Jul 31, 2015

magnesium ribbon

Not a spark, but a flame on a candle. In a dark room, our hearts come unlocked without warning and the little flame comes into contact with our silver strip: we are set off. A ball of blinding white furiously ingesting as much oxygen as it can, sliding along the ribbon, gobbling gobbling, destroying its path to exhale a cloud of dense white fumes. Conversations that run too late, smiles too eager, we fall over ourselves to offer story after story. This is me, my life and all I know; and what about you dear, what about you? Stunned for a moment, all we can do is stand aside and be witnesses to how we burn. But then our eyes start to hurt. It burns too bright; it frightens us. We scramble. Put it out. The night returns like a closed curtain, only the little flickering candle flames as always. But the ribbon is still half new, glinting in the light, whispering of its potential. Ten seconds, twenty. Careful now...we put it to the candle again, but cautiously, at a distance, and then we seal it in a glass jar. Reduce the amount of oxygen it can get. Make it last. We scramble to protect what is left of our dazzling magnesium star. Soon we will be but ash.

Jul 29, 2015

Volunteering Abroad: a good choice?

My purpose for volunteering abroad this summer was none other than to teach. I wasn't interested in travelling this summer, or in meeting new people, or doing new things. I just wanted to teach, to help the poor through education.

Shortly before I left Singapore, I was walking to Derrick's place at night and I passed by a girl who looked slightly younger than me, but taller. She was wearing an oversized collared shirt, unbuttoned to reveal her bra, and extremely short shorts. She was learning against the wall, looking down, her hair covering her face. She might have been drunk, or stoned, or just...really, really broken. I sensed that there was something really wrong...she was at a dangerous point. She seemed to be in an emotionally vulnerable and volatile state, and I felt like it would be foolish and unnecessary for me to go up to her. She might scream, or strike...it wasn't the right time. She was with a guy in a red tee who was standing a little further off, speaking in low and concerned tones on his phone. I could tell he was taking care of her. I walked past them, wishing I could do something, but knowing that she was in her friend's hands. And that's how it works. Upper middle class girl who leads a comfortable life and went to good schools, she will never understand; she will always be separated from the girl who's barely dressed and standing at the void deck looking like her entire being is on the verge of falling apart. After walking a little further, I saw a van arrive at the garbage chute area, and another guy in a red tee running out with a sense of gentle urgency, alarmed concern. My heart yearned to do something, anything...all I could do was walk on.

Thinking about it over the next few days, it finally hit me: why am I going overseas to volunteer with an organisation, when there are people right in my neighbourhood who need help?

And then I got on a plane.

I've been here for three and a half weeks but my heart has been very much at home. I wasn't ready to leave. All I wanted to do here was teach, but I haven't been able to teach very much at all. A few hours a week at most, plus the English-Indonesian barrier. At the same time, I am looking forward to seeing my Crest mentee Syafiah again when I'm back in Singapore, and dearest Cecilia whom I used to tutor at the Salvation Army but who has become a very dear friend. I'm also looking forward to starting a one-on-one youth tutoring program between Yale-NUS and the Clementi residential community. Stacey also sent me the link to her church's Geylang outreach called Tamar Village, something I've been meaning to explore for a year now. I'm also planning to go back to Tuition Ministry at City Harvest if I decide to stay with this church. It's a ministry I was involved in in 2013, where I gave English supplementary lessons to ex-dropout students who were doing their O Levels. It was an extremely fulfilling time, and I hope that I blessed them as much as they blessed me.

And all this isn't even the main ministry I am called to. I know that for as long as I'm a student at Yale-NUS, my main calling is to the people here. To share my life with the Christians here, to encourage them and let them encourage me; and to be God's vessel of light and love to everyone. Of course I've failed many many times. Failed to be God's vessel of love, failed to draw strength from God, failed to bring people closer to God at times. But I know that these are the people God has called me to pour my life and love out to for these few years, and this is where I am rooted, grounded.

My reason for being with International Humanity Foundation this year was just to teach the poor. I honestly didn't need the travelling or seeing new places or whatever. And that might not have been a good enough reason. Volunteering abroad is often for those who want to travel, and do something good while at it. If your purpose is solely to do something good...you might as well do it back home. I asked a few of the volunteers here why they were doing this, and it was mostly about the travelling. I asked a Kenyan why she wasn't volunteering at the Kenyan center, but would come all the way to Asia. She said, well, if she did it in Kenya it would just be like going back home, not so interesting.

