Love and well-wishes for late The Coconut Club co-founder Lee Eng Su

Mr. Lee Eng Su, co-founder of The Coconut Club, has passed away at the age of 40.

 

The Coconut Club

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Opened in 2016, The Coconut Club has quickly established itself as one of the best Nasi Lemak eating spots in Singapore, earning the coveted Bib Gourmand award.

It was also graced by PM Lee Hsien Loong, who invited Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines, to the restaurant.

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The man

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Mr. Lee Eng Su (left)

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According to The Straits Times, Mr. Lee shared his passion for seeing the nasi lemak as more than just a dish, but a “cuisine”.

Many have commended Mr. Lee on his respect for the dish, and his constant belief in consistently making improvements to the dish.

Programme director of a food and beverage (F&B) entrepreneurship course at Singapore Management University (SMU), Mr. Michel Lu reflected:

What he has done is very important for Singapore – to preserve heritage food that is authentic and true. It is done with a lot of care and I have a lot of respect for what they have achieved.

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Kf Seetoh from Makansutra also voiced his appreciation for the man, that he poured his heart and soul into creating the perfect dish for people. Despite having earnt the aforementioned Bib Gourmand award, Mr Lee still humbled himself and paid close attention to what his customers sought.

 

The boss

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Under his leadership, he has not only brought The Coconut Club as a business to greater heights, but has cultivated the best relationship with his employees by treating them as family.

A 21-year-old SMU student Ms. Laura Chan mentioned:

When he interviewed me for the job, he told me about how everyone is family at the restaurant. When I told him about how much I love my grandparents, he cried because he understood how important that was. That was life-changing for me, because I’ve never met someone so loving. He has always been a beacon of light for all of us.

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Ms. Chan’s words are reflective of Mr. Lee’s emphatic spirit, that he brought himself to understand Ms. Chan’s immense love for her grandparents.

Another employee was full-time staff Michelle Paul. While reluctant to stay in the F&B industry, it was through interacting with Mr. Lee that made her love and want to stay in The Coconut Club.

He had a dream for everyone and wanted us to grow.

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Another chef, Mr. Nazrin Shah also expressed Mr. Lee’s kindness as the former went through a breakup:

I wasn’t myself then, but instead of firing me, he paid for me to go for therapy sessions.

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Mr. Lee was able to look past his employees as mere workers, but got to know each and everyone of them on a personal level.

Mr. Shah later adds:

He always had a dream for educating the community and giving back to society. We want to carry on his legacy.

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Mr. Lee has inspired many through his passion for food and for people.

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Reflecting a love for flavours and the chase to create something that people would enjoy, Mr. Lee strives to craft the perfect meal. More than eating something tasty, it is the whole experience to create the perfect dish for all.

His love for people is also clear. Mr. Lee simply loved people and wanted to best help them grow and develop.

 


Cover image from here (left) and here (right).

#TheGoodWomen: Eugenia Tan – Mother, Entrepreneur, Caregiver

Communication – the one bridge to connect to people around you. For some children who struggle with the fundamentals, Eugenia Tan helps to build that bridge with her speech and music therapy services at Communikidz Therapy.

Meeting Eugenia

With her warm, welcoming disposition, it felt natural to immediately feel comfortable with Eugenia. Her bright smile and cheerful demeanor left no question that she was the right person to work with children.
With her zest for helping others while balancing her passion for family and work- it would be pretty hard to not to be inspired by the way she is dedicated to her life.

A Natural Instinct to Serve People

Growing up with a love for music and the passion to give back to the community, Eugenia always had a clear vision of what her calling was.

“Maybe I was idealistic as a young child,’’ she quips.

The path of giving back to others was what she felt was meant for her. With no doubts nor hesitation, the way she followed her own vocation and calling was certainly admirable.

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“I just always felt that that’s what I wanted to do.”

Making The Switch

Before having her own private practice, Eugenia started off as a speech therapist working for the community sector- working with children in early intervention centres, schools for children with learning and special needs, as well as charities.

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However, with the timely arrival of her son, she knew she wanted to spend more time with him and having a private practice granted her the chance to do so.
Running a business was not a foreign concept to her. Growing up with parents who owned businesses, and having married a businessman, she felt that it would be inevitable before she was treading on the same path.

