Volunteering with Smile Asia
Rumya Ananthan, 28, a, volunteers at Smile Asia, which provides free surgery to children with cleft lips. Married to she gave birth to her first child, a daughter named.
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Although Rumya Ananthan, 28, was already working with kids as senior staff nurse at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, she was determined to make good use of her experience to help others.
Shortly after coming across some information on Smile Asia, she was on her way to her first mission. Smile Asia assembles volunteers to correct children’s cleft lips and other facial deformities in less-developed countries. “I assess the patient prior to the operation and nurse them after that,” elaborates Ananthan, who has been to Myanmar and Uzbekistan on missions.
But while she’s familiar with the task at hand, the environment she works in during these missions is very different. “We don’t always have everything on hand like we do here in Singapore,” she notes. “Sometimes we can’t find a stand for the drips, so we need to improvise by sticking tape to the wall.”
The resilience of the children she meets — how strong they are, even when they are ill — is something that always tugs at her heartstrings “They are just thankful for anything they get. They are happy to share a bed, as long as they can get the surgery.”
The kisses, hugs and random drawings she is rewarded with are what keep Ananthan going, even when she’s tired. During each mission, the team will attend to more than 100 patients and often put in 12 hour-long shifts.
The first patient she helped as a Smile Asia volunteer was less than a year old and had a cleft lip. “After the surgery, the transformation was simply beautiful. The mum was so happy, she was in tears,” she recalls.
Besides settling in to care for daughter Diya, born in early November 2015, Ananthan — together with husband air force officer Pravin Loganathan, 30 — is also eagerly anticipating the Christmas season. “I simply love the festive air. Plus, it’s wonderful when our paediatric doctors go around to the wards to bring festive cheer to the children through Christmas carols,” she beams.
• Best gift received… A handmade board displaying my name in fairy lights made by a dear friend.
• Favourite song… The First Noel.
• Favourite drink… All the Christmas-themed coffees!
The Food Bank Singapore
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Did you know that food that hasn’t expired is binned more often than we can imagine? In fact, a third of food that we import in Singapore is thrown away, notes Nichol Ng, 37 and a mum of two, who started The Food Bank with her brother, Nicholas, in 2012. “[This] means we’re also throwing away the freight, the carbon footprint and the packaging,” she points out.
She cites container loads of whole salmon that were donated as “they weren’t filleted as requested by the customer”, as well as French fries rejected by a fast-food chain simply because they weren’t long enough to meet their exacting standards.
“It’s cheaper to donate it than to send it back to the US,” she notes.
Many businesses also toss out perfectly good food because it’s nearing its expiry date and “wouldn’t do well on the shelf”.
Ng was so appalled at the staggering amount of wastage that she decided to take action. “Food banking has been around in the US since 1967, but it’s still relatively unheard of in Asia.”
She points out that one out of 10 Singaporeans feel insecure about food. “What this means is that by mid-month, that person may have to weigh the pros and cons — can I buy lunch, or should I save the money for medicine, for instance.” This group — which comprises almost half a million people — may include foreign workers, or even the cleaner auntie at your office, she adds.
Currently, the Food Bank reaches out to some 100,000 people through soup kitchens, old folks’ and children’s homes across 150 charity organisations.
Besides collecting excess food via “bank boxes” from companies, the not-for-profit also works with restaurants and hotels to redistribute food that hasn’t been touched. As to the possibility of organising a regional food warehouse of sorts here, she muses, “Perhaps one day, we won’t have to scramble to raise food items when there is a natural disaster in our neighbouring country.”
Introducing healthier options to the needy is also high on Ng’s to-do list. “They feel that healthy food is expensive and they don’t have fridges to keep fresh foods. We want to introduce things like olive oil and oats to them.”
She notes that we need to do something about redistributing food correctly as the cost of food is rising rapidly. “Personally, I feel that if I don’t do something about this, my daughters won’t get to eat $2.50 chicken rice in time to come.”
• Best family tradition… Having a real pine tree at home — the smell
that you wake up to for the 12 days of Christmas is unbelievable.
• Best present received…When I was 10, a good friend gave me a Styrofoam card in the shape of a gun — it was cool, quirky and memorable!