A lot of my time here has been spent thinking about the inefficiency of manpower allocation. As an organisation, you're asking people from all over the world to come here, stay at a center 7 days a week, simply to teach a few hours of class? I would feel guilty, man. I would feel guilty about using their time inefficiently. They could be back in their home country, helping out at local NGOs while also earning money through a day job, or doing something else more worth their time, but they're staying here just to teach after-school lessons, which a local volunteer could easily do. (Of course, we're supposed to do 4 hours of at-center and 4 hours of admin work a day, but the admin is basically advertising for more people to come. And you will not teach 3 hours a day. Maybe teach 3 hours a week, and make up for the rest of the hours by playing with the kids and cleaning up the center.)

But yeah, I realised that that isn't necessarily the point of an international NGO like this.

Of course, I might be wrong. Take Carissa for example, who's currently volunteering with World Vision in Sri Lanka, and who spent last summer volunteering with Rachel House in Jakarta, a palliative care center for children with terminal illnesses. I haven't asked her why she's doing what she's doing, but I know it isn't about the travelling. I think it might be to be immersed in, and bless a community of, people of a level of poverty you just wouldn't see in Singapore. But also those places are children's homes, places that the kids stay in, so the volunteers actually need to stay there and take care of things round the clock. But Carissa also volunteers with children's care centers in Singapore during the school term. And that's important. Helping people shouldn't be something we only do when we've officially signed up for something abroad. The most obnoxious thing would be to go "Oh yeah, I volunteered at an elderly care center in Taiwan last summer" and disregard the elderly in need of care right at home. It's all about the state of mind, and your purpose.

I guess it would also be largely about knowing what poverty, or neediness, looks like in a different part of the world. Getting to know that culture, and bringing back lessons to your own country. If you "just want to help people" - you can do that back home.

Anyway, all my thoughts are kind of swirly and unsorted right now, I hope this post made some sense, and gave those who are intending to volunteer abroad some food for thought.

Jul 23, 2015


So this is a really random post, but a memory from years ago fell into my head last night so I'm writing about it today.

This is Carmen. My earliest memory of her is when she first came to my cell group. We were sixteen, 2009. Cell group had just ended, and we were all going down the stairs to the void deck. I think it was at Daniel's place. Carmen noticed the silver cross around my neck, and asked me where it was from. I told her it was from my childhood friend, with whom I used to go to Sunday School. 

"Oh, that's lovely," she said. "My cross was given to me by my mum."

"Oh," I said, and smiled politely. Merp. I continued walking down the stairs. I didn't really know what to say to that. I mean, a lot of things are from our parents because at that age most of our things are paid for by them, right? Like, technically my clothes were from my mum too, and my shoes? I think it was our first time speaking to each other, too, so it was just all a little awkward, Carmen attempting to be friendly and me not really knowing what to say in response.

What I didn't know was that her mother had just passed away from cancer, right before she came over to our cell group. Oh Carmen, if I had known the weight of that simple sentence, I would have stopped right there and cried and hugged you so tight.

Our cell group multiplied a month or two after, and we eventually became closer when all these secondary school boys started coming into our cell group. After a while there were only 4 girls, and only the two of us were the same age. She often told me that she enjoyed our chats, non-superficial and unreserved; and I was always blessed to witness her beautiful soul, so pure and in love with God. Carmen's love is boundless; it overflows out of her heart and spills out to the lives of everyone she encounters. It's extraordinary. I also remember her Beauty Rush lip gloss. Smelled like cotton candy heaven. I remember once we met up for dinner or something before cell group, and talked about what was going on in our lives. She told me about a difficult decision regarding two things very close to her heart. I understood her pain. And then later on at cell group, Jason came around to say a prophetic prayer for each of us. I was sitting beside Carmen, so I could hear what Jason was saying to her, and every word was exactly on point, waves and waves of God's voice sent straight to her heart. Carmen was in tears, and I thanked God for His wisdom. Of course God knows exactly what to say, knowing all, wanting only the best for her. She made the right decision that night.