“I knew that there would be a point where I wanted to see what it would be like to run a business.”

Hence, Communikidz Therapy was born.

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Even with her past experience in clinical work as well as managing teams in the community sector, being flexible in her new role as a business owner was a new hurdle. On top of providing therapy services to children, she had to be adjusted to handling her business herself. What eased transitioning into the difference in her career, she figured, was to maintain her own support network.

“I think in whatever changes that happen in your life, it’s just about, having people around you that are supportive.”

Connecting through communication

“Imagine if you couldn’t speak!”

A simple but significant statement- speaking may be easily taken for granted, but for children who come to her centre, obstacles in their speech and language development impact their confidence in communicating with other people. Through speech and music therapy, these children overcome feeling alienated from their family and friends.
Just like every business owner, she has ambitions for her private practice – which is to provide accessibility for families from all walks of life, especially of those from lower-income. With financial strain, parents may not prioritize their child’s communication progress. Affordable and yet quality therapy would redirect parents’ involvement in their with their child’s therapy.

“I just felt that people all deserve access to services and good quality therapy and not just people that can afford it in private practice.”

Family First

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As much as she is dedicated to her profession – for Eugenia, her family was her world. With her upbringing of parents who provided unconditional love, her family has certainly inspired her to be the best therapist she can be each day to her clients

“My parents focused a lot more on the effort that we put in rather than the results that came out of it.”

Even as a new mother – her toddler has taught her patience as well as how to connect to the parents that she works with. With unconditional love she has grown for her son, she has learnt to better empathize with other parents’ love for their children.

“How much I love him has reminded me of how much all parents love their children.”

Eugenia, at a glance

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Everyone may need a life-changing experience in their story to motivate them to do better. For Eugenia however, this was not the case. If anything, 11 years in her profession has always taught her that every improvement made by each child in their progress is life-changing.
With her incredible optimism, enthusiasm and care for the people she works with, along with the focus for her profession, it would be hard not to be inspired by Eugenia’s mission in giving back to the community. Every small milestone brings you closer to your goal, which is what she aims every day in her profession when helping children. I shall end off with Eugenia’s advice which summarizes her at a glance.

Just do the best that you can in helping others, and appreciate the work that you do.”

#TheGoodWomen: Janice Chiang- Youtuber, Decision-maker, Advocate

“I’ve been trying to grow plants for the longest time. And even though I followed the instructions and bought those potted ones which are like fool proof, I can still kill it.”

As Janice said this as she spoke about her interests and I didn’t expect to relate so much to one of my favourite Youtubers.

TreePotatoes

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We all know TreePotatoes as one of the biggest YouTube channels in Singapore, and we also know the trio that started it all: Aaron, Janice and Elliot.

Throughout the years, TreePotatoes has garnered 394,000 subscribers on YouTube. They have also collaborated with local talents like Benjamin Kheng, as well as International YouTubers such as Wong Fu Productions.

This is amazing since none of the three had studied anything media-related in school. Janice was actually a Biomedical Science graduate from NUS, however it wasn’t what she wanted to do since she preferred a people-oriented environment.

When she chanced upon an opportunity to join the media industry, she had to learn everything on the go which led to watching videos online about why things worked or didn’t work.

“When we first started, we really didn’t know anything. To me at that point in time, for the camera, I only knew how to press one button which was to take a picture and that’s it.”

As she said that, I felt inspired by her story as despite having no experience, she still went on to be such a recognizable face in the media.

Becoming an Influencer

“I am sure with how Wah!banana and TreePotatoes became so popular, you gained your own following on social media as well. Was it difficult to manage?” I asked her

To which she responded with:

“It was quite difficult, I think all three of us were never really the kind who wants to be famous or anything.”

Astonished by her statement, I thought: Who wouldn’t want to be famous? 

She confesses that she is the kind of person who values her own privacy, which made me nod understandingly.

She could no longer leave the house with just a simple outfit – T-shirt, shorts and slippers. People were recognizing her on the streets, and it affected her image as a Youtuber.

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Although her business is dependent on how she should present her public image, it never once changed her self-image.

