I know there is a reason You brought me here... I keep thinking it's for a future purpose, but maybe it is not - maybe You put me here, in this team, at this time, for a specific reason.

Help me to see what it is. At times when I get disheartened, I think I'm the misfit of the team >.<... but I love my team-mates! And I love the youths too!

And never let me forget... EA is in Your hands... and You won't let any of us fall. Surely You will honour the faith of those who named the Expedition 'Agape'... for the love that it represents. <3

Friday, November 26, 2010

Finding a voice...

Hmm... let's see where we go with this...

I get very frustrated frequently because I can't really speak out very well. The worst moments for me are when there are conflicts; I literally lose my 'voice'.

I think over the years, I've learnt that when I lose my temper and say things I shouldn't, I'll have to go back and apologize to that person for those words. Because of that, I prefer not to speak the words at all, so I won't have to apologize! (not so noble a reason, eh? ;> Now you guys know!)

Besides, I hate hurting people. No matter how much you hurt me, let me not hurt you!

Yesterday, I really enjoyed sharing with Jermaine on Facebook. We were sharing our dreams of helping kids to speak - and it is so rare for me to meet someone with the same dream!

The kids we are working with will have different reasons for not speaking, but our goal is the same... to help them find their 'voice'.

For me, not a vocal voice; I want to help my kids find another way of 'speaking', if speaking is too difficult. Because I truly understand that the vocal voice, especially in times of stress, can't 'come out'. So over the years, I've picked up sign language, explored dance, sand art, play therapy and anatomical dolls... any 'tools' that could be used to help my kids communicate.

Jermaine wants to help kids find their real, actual, vocal voice. :> I find that so beautiful, as kids who struggle with mutism really need someone 'on their side' to encourage them to use their voice.

Where do voices go? And why is it so difficult to speak sometimes?

Years back, I watched the film adaptation of Amy Tan's book 'The Joy Luck Club'. One part of the movie was so poignant, I remember it to today. It was the part where a little girl was standing next to her mother's dead body. Her mother had chosen to commit suicide by eating opium to get away from her miserable life as fourth wife to her rapist husband.

She had chosen to die, her daughter believed, so that her own spirit would merge with her daughter's, and give her the strength to speak out for herself. And the daughter stood next to her dead mother's body and said, "Mama, can you see me? I understand now. And I am no longer afraid."

The little girl turned and screamed at her father, "You must atone for what you have done, because all debts must be paid by the New Year!" Quickly, her father went to the altar, lit joss sticks and offered prayers to the spirit of the girl's dead mother. He vowed that the dead mother's daughter would be treated as if she was the child of his first wife.

And the words I never forgot resonated in the background... "And on that day... I learnt to shout."

Why did those words have such an impact as to stay with me all these years? It is because they were shocking to me.

Society trains us that a good girl, and especially a good Chinese girl, does not shout, yell, argue etc. etc. Cry if you will, but swallow your tears, and remember that bitterness is the lot of a woman. Confronting, and demanding change, is 'unwomanly'.

Strong in my memory are the first times I lost 'my voice'.

The first time I psychologically lost my voice, is when I tried to tell a friend about something that had happened to me as a child. I was talking and suddenly... no sound came out. I was puzzled, and tried to speak again. No... my voice had gone! My friend asked a question instead, as she saw that I couldn't speak, and I nodded in reply. Psycho-somatic, I'm sure, but thereafter I understood that there are moments when it is possible to 'lose your voice'.

The next memory is when I truly lost my voice for a physical reason :>. My voice had been going in and out as I struggled with a bad cold. And then at one point, at my sister's graduation from ACCA, it just disappeared altogether! I panicked as this was the first time I could not utter a sound, only whispers, no matter how hard I 'shouted'.

The doctor calmly inspected my throat and told me it had swollen shut over my vocal chords. After a few days (during which I tried REALLY hard to speak!), my throat healed and I could speak again. But ever since then, I've been plagued with throat infections of every kind causing me to 'lose my voice' intermittently.

But the struggle I have is the voice to be heard. I know that people read the things I write, follow certain examples in behavior... but nobody tells me they 'heard' me. And in a team situation especially, I sometimes feel as if I'm back to my days of illness when no sound comes out!

I don't know how to change this. But maybe, the change will come as I help children to find their voice? And yet, I have always wondered - if I can't find my own voice, how can I help kids find theirs?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Please listen...

One thing which happened during the recent camp that I really appreciated was when Suan, founder of CampVision, just took time out to listen to the volunteers.

It had been a pretty confusing day for all of us. Suan and Rena sat us down and asked us how we were feeling. And for once, all of us could honestly express how we felt.

We were too.... I dunno... exhausted to explain very much, but at least, we could be honest.