I think it was that same year, 2009, that we both answered an important altar call at church. An altar call for young people who wanted to dedicate the years of their youth fully to Jesus. It was a big altar call; a response that said "I won't live for myself anymore; I will live the most precious, energetic years of my life for You." I went down because I knew I would regret it later. I went down because I wanted to tell Jesus to have His way in my life now, so that I couldn't decide otherwise later on. So that even if I detested the follow-through, He would still be holding the reins. I wanted to make a choice that would bind me for the best. We both walked down the terraces, and we stood beside each other in the front, together with a crowd of other young people.

In a couple of years, I saw her completely blossom, from that quiet girl sitting at the corner of the room at cell group to such a bubbly, confident woman so full of life, so ready to love the people around her, radiating strength and grace. We both happened to go to SOT (School of Theology) together in 2013 too - at that point, she was coordinating the SOT worship team, preparing to be a worship leader at church, and I was about to start the Christian Fellowship at Yale-NUS. I am still in awe of how far Jesus has carried us from that altar call six years ago. (I've written about this many times, I think.) God has taken the years of our youth to spread His love. He has also taken our hurts and transformed it into compassion, infused it into our talents, helped us become deeper and stronger and more loving individuals.

Met her for lunch before I left for Indonesia and before she left for Berklee (!!!) this month, and I was reminded again of how genuine and down-to-earth she is, and how she continues to soar with God, always covered by His merciful presence. My heart is at ease, and full of thanks.

Here's Carmen's performance at my church on Mother's Day, 2011, two years after her mother passed away. (It starts at 4:57.) I remember I was sitting on my own that day, not with the cell group. And when the video played I was screaming my head off in support. And when she finished her performance tears were streaming down my face and I was cheering like a loony and people around me were staring and I was just like THAT'S MY GIRL THAT'S MY GIRL I'M SO PROUD. And I'll continue being a loony supporter Carmen, because your voice is a beautiful gift that God and your mother have given you, second only to your heart.

Ah well since I'm at it, here's Nightlight by The Sam Willows, written for Benjamin and Narelle's mother who also passed away from cancer in 2002. The lyrics, the video, the voices...this makes me cry  too often.

So the thing about Chinese Singaporean names

When you have an English name, your surname / last name typically comes last. Right? But when you have a Chinese name, your last name comes first. Like Xi Jinping or Mao Zedong. Many Chinese Singaporeans have both an English name and a Chinese name, so when your surname comes after your English name and before your Chinese name, it ends up in the middle. My name is Karen Ho Wen Ee, and Wen Ee is my cantonese name (the Mandarin name is Yun Yi). So I usually say I'm Karen Ho, or if I'm in Chinese class, He Yun Yi (何韵怡). And my surname brings both together neatly! It's like a Venn diagram. I like it this way. It ties together both my names while staying true to how both are supposed to be.

Some people don't like the last name in the middle 'cos that's messy, so they just put it in front, in which case my name would be Ho Wen Ee Karen. But anyway mine is in the middle, and it can be confusing if you're not a Singaporean or Chinese or...I don't know. So Western Union, if you're reading this, hey guess what Asians use your services too! And when you don't underline or bold someone's last name on the receipt but automatically shift it to the back where you expect everyone's surnames to be, it can get quite confusing for the bank teller because my name on the passport is Karen Ho Wen Ee but it's Karen Wen Ee Ho on the receipt, and my mum is Kam Wai Kuen but on the receipt it's Wai Kuen Kam. Poor bank tellers struggle with deciding whether or not I can be trusted, or whether perhaps Karen Wen Ee is a common name somewhere in the world and I'm a fraud who's trying my luck.

Well, I guess it's my fault though. Because it's Western Union, not Global Union, so it's not in their aim to cater to non-Westerners.

In Sec 4 I had a friend called Janey Yanting Lim, and she didn't like how her name was ordered because it wasn't like anyone else's. But I definitely see the utility of that, man. She won't have to struggle with the bank telling her that her name is not her name because Western Union didn't know how to order her surname.