She didn’t feel the need to put in extra effort to look better, instead, she found power in knowing that she had a voice that would be seen and heard. This made it easier for her to voice out causes that she supports and help increase awareness among her followers.

In turn, she grew mindful of what she says online because whatever she says or does on the public space has consequences.

One of The Boys

“If you ask them, they never thought that I was a girl.” she chuckled as I grinned at her joke.

Despite being the only girl among Aaron and Elliot, she never had a problem hanging out with guys and working with them, as she never felt different because of her gender. Adding that when her male counterparts joke around, she joins in on their fun as she knows that it’s just “boy talk”.

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Even though being a girl didn’t affect her social life, it had affected her work life in both a good and bad way.

She said that being a girl has its advantages especially since she is in sales, so people tend to stop and listen to what she has to say.

At the same time, being a young lady did have certain setbacks, such as being mistaken for a “xiao mei mei” and not being taken seriously at times. However, after interacting with her the same people go on to understand that she is, after all, a decision-maker who has the final say at the end of the day.

Looking Forward

When asked about her visions for the future, she mentioned that she was thinking of setting up a girl’s school for women to have difficulties in accessing education.

Explaining that, even though there are changes being made to provide education for these women, it is not happening fast enough. People are still getting stuck in a poverty loop because of the lack of education.

She spoke with such conviction as she said that “Education is the foundation of growth” and that,

“When a country only educates their men, they are only getting half of what they could be getting, because the other 50% of the population could be also working in generating GDP.”

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While on the topic of “in the future”, she said that career-wise she is looking to improving and increasing her skills. Having acquired skills in areas like biomedical science, video production and business development, it gave her a competitive advantage to push her career further as she plans to possibly pursue new prospects.

“Don’t be afraid to be different, it’s what gives you a competitive advantage.”

#TheGoodWomen: Elisa Lim- Fashion designer, Entrepreneur, Sports enthusiast

When one door closes, another opens.

If anyone had regurgitated this cliché to a then crippled 16-year-old Elisa Lim, she would hardly have been comforted at all.

Growing up as an active girl, she fondly recalled how netball was her first love. Yet, after an unfortunate knee injury forced her to miss a shot at the U-18 national team, she begrudgingly looked for new activities to pass her time on the wheelchair.

That was when the other door opened; a sewing hobby reinvigorated young Elisa and sparked her eagerness to design and make her own clothes.

“I didn’t know about fashion, so I went to libraries to understand more about the art. The more I learned the more interested I became, and so I decided to explore that end after ‘O’ Levels.”

Unsatisfied with what she could learn through books alone, she decided to expand her knowledge and skills by pursuing a fashion design degree at Lasalle College of the Arts.

Her Passion for Fashion

Elisa’s belated passion for the craft, unlike the majority of her fashion design counterparts, gave her a rather innocent opinion of the industry:

“Since I was growing up, I didn’t know fashion. I didn’t know about luxury products so I couldn’t sit with the fact that the craft that I love would eventually lead me to serve the luxury market only… To me it wasn’t enough.”

She explained that fashion design is mostly about individual expression — it is, after all, an art form. However, she animatedly justifies her choice to depart from conventional fashion designing: “it isn’t as if my life is very happening that I have a lot of things to say about myself and to express them through clothes!”

As a result, she chose to focus on the stories of others instead.

During her third year in Lasalle, a doctor asked her to design special clothes for his patients with physical disabilities. At such a critical juncture of her studies where final year project choices had to be made, Elisa was convinced that was the answer she was looking for.

What is Will and Well?

Elisa’s research and time spent on the project made her realise the real need for clothes that accommodate to people with disabilities. Thus, after graduating, she was determined to continue what her final year project had started, eventually paving the way for Will and Well.

With the understanding that wardrobe struggles vary with each individual and disability, Elisa’s label offers to design customised clothes upon request.

“The process (of designing clothes at Will and Well) is very different from your typical fashion design process. Rather than having the designer decide what they want to produce, we do the exact opposite. Our products stem from what our users want and need.”

To Elisa, that little bit of convenience in the morning without dreading the battle with your clothes could make all the difference.

More than Just a Fashion Label

What’s next for Will and Well? To put it simply and in Elisa’s own words, “a lot!”