One thing which I've learnt in EA that I will never forget is, how important it is to listen to real feedback from your team. I appreciate how Shufen emailed us to say, Don't be sensitive, everyone, or nobody will dare to raise up any issues again.

I've always been someone who prefers to hide everything under a rock and determinedly and single-mindedly push through a project until its completion.

But recently, I've changed my mind... I believe it is the people and not the project that matters. It may take time to listen to your team, but if part of your objective is to grow your team, to develop the people involved in the project, then taking that time out is not time wasted.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Singaporeans

I have to say, volunteering in Singapore has really given me a battering in the self-esteem department :>.

Everyone seems so much quicker, smarter, brighter, funnier, more talented, more fit and healthy etc. etc. than me!

Suan is from Raffles Junior College (for non-Singaporeans, that is the elite-st of colleges! You can't get higher than that in Singapore - only the cream of Singapore students get in!) and started CampVision at the tender age of 27... Serene is from Nanyang Girls School (cream of all the Chinese-ed students in Singapore!) and, I don't know, the other day I couldn't help but think, she's better than me in every way!... Phi Fern was ex-Head Prefect from my school in Singapore...!!!

I really feel so small and intimidated amongst all these 'greats'.

But then yesterday, when I was miserably talking to God about this, He reminded me that He HAD given me a talent - I pick up sign language quickly! It made me *smile*!

I was like, "God, I would have loved to be talented in singing like Pst Kim, or dancing... or something showy like that. Instead, You've given me a talent to empower me to serve others!"

My God has a plan for my life - and the plan is so beautiful. I can't believe sometimes that He would use me to help others... but He does. And He didn't just give me a mandate, He equipped me.

I love You, God. Thank You for Your beautiful plan for my life.

Possibilities = Endless!

Really excited...

Yesterday, I received an email from Woon with all the upcoming activities for the Deaf. Woon really tries her best to come up with great programmes for the Deaf.

I wrote an email to thank her and told her I couldn't attend any because I'd be either in Singapore or India during the upcoming events.

She wrote back to ask for more details because she thought it'd be an interesting possibility for the Deaf youths in Malaysia!

I told her about my plan to adapt it for Malaysians to take them to East Malaysia. It also involves physical activities which is more ideal for the Deaf.

I really hope this can take off, as one of the things that's in my heart is to get the Deaf and Hearing to integrate more with each other.

Helen Keller once said, "Blindness separates you from things. But Deafness separates you from people." I couldn't understand why, until I mixed more with the Deaf.

I still remember so clearly joining a friend from Penang Deaf Association for a celebration dinner for different community service associations. We sat in full view of everyone, had dinner and conversed in sign. People around us were mingling and getting to know each other, but nobody approached us. I heard voices whispering, "Oh, they're deaf!"

At one point my friend looked at me sadly and signed, "In this whole party, I only talk to you." I didn't know what to say...

Community service is something I want to share with the Deaf, because it is my favourite-st activity! I've invited Deaf friends to concerts, parties, events... but I've not shared this one part of me that I love the most yet.

I don't know where this will lead, nor do I understand why so many exciting possibilities are opening up after Expedition. But I know my God sees my heart because He is giving me all the desires of my heart just as He promised He would.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stormie O'Martian

I don't know where my Stormie O'Martian book is... Nadine, with you, kut? Or did I lend it to someone else?

Stormie's mom suffered from paranoia shizoprenia all through Stormie's life. She was amazed to find out after her mom died that, symptoms of the disease were present the day her mom and dad got married. Her mom insisted Stormie's dad drive to another motel for their honeymoon because, "Somebody is following us! Aliens are tracking us!"

When her mom was dying from breast cancer, Stormie, in one of her broken-hearted days, cried out to God, "God, restore the relationship between my mom and me. I never had that... The most basic of relationships - that of a mother and her child - was taken from me."

And God promised her, "I will... Through your daughter."

And Stormie thought, "WHAT daughter?" She only had a son at that time and was certainly not planning on another child!

But God was faithful, and after her mom passed away, Stormie had a daughter. And in the days watching her little girl growing up, with childish giggles and white dresses and ribbons and bows, she grew to understand how her mom must have felt when she watched Stormie at play as a little girl.

She remembered little things like mini pancakes that her mom had made on her good days... birthday treats and happy moments.... The moments hadn't last too long, and they were swamped by the mud of the miserable hours that followed as her mom would succumb to the disease soon after...

But... she had been loved. Through the disease of schizoprenia, at the base of it all, there was deep, abiding mother's love.

And that was enough.

What a beautiful story and what a blessing it has been. I'm so glad she had the courage to share.

Few understand... how precious are the ones that do.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tribute

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped by a friend's house. They were just about to have dinner and invited me to join them, but I had had my wisdom tooth extracted, so I couldn't. Instead I pulled a chair up to the table and just chatted whilst they ate.