Yeahhh, so that's my luck with the bank. Fortunately the ladies were very nice, they just made me sign my signature like six times, and they scrutinised it very carefully. Yesterday, though, I tried to make a trip to the bank with a bicycle because it was just 4km away. But the bicycle seat was too high and I couldn't adjust it because the screw had rusted over, so my feet couldn't touch the ground and my hands could barely reach the handlebars. Riding there was painful. With the strong afternoon sun and my low blood sugar thing (Dylan would know), and my struggling to reach the handlebars, and struggling to change lanes and doing a whole lot of standing and waiting by the roadside 'cos I was such a coward, and making a wrong turn, with that bloody sun, I felt quite faint by the time I got near the bank. Locked my bike and just sat on the curb for a while, waiting for my head to stop spinning. When I felt better I got a drink and asked where the bank was, and when I arrived I was six minutes late. (That's why I had to go again today.)

I was so miserable ok. So I got myself an ice-cream.

Jul 19, 2015

the gift of feeling intensely

"Surely there must be a reason why I was wired this way...if I can harness the power of heightened emotions - is that not what artists do?"

I was talking to Val about The Sam Willows - Take Heart and Nightlight - and she told me about Benjamin Kheng's TED talk, so I watched it. He talked about his switch from swimming to theatre and music-making. And when he said that line, I paused the video and closed my eyes. Let it sink in. There I was, my heart beating so fast, in resonance with the things he was saying at that point, tears in my eyes yet also laughing because he was talking about how he would go to movies and cry more than the average girl - if I can harness the power of heightened emotions. Sitting here, tearing and laughing and my heart beating.

I replayed that part thrice to make sure I got the quote right, but every time I got to that specific sentence, the phrase would flow straight into my heart and settle there and pass over my head so I would forget to note what the precise wording was. And - yeah. I am often afraid of feeling, because I feel a lot, and emotions and dreamy dreams often render me a useless ball on my bed, unable to sleep or eat or do my work or talk to people. All that swirl of crazy emotion that drowns me, all in my wretched head. So many times I have prayed for feelings to go away, even to stop feeling God, because when God hit me with the feels I would be so full of His joy and I wouldn't know what to do with it and it was too much. Once I said 'God, you know, I can just pray to you and you can accept my prayer and work in my life, I don't need to feel You, it's too much for me. It's okay.'

But no, there must be a reason I was wired this way, right? A reason I am tearing up even as I'm writing this? Is it not a blessing to feel passion and emotions to the fullest? Seeing things in HD, as vivid and as clear as they were meant to be. We weren't made for pixelated images. Passion was never meant to be sedated.

Once, when walking out of school, an Indian man in a white shirt was walking hand-in-hand with his little daughter in my direction. She was wearing a pretty dress. She looked at the flowers on the sidewalk. The man noticed, stopped, bent down to pluck a white flower, and gave it to her. Her face completely lit up in pure delight. The man looked at her and smiled. All that passed in three seconds but it was so beautiful that till today I've been unable to craft a piece out of it. My words will never do that moment justice. And it's a blessing to be able to see the world like that, isn't it? So much beauty in the everyday that other people don't notice.

"But what is life if not the craziest adventure, right? So yeah - I ran, I ran."

A rented motorbike speeding along the coastal highway, no license, the wind rushing towards your face. A whisper in the night, the silence of a broken heart, closed eyes, clasped hands, the heart a heavy balloon filled with water. A flower on the ground, a certain smile, a particular riff in a song, is amplified and stretched in our minds. And this is the stuff of a different breed, isn't it. I shouldn't quell it. I have a wealth of raw material within me, my heightened emotions and the way I take in the world. And oh, the things I could do if I learnt to harness it. Actually get serious about brushing up my skill.

Ok here's Take Heart by The Sam Willows because it just really seems to fit right now - I know the lyrics are about an eloping couple but tonight, Take Heart is my apology to myself, for having hated the way I feel so intensely. It's not something to throw aside. It's a gift that God gave me before I was born. It's something to run with. Keep my eyes on faith, hope and love.

Also just feel the music, man. It's so full of love for life, so full of colour and vivacity and just everything.