In addition to enhancing the website’s catalogue, the team is looking to offer design solutions for organisations like schools, hospitals, and elder cares.

But among all the things to look forward to, Elisa is most excited about diversifying her brand. Rather than simply designing functional clothes for people with disabilities, she is aiming to garner more support for them and to further educate the public and caregivers.

“Fashion clothes is one medium, but there are many other mediums out there that could also close that gap and bring support to the people that we stand for.”

This September, Will and Well will host a workshop focusing on the design thinking and technical skills that go into the crafting of its unique products. “Basically I’m trying to duplicate a few of me!” Elisa laughed, “so that eventually we can reach out to Southeast Asia.”

Next on the agenda, and this one caught me by surprise, is the designing and development of card decks. The idea was a result of the team’s wish to facilitate communication between caregivers and their dependents. Rather than simple conversational cards, Elisa believes that the inclusion of a game mechanic could be more meaningful and interesting.

Ultimately, Elisa believes that the priority of Will and Well has always been the people it serves, and her team will continue looking for ways to enhance their lives.

Her Love of Sports

Despite her busy schedule, Elisa always finds the time to enjoy herself through sports.

Although she has never played competitively since her injury, she never stopped herself from indulging in an array of sports in her free time.

Besides netball, her unwavering constant, Elisa told me that she had recently picked up football and bouldering. She went on ardently with a “to-do” list of sports, and I couldn’t help but to point out her seemingly bottomless appetite to try as many things out there as possible.

“I just really love to explore new things.”

That, to me, is a simple yet crucial aspect of Elisa’s approach to anything. From picking up sewing on a wheelchair to finding new ways to help people with disabilities, perhaps it is the simple ideas that bring about the biggest changes.

#TheGoodWomen: Valeria Chan (JJ) -Dancer, Mentor, advocate

“Besides dance, I don’t really know anything else.”

Said JJ, the founder of EV dance and the creative director of Evok3. I giggled at her honesty, knowing that it was a joke, but I was also amazed at her humility.

Giving Back

JJ has been a dancer since she was 6 years-old and that she hasn’t stopped dancing since. Now, she is the founder of a local dance company, EV Dance, the principal choreographer of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s HipHop Dance Club, New Revolving Age (NRA) and Creator of Swaggout Singapore.

She strongly believes in giving back to the dance community which can be reflected through the work that she has done over the years.

JJ created Swaggout Singapore because in 2008, she used her savings to fly to Los Angeles (LA) for dance training, however it dawned on her that many dancers in Singapore might not have the funds to fly that far to learn as much as she did.

Therefore, instead of finding a way to take Singaporeans to LA, she found a way to bring renowned international choreographers to Singapore, to teach local dancers.

At the same time, she started EV Dance as the main organizer for Swaggout Singapore. She also described EV dance as a “mobile company” as back then, she did not have a studio but still went ahead to coach at secondary schools.

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She used to coach many neighbourhood schools where a lot of students needed financial aid.

These students received assistance from the school so they could dance in their CCAs, however once they graduated, not all of them continued dancing.

So, she gathered these “graduates” and dubbed them as Team EV. This was to make them feel at home and give them a place where they can take classes or continue dancing.

Her coaches even gave classes every week for free where they try to have weekly sessions with them. However, since they didn’t have a studio at the time, there was no fixed location for them to train at, so in 2016, EV Dance finally got a studio situated at Waterloo Street.

“We (used to) always find different locations like over at S’cape or at Esplanade to teach. So, three years ago I thought it was time to have a place for them.”

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She said that the direction of her dance studio is not commercial. She explained that despite being a Private Company, EV Dance is not profit driven. Therefore, they are mostly searching for funds to run her programmes so that her students can dance for free and compete in competitions.

However since EV does a lot of non-profit events this led to her creating Evok3, a non-profit organization that she uses to run events and train her current students.

“Right now the pool of Team EV students and the non-profit events that we run are actually running with Evok3, to have more initiative and at least to meet our objective.”

She clarifies that since EV Dance already has a huge account with schools due to coaching, that she wants to continue maintaining and building on this account while having Evok3 to build on non-profit events such as Swaggout Singapore and World Supremacy Battlegrounds Singapore.