As we chatted, my friend's husband told stories about their little boy. The little boy smiled shyly as all the old childhood stories started coming out. At one point, he moaned in embarassment, "Daa-a-a-a-a-a-addddd!" whereupon his father stroked his hair and said, "It's okay, son!"

Throughout the dinner, I kept a close eye on the interaction between father and son. The love that the father showed his son touched me so much.

You see, I know some about the background of my friend's husband. He grew up in a tough and violent family. He didn't have a good role model in his father who was a violent man, and never gentle with his children.

When God blessed my friend and her husband with a son, it took a while for my friend's husband to know how to be a good father. He did not discipline his son very much; indeed, he seemed afraid to hit his son in case he hit too hard.

He used a stern voice to scold instead, sometimes bordering on shouting. It was, I think, a reflection of his childhood.

But then, some friends of the family gently pointed out to him that his little son was very afraid of his father. His son would not go near the father and became quiet and withdrawn when the father was around.

So my friend's husband decided to change. He interacted more with his boy. He talked to him, spent time with him and played with him.

And today, I can see the change in the relationship between father and child. I can see the little boy opening up to the dad and sometimes playfully batting back at his father when his father musses his hair or pinches his cheek. I can see the trust in the son that it is okay just to be in his father's presence.

I respect my friend's husband so much for choosing that different way. I know it's not easy. But the passing-down of violence through the generations is going to end because my friend's husband decided that it would stop with him. His son is going to have a different relationship with his grandson, because he will remember a different tone of voice, a different touch of a father's hand...

Would that all hurting families could heal by the children deciding, "This stops here."

Our miracle

I just finished preparing the receipts for all the donors in Expedition Agape (well, except for a few whose scribbled address and name I really couldn't decipher!) When I looked at my list of all the receipts that I had issued, I was deeply touched.

You know what, all in all, more than 100 people have donated to Expedition Agape. More than one hundred people, who have never seen our youths, never met the children and people of the impoverished village in West Bengal, have given whatever they can to make this dream of Expedition Agape come true.

Some days, I just sit back and look at the Expedition at this stage of the journey, and I'm just so amazed...

I think back to where we started from on this journey when we first met outside Dhoby Ghaut MRT - We were a bunch of volunteers who didn't know each other (will I ever forget Phi Fern telling Shufen, "Eh, you are Fen ah? I also Fern leh!"), had no bank account let alone money to put in it, had no youths signed up for the Expedition, and no activities or program planned for them whatsoever!

Serene told us, "We're going to create this from scratch!"

Fast forward to today... 3 and a half months after that first meeting. Our bank account holds enough to cover the expenses for 12 youth leaders and 10 adult leaders to make the trip to West Bengal, India and build an extension to a school and a fence around the playground. Bit by bit, drop by drop, the contributions from loving people who willingly extended their hands to give, have filled our financial needs in EA.

The youths are busily preparing the programme for the local community service they are going to do in Singapore prior to the trip, and the activities for the children in Kolbung Primary School during the two-week period we'll be up there.

Our team has formed and bonded. Last week, we had a camp in Pulau Ubin. We had a night walk where the youths positively insisted on swtiching off torchlights (and saw ghosts! ha ha!), cross-dressing (ahem!), trail activities in the pouring rain... and most of all, as with any CampVision activities, open-heart sharing of our lives, our dreams and hopes.

At the end of the camp, youths and volunteers alike had faces soaked in tears... the youths sharing, "I felt accepted for just being myself" "I've made friends"... the volunteers sharing, "It was worth it, to give up what I had to to be here" "I remember again why I do this"

How did we get from there to here? Our air-tickets purchased, activities and itinerary planned, and strong friendships of Agape love formed within the Team? I don't know.

But this song ran through my mind yesterday as I mused about all we'd been through, and the journey yet ahead, and I think it speaks of just what the journey through Expedition Agape has been so far....

There can be miracles
Many nights we've prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hopeful song
We barely understood

Now we are not afraid
Although we know there's much to fear
We were moving mountains long
Before we knew we could

Chorus:
There can be miracles, when you believe
Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

In this time of fear
When prayers so often prove in vain
Hope seems like the summer birds
Too swiftly flown away

Yet now I'm standing here
My heart's so full I can't explain
Seeking faith and speaking words
I never thought I'd say

Chorus:
There can be miracles, when you believe
Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

Bridge:
They don't (always happen) when you ask
And it's easy to give in to your fears
But when you're blinded by your pain
Can't see your way straight throught the rain
(A small but )still resilient voice
Says (hope is very near)

Extending the Dream

It was a very inspiring meeting with Marina Mahathir for me and for the RACTAR girls. And yet again, there was this sense of divine appointment in this whole meeting.

I have to be honest - I was feeling disappointed that EA would not take place for the Malaysians, and apprehensive for the time after EA. Apprehensive because, I put down so many things in order to be part of EA.