Take heart, this world is ours
Run high and fast now, they’re coming for us
Take heart, we’ll fight the hours
Fall back in light running through the forest

Oh you’re everything to me
Loved you ever since the day we parted
Oh you’re all that I can see
Don’t you ever leave me broken-hearted

But she didn’t know, she wasn’t told; this life is just too old
People walking, come and go; they don’t know you, they’re so cold
Why, why, bring me down
I don't owe nothing to your frown
Just a kid, this ain’t your town
Take that walk and turn around

Jul 18, 2015


If anyone asked me about local music, this is the first song I would offer them.

two full years and a spell of tears
i get down on my knees, eat my fears
and fall away

eat my body and drink my cup
let the wine of the galaxies fill you up
and fall away

come to the floor with my coat of shame
let the mind of the mystery spell my name
oh come to me

sword and shield all set to fly
all quivers are full and ready to die
and all for you

say you love me, yeah
say you love me, yeah
say you love me, yeah
say you love me

lay down yours and i’ll lay down mine
tell my mother and father i’ll miss them all the time
and fall away

say you love me, yeah
say you love me, yeah
say you love me, yeah
say you love me

Jul 17, 2015


INFPs are idealists and dreamers. And when you're an idealist and a dreamer, much of your time is spent in your own head, reliving the past and anticipating the future. In your pocket is a collection of ten-second moments of beauty, from a week ago, two weeks, a month; and little words from snippets of conversations, the tiniest things that made your heart swell. You don't remember what came before or after, how you got there, but those moments you play again and again and you reshape and recolour and let it fly like a kite and watch it unfold in the sky.

The past couple of weeks away from home have honestly been pretty mundane. I haven't clicked that well with the other volunteers; I've had very little teaching opportunity, and I'm absolutely unable to communicate or click with the younger kids; I feel very much alone and alien in this place. It has really been the conversations with people back home keeping me alive. And when you're stuck in dull reality and the words on my screen from people back home are making you laugh, and you're a dreamer, you let your mind run, run, run behind and run forward all too fast. I have let it run dangerously, and it is time to pull the reins in. But at the same time, these dreams are so beautiful and how I would love to reach out at the future in my head and grasp it, course through time like a speeding motorbike, zipping through the highway with the mountain on our right and the endless blue sea on our left, the wind in our hair, chasing chasing -

but time will continue to keep its pace, sixty seconds and minute and sixty minutes an hour. It will continue to crawl as it pleases, and the days and the months will come in its time. Patience, to breathe in slow and deep and take in the present. Live in the moment for what it is, stop reaching for a mirage.

Jul 16, 2015

a 2-minute summary of the Book of Jonah

because it's really too cute i can't even

God: Jonah, arise and go to Nineveh and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me!!!!!
Jonah: *runs* *finds a ship* *buys a ticket* ok bye
God: *sends a storm*
Jonah: Ummmm I tried to run away from God
Sailors: WHAT THE WHY YOU PUT OUR LIVES IN DANGER!! Ok you better not cause us all to die cos we innocent
Jonah: Ok throw me overboard
Sailors: ...huh...no la bro...ok we try to go to shore
Sailors: Aye cannot, wind too strong. Sorry Jonah bye
*wind stops*
Sailors: WAH THIS GOD IS REAL thank you God
Jonah: WOW God u saved me i’m surviving in a whale thank you God ok ok i’ll go to nineveh
King of Nineveh: *takes off robes, sits in ashes* STOP EATING AND START REPENTING! Maybe God will change his mind
God: Mm very good ok I’ll spare y'all
Jonah: WALAO now they think I’m lying!!!! AIYO GOD JUST KILL ME
God: Is it right for you to be angry?
Jonah: *sulks* *goes to a place to sit and see if the city crumbles* walao damn hot
God: *makes Jonah a plant for shelter*
Jonah: Ahh thank you God
God: *makes plant die*
Jonah: WALAO
God: Is it right for you to be angry that the plant died?
God: So shouldn’t I also pity Nineveh and spare it from destruction? 120,000 people who can’t tell the difference between their right and left hand
Jonah: :|


Curled up on the floor, her back against the cold comforting wall, she allows her arms to wrap around herself. It is all the human warmth she permits, on special days like these when her heart is full with yearning yet empty with fear, choppy whirly waters that only arms can stabilise. Her skin is baby-pink raw, tingling sensitive, a fence armed with electricity; she recoils at the slightest touch. A stranger brushes past; a friend puts his arm round for a picture; a classmate pats her on the back; she immediately freezes rigid, struggling to calm the tremble. Something bitter and black starts to form at the back of her mouth and it rises to her temples and over her arms and legs and into the very pit of her, and she struggles to get it off. The instant aversion. Repulsion. Oh but she longs for affection, how she longs for affection. For someone else's strong arms to hold her frailty. Instead she spreads both hands over the ache, adding pressure, attempting to pacify. She has always borne the weight on her own, the hole in her chest wide open, a plea to be outside herself.