Keep Going

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“This is not easy as there are a lot of differing perceptions especially in Singapore. Particularly how parents will say that ‘dancing will not make you anything or that you will not go anywhere (with dance).’”

However, that was not the case for JJ as she has a very supportive family. Despite 2009 being a difficult year for her family as her mother was sick, her mother still supported her even when she was going through chemotherapy. Her sisters also played a major role in helping her set up EV Dance by supporting her in the corporate side of things.

However, even though EV Dance had been going on for 10 years, she revealed that they haven’t been doing well.

She says that in the past she had to have a second job as a financial adviser to sustain her way of living. However, now she is grateful for having her supportive sisters and a great team, as their efforts are being recognized by other organizations that could provide support to EV Dance.

When asked about how she motivates herself, she told me that she doesn’t have a strategy to do that and that every job will have its struggles but the reason why she can keep going is because she loves what she is doing.

“The blessing is just that I’m doing things that I really want to do. I really love coaching even till now.”

Many dancers from her “era” have stepped down to start their own families or moved on with their life with other careers. However, she isn’t worried about struggles wavering her motivation because she genuinely loves her job.

She admits that as time went by and as she got older, her body was not as strong as before, so she has a lot of injuries and has to start all over again in terms of conditioning her body, but she enjoys the process.

Amidst that, she has also learnt about her limits, be it physical and mental and about what truly motivates her and makes her happy.

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“Something I believe in is to follow your passion, but to bring your brain along. Because I think that most of the time, we always want to do things without thinking of the consequences. I think that we can still make our dreams happen, but sometimes you have to be logical about it.”

#TheGoodWomen: Geraldine Yong – Mother, Edupreneur, Teacher

Standing under a row of colourful shop houses along Joo Chiat road, I found myself searching for what should have been wedged between a Chinese restaurant and a laundromat. I had pictured a typical tuition centre with a glass door and a huge signboard. Instead, I saw a small sign with TUAN’s logo and an arrow pointing towards a flight of stairs behind a secured metal gate.

As I climbed the dimly lit stairway, I wondered about what to expect until I saw someone pop out from behind a door on my right with kind eyes and a bright smile plastered on her face.

TUAN wasn’t very spacious but the combination of a wooden floor, a warm colour palette across the walls and furniture as well as large windows, the place felt like a second home to me.

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Living her Dream

“That was the thing, like I’ve always loved kids and I’ve always loved teaching kids. So, it was a childhood dream of mine to actually open a preschool.”

She said with a twinkle in her eyes and a big grin on her face.

However, having worked at a preschool after graduating from University, she felt disappointed and discouraged to pursue her dream.

She told me that she had an observation session where her employers reviewed her work. During which she was told that she had done perfectly and to continue what she had been doing. But that was not enough for her as even though she got her dream job with the mindset to learn more, she wasn’t given the opportunity to do so.

“At that point of time, it was a bit of a disappointment for me, because I felt that, going into a different organization was to learn.”

She then decided to pursue what she learnt in University and landed a job at a bank and did corporate banking. She laughed heartily and admitted that It was not a very enjoyable job, so she left that line of work to teach mathematics at an enrichment centre.

Work Life Balance

While working at the enrichment centre, she was pregnant with her daughter. It was difficult but at the same time, she said that she felt privileged as she was in an environment where the women supported each other.

“If I had back to back classes, they would buy food for me. They ensure that I eat and that kids don’t bully me. So I would say I was lucky to be in a good situation”

Despite doing what she loves, she left the enrichment centre after being there for about 4 years.

She told me that there wasn’t a specific reason as to why she left but rather several pushing factors that helped her make her decision to leave.

Even though she loved the job, she felt that she was stagnating as looking back she thought that she wasn’t growing much in the enrichment centre. She even joked, saying that teaching in an enrichment centre was her “retirement job” as she was happy, but she wanted more.

Another reason was spending time with her family. Although her schedule was very comfortable (as she only needed to work two weekdays and two weekends) she still didn’t have as much time for her family as she wanted.

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“I was working two weekends, and It wasn’t very good as I have a daughter. So I couldn’t see her on the weekdays, when she goes to school and we don’t get to spend time with her on weekends either.”