• Christmas wish… To expand our family [currently husband Eddy Tapsir, 39, a production company manager, and daughters Shaia Rae, 1, and Sascha Rae, 3]. An extra pair of tiny hands to unwrap gifts next Christmas would be great!
Pawsibility animal-assisted therapy
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Maureen Huang, 33, had a light-bulb moment while helping disabled kids ride horses as therapy six years ago. Then a bank officer, she noticed that the human-animal connection was creating something special: The children became more motivated and grew in confidence whenever they worked with the horses.
“There was something almost magical when the kids and the horses interacted.”
While Huang was eager to learn more about this form of therapy, Singapore does not offer this form of training. So, she enrolled in the University of Denver in the US, where she experienced first-hand how animals were able to improve the health and well-being of humans. “It just blew my mind. I knew I had to bring that knowledge home to help children experience the healing power of the human-animal bond.”
Her US stint must have been kismet because it was there that she met her best friend and co-therapist, Telly, whose name is short for Telluride, a ski resort
“I love seeing kids with anger issues display kindness and gentleness towards her. When they’re with Telly, they’re kind, polite, respectful — all the things you don’t expect normally,” Huang notes.
Telly, whose playful and sweet temperament makes her a perfect fit for the job, returned to Singapore with Huang two and half years ago. Together, the pair, who work with youths aged 4 to 20, tackle issues like depression, anger management, peer and family relationships, divorce and self-esteem. Even when a child with autism pulls Telly’s tail accidentally, her beloved pooch won’t react aggressively, she announces with pride.
She recalls a session she conducted for a group of teenage girls with a history of trauma and abuse. She saw one girl hugging Telly when they parted. The girl whispered to her friend, “I feel so loved”. “Those four simple words brought tears to my eyes, because I knew what the girl had been through and how hard it is for her to feel loved in a way that was safe and nurturing,” says Huang.
As you can imagine, while she has the counselling know-how, Telly is often the star of the show. “She’s very sensitive to the needs of people,” Huang explains. “When I work with groups of kids, I may not know who’s feeling particularly sad or vulnerable, but Telly somehow knows and she’ll go to the kid who feels the saddest. The kid would later come and tell me how Telly made her feel better.
“Without any words, she can tell people she cares about them and that’s a powerful message for the kid who feels that no one cares.”
• Favourite Christmas song… O Holy Night.
• Favourite Christmas movie… A Dog Named Christmas.
• Favourite Christmas tradition… Family games played by the young and the old — it’s extremely competitive, yet filled with lots of fun and laughter!
Happier Singapore party services
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Parties may mean fun and games for us, but to Alicia Lye, 26, it’s serious business. “It may seem like a light-hearted job, but birthdays and many other celebrations come only once a year,” she says. “So, I do feel a heavy responsibility that things go well for my customers.”
Married to financial planner Wong Jing Song, 29, Lye’s passion for party-planning was honed in kindergarten, when her mother let her plan her own shindig. She adds, “My family is very close knit. We share our joys together, even with our extended family, at every possible occasion there is to celebrate.”
However, she discovered her talent for decorating faces by accident, when she stepped in for her sister’s face-painting duties at a child’s birthday party. “The infectious and nostalgic atmosphere I experienced with the kids and parents was amazing. No other job can compare to it.” And so, Happier Singapore was born — she now works with a team of artists.
By the way, she’s noted for her balloon sculptures that are far from run-of-the-mill: You’ll see detailed ones of children’s favourite like the Minions, Lighting McQueen and Bob the Builder. Her strangest request? “A large purple cockroach,” Lye laughs.
That said, if you can think up something to challenge her, she would probably create it. She gets inspiration from the children she meets, the Internet and “a little bit of her own imagination”.
“To be honest, I love a challenge and I tend to lose interest once the challenge
is gone. I have to ensure my job is constantly evolving, so that my creative juices keep flowing!”
• Favourite gift received… A cat encyclopedia from “Santa” when I was 9.
• Best family tradition… My parents playing “Santa” while my sister and I pretended we believed, so that we could continue to receive presents!
• Favourite Christmas movie… Frozen — I like the sisterly love aspect of it.