She met someone today. She was sitting on the little ledge behind the classrooms, overlooking the pond. Cross-legged, her hands clasped together, slouched over. It was a quiet, empty late afternoon, and she came to meet Peace again. But no- today somebody came and sat with her. She heard footsteps first, oh no. But the footsteps grew louder, sneakers dragging on the concrete, until they stopped by her side. A red haversack on the floor. She looked up at his pale blue tee, his fringe falling over his eyes; he glanced down at her. Set himself down on the ledge to face her, crossed his legs. Breathed out, a silent sigh. He raised his eyebrows at her, a small smile to say and what about you? She turned to look at the pond instead. The ducks were sticking their heads into the water, their butts pointing to the sky. Turned back. Fringe boy was still looking straight at her, his smile gone but the concern in his eyes clear as crystals. She took in a deep, slow breath - did she dare? - she nodded in her heart, brave. She looked at him for a long while, and he back at her, a silent acknowledgement of hearts, a communication of souls. One of those moments to keep in a tiny box of treasures in your pocket. His hands - his hands reached out towards hers. She froze. Her heart pounding, the electricity coursing through her arms, a warning, a siren, the black forming in a ball in her throat. Keep still. He could see it the fear in her widened eyes; he paused. But the fear turned into courage. Keep still. Frailty just beneath the baby-pink silk.

He reached out again, soothing her fear with gentleness in his eyes. Touched her knuckle, then let his fingers cover her hands. Wrap around her palms, a firm grip. His warmth seeped into her skin and spread up her forearm, up her shoulders. It was light, glorious light, and it was chasing away the ghosts in herself. She let the tears fall from her face; she began to laugh; it was the most beautiful day. 

"I am not repulsed by you." 

Jul 14, 2015


Looking back at my blog posts again and like yuck. My writings have become so boring. I bore myself. I guess my posts were the best from around 2010-2012? Where each one was a wealth of new imagery and fresh emotion, and each one drew from a well of pain. Pain is the easiest trigger for writing. I guess I just haven't been feeling that bad lately. I guess it comes with the necessary exchange of that pining pain. Is writing a curse, then? Along with making poignant music and art? I was listening to Xue Bu Hui and it's such a beautiful song and the Spotify version (which has clearer audio) really grips my heart. JJ, as a singer, does what a writer does: his voice is a portal between his heart and the listener's. Hearts speak to one another; the wealth of emotion carries over to mine. And I'm like, I remember when my writing did that. When a friend told me she stopped reading my blog because she would get too sad. When strangers emailed me to tell me that I expressed their own pain for them, and it brought healing. I guess it takes pain to convey pain. Maybe I have grown immune to that sort of self-destruction. Traps covered over with leaves that I have learnt to be wary of. Test the ground before you step on it; at the first sign of danger, run, or you will fall into that never-ending pit. Well, I don't know. Things were pretty terrible a few months ago, too. But maybe it wasn't the beautiful kind of pain, the kind I could turn into an intricate, delicate butterfly to take flight.

Or maybe I just can't do it anymore.

Reminded of JJ's 第几个一百天 - the time he fell so sick and in his distress thought he might never be able to sing again. But no, he has come back so much better. His voice is so much stronger now, more mature, and just as overwhelmingly expressive. I hope I get back this writing thing, because...I've come to hate my writing.

Or maybe I became too reliant on personal information, and then people got hurt, and then I retracted in fear altogether. No more to be used in my writings. That's probably for the best, but I have to go back to being able to convey emotions without conveying situations, turning them into metaphors and portals.

I'll keep trying T_T

Jul 11, 2015

measured in souls

(it is evident through this post that my inclination is towards writing, not photography. nevertheless, i've included pictures because even a bad one speaks a thousand words.)