That really came home to me on Wednesday especially - I woke up at 1:30 a.m. to get ready to go to the airport in order to make it for a 2 hour meeting that started at 10a.m. in Singapore. After the meeting, I wandered around until my 6:45p.m. bus whereupon I reached home and fell into bed at almost midnight! When you're 350km away from home, a single meeting equals an entire trip!

So I had to give up ballet classes, volunteer work, church duties... just to be part of EA. And I wondered, now that EA was not happening for the Malaysians in the forseeable future, what I would do when I finally could 'go home' for good again.

I knew that CampVision's Journey Continues program would continue for the youths, and that would be once a month. But the EA program, which we thought could be modified so that the orphanage youths could go to East Malaysia to do community service, seemed to be not so soon in the pipeline as Yuk Wai wanted the UTAR psychology interns to do it.

And also at the back of my mind, I thought, easy enough to build a school so that the children in East Malaysia do not need to walk so far or ride a lorry to go to school. But who would teach?

And this is where Marina Mahathir came in.

She told me about a beautiful idea that graduates from overseas universities had come up with and proposed to her. They wanted to take the American idea of Teach for America and modify it to create - Teach for Malaysia! Graduates from University, promising, bright, enthusiastic young people would be offered the chance to teach for 2 years in a local school and make a difference in the lives of the children attending government schools of Malaysia.

I was so excited! East Malaysia is one place where these young grads can go to to make a difference. And a constant stream of teachers (I'm realistic; I know not many people will want to settle long-term in the underdeveloped hamlets of East Malaysia) is just what I need for the schools that we are thinking of building.

So cross two fingers, and seeing how the dream pans out. But this has brought home to me again, the messages that my God has spoken to me, "I am with you... I have a plan for your life. Wait and see My purpose worked out in your future."

I know I don't need to worry. He holds the future, and His plans are all for good.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Soar Higher

Yesterday, I couldn't resist re-wording the verse in the Bible that says: "Blessed are the peacemakers..." by adding, "Because they desperately need the blessing!"

Sometimes, it's so easy to 'sink down' to do the things that you know are not pleasing to God. It's easy to choose to snap at someone when they tell you off, it's easy to do a sloppy job in the office when everyone else seems to get away with it, it's easy to park illegally because you just need to run in for just a second... It's easy.

But it's not what God has called us to. He called us to be our BEST.

I was reading a book that illustrated this very beautifully with the story of the eagle... The majestic eagle has an annoyance... that annoyance is the crow! Goodness knows why, but the crow likes to 'disturb' eagles by going up to them and 'caw! caw!'ing at them, flapping it's little wings and just distracting the eagle in its solemn flight.

What does the eagle do when the crow starts annoying it? Does it fight back, flap its wings and open its curved beak to give a high-pitched scream? Does it use its razor sharp talons and strong feet to tear at the little bitty crow and give as good as it gets?

No. The eagle just simply searches another warm draft and .... soars higher! You see the eagle doesn't need to flap its wings to soar... it rises on draft after draft to reach altitudes that crows can't. Ultimately it will reach a level that the crow cannot when the crow will drop away and leave the eagle to continue soaring the skies alone.

God has given us a draft to deal with the petty 'crows' in our lives. It's the spirit of grace.

When aggravations and troubles and annoyances come at us, God doesn't expect us to react the way the 'crows' do, flapping our wings, screaming and giving as good as we get.

He knows that He has given us the grace to overcome the problems and difficulties. He expects us to behave at another level, because we HAVE his grace to help us to behave in the way that reflects the children of God.

In the Word, it says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness." Whatever we need, that is insufficient in ourselves, God has made perfect in Him.

We can choose a higher way for His glory.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The God I KNOW

I was thinking about Joshua and Caleb this morning... about how all the people of Israel who came out of Egypt did not make it into the Promised Land except them.

What stopped the others from entering? I believe that it's simply because they did not KNOW their God. They looked at the situation - big, huge men and thick strong walls - and said, "Oh, we can't do this in our own strength."

They forgot that it is not them but God who would give them the city!

I looked at Numbers 14 and I was struck by these words that God spoke, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?"

And God said, "But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it."

What was that different spirit, Caleb had? A simple difference - he KNEW his God.

I believe that that knowing came from spending much time with God, just getting to know Him for who He is... and that rose a spirit within him that could face the giants in the land - the Amelekites.

Recently I bought this CD from City Harvest Church, and out of all of the songs, this is my favourite - The God I KNOW...