2. michael 

the next part of the lesson is devoted to writing about our ambitions. "what do you want to be when you grow up?" we ask michael. he remains quiet for a while. a hint of a smile appears on his face, quickly blossoming into a bashful grin. he looks down at the table and pushes up his spectacles shyly. "ask ilya," he laughs. "no, say it yourself! come on." after more encouragement, he bashfully reveals that he wants to be an architect. our little boy spends the next fifteen minutes poring over his exercise book, imagining himself thirty years down the road, designing houses and malls and museums. when the hour is up, our chinese volunteers take over for art class. they are architecture majors, so we tell them about michael's dream. the girls bring out sheets of drawing block and a few sharp pencils and get to work. for the next two hours, they meticulously show michael how to draw a building in 3d. lines that converge at a vanishing point, shapes, shading. he does not look up from his work even when his siblings arrive. soon it is four o' clock, then five. he rolls up his drawing block and tucks it into his bag. the children play in the common area while waiting for their parents to arrive. michael sits around for a while, watching them gather in circles over uno or the 200-piece puzzle. then he retreats to a corner and takes out his drawing block and pencil again.

3. lukman

lukman jokingly imitates an american accent, then laughs at himself and waves his hand in front of his face, as if shooing the embarrassment away. he comes every day on his white motorbike, even though he's seventeen and barely takes classes here anymore; it's just a second home to him. today i watch him teach a class of children some simple mathematics, not because he's supposed to, just because he might as well. he's just as witty and comfortable with the children as he is with the volunteers. after class, he and his friend take us around on their bikes. we go to lukman's mum's roadside snack stall. just one thousand rupiah for a stick of meatballs or a risol! we buy lots. his mum sneaks in an extra timpan for each of us. lukman tells us that he's been with the center for five years now. perhaps, he says, after he graduates from university, he'll come back as a local volunteer.

4. gabriel 

a blackout descends without warning just as computer class is about to start, so there's an abrupt change in plans. the kids are sent back outside to classroom 2. they look at me expectantly. it always pays to have activity ideas in your back pocket for times like these. i get out a few packets of loom bands from home: white, electric blue, orange. demonstrate how to do the first few loops. little gabriel is playing catch with his younger brother in the grass, but his eyes catch sight of the colorful bands. he takes a seat in the front row, eager to learn, too. his brother comes over for a while, and gabriel teaches him how it's done; but he soon loses interest and goes off into the field again. gabriel shrugs it off, and makes one bracelet with all three colors. he lets me finish it off with the clasp and put it on his wrist for him. then he makes another one, faster now. finishes it off all by himself - he doesn't need to be shown twice - and calls his brother over. holds his brother's hand and stretches the bracelet to get it through. and then he makes a third one, a different pattern. summons his brother again. gently slips it onto his other wrist this time. his brother presents both wrists with glee. gabriel is delighted. "now you have two! and i have one." they giggle.

(yes, the child on the left is a boy, not a girl! confusing, i know. but since when were haircuts ever meant to be gendered?)

Jul 9, 2015

Help Kopus

If I could fly to Nakuru, Kenya now to take pictures and videos and do write-ups of all the children who need sponsors there, I would. If I could do a video interview with them so that you could see what they're like, I would. (There's always Skype, but the wifi at my Aceh center can hardly load Facebook, let alone a video chat.)

But I'm not in Kenya; when I applied to International Humanity Foundation, they told me that the Aceh center needed volunteers, so I came here. But the Kenya center houses 75 children from the impoverished region of East Pokot, and gives them a home, food, and access to education. Because the region is very poor and the living conditions are harsh, the center also tries to bring relief to the community whenever possible. (It has a farm!!!! The kids are apparently really enthusiastic about helping to upkeep it.) Julie from the Kenya center tells me that they have only been able to provide two meals a day, and tea for breakfast. Ten kids are malnourished. I will elaborate on the breakdown of the sponsorship fee later.

Part of my work at International Humanity Foundation involves looking for sponsors for children who need it. I'm here to appeal for sponsorship for a boy called Kopus from the Kenya center.

Here's a writeup about Kopus that Julie sent me:

Kopus was living with his mother before he came to IHF, but she was too poor to care for him. He has three brothers who still live with his mother in the remote area of Riongo. Kopus is in Class One at Primary School. His favorite subjects are Mathematics and Kiswahili. Kopus loves to sing traditional songs from Pokot and he enjoys playing football.

Here, at IHF Kenya, we look after over 75 children such as Kopus by offering them a safe home, food and education. All of our children come from the marginalised tribes of East Pokot in Kenya who face some of the toughest living conditions due to drought and land rights conflict. IHF aims to support the tribes by not only looking after those children whose parents may have died or who due to poverty cannot support them, but by educating those children we are preparing the leaders of the future. Leaders we hope with pass on their knowledge and skills to their communities but also defend their rights, traditions and values.

I am writing to you to appeal to you to support Kopus. He can be supported by you in two ways either by paying for his basic needs (our Orphan program) at $37 each month, or by assisting him with medical care (Medical Program) at $15 each month. You can find out more about our different child sponsorship programmes at www.ihfonline.org and also sign up to sponsor Kopus.

If you choose to sponsor a child it is not just a transaction…you will be making a real difference to that child’s life. Each month your sponsored child will write to you and tell you what is happening in their lives. Many of our sponsors write back to their child and we make sure the child can read and understand the letter.  Some of our long term child sponsors have built a long-term pen-relationship with their child and have become firm friends. Our children are loving, respectful and very grateful for the support of their sponsors and this comes through in their letters.

I hope therefore you will be able to help us by supporting Kopus or indeed any of our children at IHF Kenya. Details of children who need support are on our website if you would like to consider another or several children. If you have any questions about child sponsorship at IHF Kenya I would be most happy to answer them.

If you'd like to read more about where the money goes:

We are trying hard to work to a model of sustainability by developing our Peace Farm but with 33 children in High School and a likely another 10 joining next year (only two will graduate) we are facing a sever gap between our income and expenditure.

It costs us around $28 a month just for food (which is less than $1 a day if you think about it), add to that commodities such as hygiene products and clothes at around $10 a month the Orphan sponsorship at $37 doesn’t quite cover the cost.   For the last year we have only been able to provide two meals a day and tea for breakfast. Four kids are officially underweight (according to the Kenyan Red Cross child BMI/age index)  and ten kids are malnourished.  We are seeking donations to sponsor breakfast but these will be sporadic at best.

For education, a high school student costs for fees an average of $300 per year plus annual requirements (school uniform and books) $100, plus transport and lunch money $108 – totalling $508 per year or $42 per child.  I have also not included one off costs like exam fees, admin fees, tuition fees and other random fees that  schools in Kenya require. You will again see that the TEP sponsorship of $10 per month nowhere near covers this.

Finally medicines – our medical sponsorship of $15 per month does tend to cover our medical fees however we do have special cases like Kamama that is blind and schizophrenic and who should be getting weekly counselling at $8 per week  and also Chepuser who needs an eye operation in the near future which will cost $843…

I don't know what the Kenya center is like, but I can tell you about the difference that sponsorship makes here at our Aceh center. A young child here recently lost his father due to an unexpected heart attack. His mum earns a very small income selling food or something. The child's older brother has a burger stand that doesn't bring in much income either, but he also just fell ill with a serious disease. The co-director at my center just managed to secure a sponsorship for this child. For just US$10 a month, the sponsor will pay for his school fees. They were worried that without this sponsorship, the child might have to quit school to help with the burger stand. At our Aceh center, the sponsorship is generally only used for the child's public school fees.

You can read more about the Kenya center through the volunteers' blog posts here

If you would like to sponsor Kopus, please please please let me know, and I'll get you in touch with Julie. If the cost of sponsoring a child is too high for you but you would still like to contribute in way you can, it only costs US$10 a month to sponsor a child's education, and the class sponsorship is $30 a month. You can also donate to the Kenya farm and the Famine Feed that they conduct to feed the surrounding community 2-3 times a year. (The last time I tried donating through the website I had problems with it though, so if you're having trouble with it too just let me know and I'll contact Julie to see if there's any other option.)

If you do decide to sponsor a child, please remember that it's a commitment. It doesn't just stop at 3 or 4 months - in the 5th, 6th, 9th and 14th month, Kopus will still need money for food and school. It's just a little over US$1 a day - think of it as helping to sustain a life halfway around the world. It forms a unique connection, more than a transaction; you're saying "I care about your day-to-day, and I'll see you through it however I can."