THE GOD I KNOW
KC Gan / City Harvest Church
When the stage is bare tonight
There's no one else
Just You and me
When the curtains close behind
There's no pretense
I'm on my knees

(pre chorus)
I will lay down my life
For the love sacrifice
You gave to me
It's all because of You
All because of You

Chorus:
The God I know
Righteous and Holy
The God I know
Faithful and true
The God I know
My tower of refuge
Hearts are healed
Christ revealed

The God I know
Light of the City
The God I know
Strengthens the weak
The God I know
Your heart beats within me
As You are, so are we

(bridge)
This is my cry
My one desire
More of You
More of You

(last chorus)
The church He knows
Righteous and Holy
The church He knows
Is faithful and true
The church He knows
A tower of refuge
Hearts are healed
Christ revealed

The church He knows
Light of this city
The church He knows
Strengthens the weak
The church He knows
Is strong and mighty
As He is, so are we

But the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. Dan 11:32b

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two little boys

Don't know where my thoughts are drifting with this...

Just been thinking these past few days about two precious little boys...

One of them I saw last Sunday again... being absolutely SMOTHERED with kisses. His 'big sisters' were happily passing him one to another and he was totally enjoying the attention. His big eyes were filled with tears from having being awoken a little earlier than he'd like from his nap, but he was still capable of giving huge charming smiles at anyone who tried to make him laugh.

Another little boy I've not seen for a while and I wonder how he's progressing. The last I saw was of him on 'mommy's' shoulder, being carried around comfortably whilst he dozed.

And yes, I forgot about a third little boy in Cambodia... the last I saw of him , he was laughing merrily, clowning around in his little red shorts and t-shirt, and covering his little eyes with his chubby hands when the laughter of his amused 'audience' got too loud.

I love to see these three little boys and how much they are just 'gulung'd in love.

All three of them were abandoned. The first two boys, who are in Malaysia, had mothers who came to two different centres and handed them over, with the indifferent instruction, "I don't want my kid anymore. Can you send him to the Welfare Department?"

The third little boy was found, a weak little body, crying at the garbage dump where he was abandoned.

All three are so lucky. The workers at three different centres took the boys, held them close and swore, "If you don't want him, I will take him. And he shall be like my own son!"

And so these three boys have become. And more than that, amongst the other abandoned, abused, neglected and forgotten children living in these three centres, they have become the beloved 'di di's... spoilt and pampered by all the girls who pour out the love locked in their own hurting hearts onto these precious boys.

Indeed, sometimes looking at these little boys 'entertain' their jie jie's and giving their cheeky, charming grins, I secretly wonder if they won't become too spoilt.

But, isn't that a wonderful alternative than what could have been?

Changes in the goal....

When I joined EA, I had one purpose - to learn all I can, and ultimately to bring it back to Malaysia.

There were a few things that I loved about the program:-

1) There were activities planned for six months
2) The youths were buddied with an adult volunteer each
3) The community service 'theme' of the overseas Expedition

But one thing I had not counted on was... COST!

Today the budget stands at an alarming SGD$58,000 or MYR140,000. There are 14 youths benefitting from the program. It actually costs about MYR10,000 per youth.

I had to make an executive decision, since this is MY baby, as far as Cybercare is concerned, and I have.

We won't go through with this program in Malaysia, not in the same way.

It's not that I don't believe we can raise MYR10,000 per youth if necessary.

It's because I believe in a country with so many needs around me, I can't justify spending MYR10,000 on a single youth unless I strongly believe it will propel them to such a success that it is worth taking the money from somewhere else that can benefit more youths.

I can't say that at the moment. It's a great program, and I wish we were a rich country well-able to afford it, and that I could say, as the Singaporeans clearly can, "Nobody in our country is of greater need of this money at the moment."

In my country, I think I want to take the youths to East Malaysia. I want to take them to our own people who are struggling and poor and let them help our own people. I believe that the strong growth that comes from doing community service - seeing that "I can make a difference!" rather than "poor me" - can be drawn from Malaysia.

The one thing my youths will lose out on is the overseas experience, and I'm very sorry for that. But we will change the country, and someday, we can bring the full program to Malaysia. It won't be soon, but it will be someday.

Hurrah!

I managed to import my blog... I was of two minds whether or not to do so or to start on a fresh slate. Finally decided not to waste all the 'writings' but to delete the unhappy ones ;>.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A New Start

I have so many thoughts that I want to put down... but work first! I'll write more later on.

Enjoy reading, dear friends and family. Thank you for your love!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

EA Team

Heavy-hearted for Shufen today. Our spunky gal has gone through a lot recently. But through the tougher times she has been through lately, Shufen has never once taken out her struggles and unhappiness on us as a team. She's just been the bouncy gal she always is, faithfully churning out the brightly-coloured advertisements we need for our work.

This team still continues to amaze me. Something which I saw yesterday in just the silly way in which some of us were taking Myers-Briggs tests and posting it on our FB pages, is just the way we've grown close as a team and the way we support and encourage each other.

I'm so glad that we are a stronger team as we prepare for the ascent up to West Bengal as we will need each other's strong support on our two-week journey. I'm glad that I know that I know that I KNOW, we will be there for each other.

These are the things I've seen in our beautiful team lately...

I see Angel, faithfully churning out cookies and cookie batter to earn funds for the team, even though our sweet girl is not going on the trip herself...

I see Thomas, running all over the place to collect and deliver cookies! reminding us at interim moments to support and help each other. I see him caring whether or not the youths are warm enough and finding items that we need...

I see Nick, also not going on the trip, but never failing to seek out the info that we need and to continue to contribute totally to the team - even presenting at O'Leary's! - even through his own disappointment about not going himself because of a new job...

I see Phi Fern, continue to cheer us up with her jokes and humour, and covering every detail of her work as local liaison so carefully. Phi Fern says she is haphazard :>, but I've seen such clarity and precision in her work; that shows how much she cares...

I see Sophia, bravely fighting her way through every obstacle in fund-raising, and yet never murmuring or complaining to us so we never knew how hard she has to work to produce the activity! She gives all her heart to her endeavours...

I see David, juggling three different equally important things (oops, 4, if you count CV as well!), and giving his best to each one and never giving EA second best with the great programmes he comes up with just because it is volunteer work...

I see Lin Lin, stepping up to leadership and tying every loose end together with tons of heavy work so quietly and steadily that you don't notice until it suddenly dawns on you how easy the paths have suddenly become...

I see Wendy, for whom this new endeavour can't be easy when she is new to this kind of task, staying up late past midnight to fulfil her new duties as corporate liaison...

I see Calvin, quietly getting many things done, absorbing so much and never letting on how much he does, even if no one else notices...

And I see Serene, with changes flying all over her, yet continuing to smile and encourage the team and stepping up to always be the first to get her things done (like movie advertising on FB!).

It's a strong team individually, and an amazing team together. Together, I believe we can make the difference in the lives of others that we set out to do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I trust You



God, I don't understand why so much is happening and what You're doing, but I trust You - that You are working things out to Your will, and that I will see the fulfilment of Your promises at the end.

You gave me a promise, that ALL things work for good for those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. I'm keeping my eyes on You and my hand clasped in Yours. Lead me in Your way, and I will follow You.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Please Stop the Pain

Yesterday, a dear, sweet precious person hosted me whilst I waited for the wedding. I don't really know this girl well - we've just gotten to know each other - but over and over again, I'm amazed by how giving, how kind and generous she is. She does things that I hardly ever get to see people do - going the extra mile with sweet sincerity, not asking for anything back.

I've always been a little afraid for this gentle spirit, because I know too well that the world can be cruel and take disgusting advantage of such a beautiful soul.

We were just sitting round in her bedroom chatting, and somehow, we got to sharing. My heart really broke when this sweet, gentle soul shared about a painful time she had been through recently. My heart cried out silently, "Why you? Of all the people this could happen to, why you?"

I just had to give her a big hug, and when I let go, tears were still falling from her eyes.

God, I have met so many beautiful children of Yours... and so many have gone through great pain in their lives. It makes my heart ache to see the wounded hearts in this world. There are memories seared into people's minds that affect them today that shouldn't be there.

Precious Father, won't You please end the pain? Won't You please gather them into Your arms and wipe away the sad and bad memories? Won't You lift their feet up so that they don't always walk on thorns and stones along their journey's path?

Won't You come quickly, Jesus, so that we will reach the Day when You wipe every tear from everyone's eyes? Please Jesus, stop the pain, heal the wounded places and take us to the place where there is Joy and Love and Peace... and all the good things I know You meant us to have.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cheerful thots! :>

*lols* I just wanted to fill up something because I didn't want to leave my blog in such a depressing state!

Especially when I'm not depressed at all! >.< I had such a wonderfully relaxing Saturday, and in the afternoon, God sent a glorious, thunderous rain storm to cool the air, clear the haze so Gillian won't have asthma, and make the atmosphere peaceful and sweet!

And I got to catch up with Joanna and Jody who stayed over last night - I miss them sooooo much! Especially Joanna who stayed with me for some months after her mom passed away... gosh... Miss her lots!

Joanna and Jody are currently working in YWAM and they have shops in Penang and Kuala Lumpur which hire and help to rehabilitate drug addicts and alcoholics and street people (yeah, I know - I have so many beautiful friends who spend their lives just being a blessing to others!). It's not easy - there are so many difficulties working with ex-addicts.

It was a joy to just talk and share but we didn't have much time because they were just staying overnight and poor Joanna wasn't feeling too well :(.

And right now I'm just waiting for Sheryl's lovely cupcakes to be ready!! She is so sweet - she is baking them today instead of the night before so they'll be fresher for the wedding tomorrow.

Foremost in my thoughts this past week especially is that I am never going to make the same mistake that I did on the onset of serving in Singapore.... to get so busy that I miss out on church week after week.

ONE week is fine once in a while if we can't help it, but week after week? Oy vey! What a big huge mistake I made!

Things went totally caterwumpus without that filling in of God's presence. Without taking time out for His divine rest. Now I know why God set aside the 7th day as a day of rest IN HIM... He knows we can't function without us coming into His presence and getting refreshed and renewed.

Going on in my own strength doesn't work. It is His love that has always flowed through me to touch others; it's not my own, or I would have ko'ed a long time ago! I just don't have that much love or wisdom or anything to give.

I am so blessed to have God in my life and I never want to take Him for granted again. He truly is my everything.

What was her crime?

Just reflecting on the situation of a little girl T that I read about in a book about foster care. T came into foster care severely abused. I don’t know why the welfare system, which tracked her case for years, took so long before pulling her away from her natural environment where she was regularly subject to violence and abuse.

Little T was subject to sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her biological father and her stepfather. She came into foster care just 8 years old, but already severely 'damaged' by abuse.

What disturbed me most about her story was that, there came a point when, after observing some rather ominous acting-out behaviour on the part of little T including sexualized play, little T was removed from the foster home and put into a paediatric psychiatric care unit.

The psych unit, from the description of the foster mother, was as typical as most adult psychiatric units. The same green walls, grey floors, depressing atmosphere, and bars on the windows. In keeping with its role as a juvenile facility there were also lists of rules, and a point system complete with rewards and punishments for compliance or otherwise.

Little T stayed there for a couple of months and then was released back into the custody of the foster mother. It wasn’t long before she was caught coaxing another child to molest her (note, not the other way around) and again, she was put back into the same locked mental facility.

Strange thing is, she isn’t the only victim of sexual abuse put into a mental ward that I’ve read about. Recently I read Scarred. The mental facility that the girl featured in the book was placed into had so many juvenile victims of sexual abuse, the facility arranged group discussions exclusively for these victims.

I remember my visit to a psychiatric ward in a local hospital to visit a teenager that I knew. The ward was typical for a general hospital, and there were some patients, including this teen, who were really quite normal. They were just in there because they’d checked themselves in because they were unable to cope with outside life.

But there were also those who’d lost their reasoning abilities; who wandered around and stared blankly, and who sometimes stopped and talked to you but their speech made no sense.

I was wondering, why would you put a kid into somewhere like that just because she’s been sexually abused?

There are no separate facilities to separate a child who is reacting from a case of abuse and a child who is a sociopath, schizophrenic etc. There are no separate facilities for a juvenile victim of abuse and adults suffering from every kind of mental disorder.

The reasoning behind it, I understand, is that the child or juvenile has become a threat to others and to him/herself. The child could be like little T, indulging in sexual play, self-harming, a suicide risk etc. In the mental ward, the child/ juvenile will have access to constant supervision and more frequent and more intense hours of therapy.

But... how sad that this is the only option for treatment.

What would go through a child's mind when you remove her from a fairly safe environment as she starts to act out due to abuse and put her into a locked mental facility? Could a child reason to him/herself that he/she is there for safety and not as further punishment? When he/she has so much confusion to deal with already?

And I wonder, in the centre that I want to have someday, what will I do when a child/ juvenile reaches the stage where he/she becomes a danger to him/herself and to others? I guess there is no choice is there? I’ll have to recommend the child/juvenile be remanded for psychiatric treatment too.

What a cruel punishment for someone whose only crime was to be a victim.

Friday, October 22, 2010

EA: What do you see?

*sigh* Some things do not change, no matter which part of the world you are from.

In EA, sometimes the volunteers will talk amongst ourselves about the difficulty in 'marketing' the cause for at-risk youths. The very politest term we can use is 'at-risk', and even then, some people shun the cause because they see this as 'less worthy'.

It brings me back almost fifteen years ago when I was a student in England (gosh, am I really that old?! >.<). Ever so often, the newspapers would have a field day because at that time, a new programme had been developed. This programme sent youths who had quote unquote 'broken the law' to countries like Africa for two-week trips to experience being in a country where people are less fortunate and to see and experience the difference they could make in others' lives through community service.

Sounds familiar? Uh-huh. Totally the same as Expedition Agape.

Except, as I understand, this programme was funded by tax-payers money.

Whoa, the storm of letters (emails were not so in vogue in those Dark Ages >.<) that the newspapers would receive. "What IS this?" and "Are we rewarding bad behavior?" and "We should give MORE DERSERVING kids a chance!" and "Why are we sending these juveniles on a HOLIDAY?" are samples of the comments that were expressed in those fiery letters.

None of these letter-writers seemed to see and pick up just who these kids were. The way the writers referred to these youths were as 'juvenile delinquents' 'petty criminals' 'trouble-makers' etc.

They didn't know or want to know the juvenile's name. They didn't know what kind of family these kids had come from. They didn't want to know what struggles the youths had undergone and why they had been selected for this special program in the first place.

Fast-forward 15 years and what has changed? Different country, same program, same difficulties in being accepted.

I wonder sometimes why people don't take time out to see beyond the labels.

You know what I see when I meet up with the youths?

I see bright, active young men and women.

I see youths with the same potentials, hopes, dreams, mischiefs (:>, intelligence, talents, chances to succeed, to be a world leader and change-maker as any other youth.

I see strong guys and gals who have gone through so much more than a lot of youths and who are choosing to rise up to be a difference in this world by taking part in EA.

I see young people who have made mistakes and who are getting up and changing their lives, and I want to lend a hand and help them to carry on in life because I know what it's like to fall. Because I'm human, and I've fallen before, just as we all have, and I know that one fall, doesn't determine your destiny.

I wish that others could see, not through the eyes of judgement and hatred, but through the eyes of love.

Forgiveness - by Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom Story on Forgiving
“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’

“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”

(excerpted from “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom. Reprinted by permission from Guideposts Magazine. Copyright © 1972 by Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, New York 10512>).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It’s going to be a very special Christmas this year

Christmas is coming early. It’ll be somewhere between the 6th and the 20th of December, but we’re not really sure when.

This Christmas will be celebrated up in the Himalayas in an area called the Neora Valley. The children attending the Christmas gathering will be the beautiful kindergarten to primary school aged students of Kolbung Primary School.


The Santas will be youths and adult volunteers from Singapore. Our presents are not toys and candy and all the normal things children put in their Santa Wish Lists.

Instead, we’re building a 15ft. x 15 ft. extension to their little school. Kolbung Primary School is only 30ft. by 30 ft. in size, and there are 7 classes going on all at the same time inside the big bare room! The children can only listen to one teacher at a time, so when one teacher talks, all the other 6 classes must keep quiet.


With the extension, the children of Kolbung Primary School can continue their education pass Grade 5 into at least Grade 7 level. After that, they have to walk 20 km. to the nearest secondary school. This extension will give them at least another 3 years of education.


And we’ll be building a fence to protect the kids in the area where they play.... just a couple of months back, one of the students fell down the side of the cliff and had to be taken to the hospital two hours away to recover.


Santa’s sleigh will be our backpacks! The children have a tiny library consisting of one small glass cupboard. So we’ll be stuffing our backpacks full of children’s story books (including Uncle Buttons story books about Christmas!) to grow their little library.


We’ll be celebrating our Christmas by playing games with the kids, traditional games that children play in Singapore like 5 stones and hopscotch. And we’ll be painting bright colourful murals on the school extension walls to make it bright and merry.

I think this will be a very, very special Christmas.

Phone calls from home

Last Sunday, during the buddy outing, D received a phone call. I could hear his side of the phone call and it went along the lines of, "Oh, hi Mom! Yeah, eating lunch. Not yet. Ya...." etc. etc.

When he hung up, I was like, "That's your mom?" and when he nodded, I squealed, "That's so sweeeeet!"

Later I couldn't help going, "Awww.. you received a call from your MOM!" whereupon he gave me a funny look like he thought I was taking the mickey out of him.

I honestly wasn't. I was just...

Things like this, just really touch me. I think people take it so much for granted. I dunno whether it's weekends or what, but every time I go to Singapore, I can see parents with their kids just enjoying being together, talking together, and it always, always moves me.

It gives me so much joy to see together-families. And I just want to tell them, Appreciate your love ones. Keep them close to you. Know what a gift you have. Don't waste time in silly quarrels or in annoying habits that irritate you, because these things don't matter. You are very, very lucky.

But I can't tell them that.

Sometimes, people are surprised at how I take simple things that they take for granted... I just get so amazed... Things like, "You mean you have REUNION DINNER? Wow, really? With the whole family at the table?! Gosh!"

They can't get what the fuss is all about. And I can't tell them, because they'll never understand.

I'll never forget how distressed I got when a teenage friend quarrelled with his sister - he couldn't understand why I was interfering and gave a sharp remonstrance to stay out of it. He couldn't hear my heart saying, "Don't quarrel! Please don't quarrel! You have each other, and families are fragile. If you quarrel now, it might dissolve!"

He doesn't see it. He doesn't know what it's like to see a family break apart, and he cannot fathom his beautiful, strong family ever being apart.

And he can never fully understand how very fortunate he is.

If I could give the world a blessing, it would be that each person in a fairly happy family (for there are no perfect families) would come to see and appreciate each other, and love each other and stay close in that beautiful warmth that only happy families can gather. May you always be blessed in the unity that God meant for families.