A Space for Educators

After working at the enrichment centre Geraldine wanted to try starting a business. This led to her first project, Beforethree which is a website targeted at sharing knowledge to expectant parents.

After that, a friend and her came up with the idea of wanting to rent out spaces like rooms that are not being utilized by companies to people.

As they developed it, they realized that, what they actually wanted to do wasn’t really just to rent out the spaces. It was to be a kind of incubator for entrepreneurs such as educators who wants to start up their own education business and try out holding up their classes there.

Now, TUAN provides spaces for educators to rent out instead of them needing to handle the administrative and financial burden of leasing a long-term space.

The vision of TUAN is to build a culture of lifelong learning by redefining the use of space.

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“We’ve spoken to some of these people who hold their classes here. They tell us that their regular jobs are very boring. And they are very happy to come out and see something that they have never seen before.”

Geraldine gushes about how meeting other educators and understanding what they are doing and why they are doing it can be very different. Treasuring her relationships with other educators, she thinks that helping them and bringing them together can be very meaningful.

“Never think any lesser of what you have to offer to the world when it comes to your dreams. A successful business is not about the numbers, high profits or social media following. As long as you have touched another person’s life with what you do, it is worth it.”

“Artistic and Autistic”: Iyad & his spoken-word poem, “Arising”

“I’m human at first

And always will be human till the last” – excerpt from “Arising” by Iyad

The author behind the poem is cheerful and bright Iyad, currently a Police NSF who is completing his NS journey this August. Iyad is also an active volunteer in the community and an avid lover of the performing Arts.

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Being part of audience who watched the poem performed live and applauded at how well-written it was, I decided to ask him how the poem was birthed.

“You could say that I’m artistic and autistic.”

When approached to share about autism during The Hidden Good’s monthly social gathering, he thought “Why not write a poem about it?” After all, he was also invited to perform at two other spoken word events that month (which also happened to be his birthday month!), so it seemed like a perfect idea.

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“To be honest, that was my first craft of mine expressing about autism. It was unprecedented for me to write a poem about me having autism knowing that it’s a personal thing. I was freaking nervous to share it out as well.”

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“How I even came up with the title is kind of lame haha. “

Iyad says sheepishly. He picked the word ‘Arising’ because it starts with the same letter as autism – “A”, and also because he sees himself as still arising and growing despite facing the symptoms of asperger’s syndrome.

He also sincerely thanks his spoken word buddy Jedidiah for helping him work through the initial drafts and polish it to what it is today.

Reflection of His Experiences

The poem is an intimate insight into Iyad’s experience with autism, and contains his anecdotes as well as his thoughts. He draws attention to a specific stanza:

“ I stack

I shift

I stack

I shift

Stack

Shift

Stack

Shift

Until it reveals a very neat display

#Perfection “

This describes a very common behaviour of Iyad’s to arrange objects until it looks organised. Though it’s unconventional and may often draw unwanted attention, Iyad fondly recounts a memory when he spotted kids’ shampoo bottles on the shelf of a provision shop that were not neatly arranged and naturally went over to sort it out. “Just like how it was placed nicely on the TV adverts.” he added. The response he got was amusing, he described, telling us how the shopkeeper even wanted to hire him for arranging the items in such an organised manner.

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His Thoughts on Autism

Iyad is quick to commend his parents’ resilience, and appreciates how they treat him equally despite his differences.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be here now.”

But nothing is perfect, and Iyad tells us how not all his friends know it and even those who do, might not care. He shares many of these personal stories on his own Youtube Channel. At the end of the day, Iyad just hopes he is treated fairly.

“I don’t need special treatment, just acceptance from all.”

Takeaways

As part of the audience who watched Iyad use a small space to bring his poem to life, I felt how genuine and emotionally immersive it was. It evoked concern, laughter and understanding to everyone in the room as he pulled us into his life for those few minutes.

Iyad is an outspoken, creative and courageous performer who I look up to as an avid lover of the Arts myself. He is brave to have brought his personal story to the stage, and to have continuously promote the message that autism is not a hindrance to one’s potential.

IMG-20190604-WA0003If you’d like to learn more about Iyad’s life journey and experiences, or even watch a video of him reciting the poem, you can check out his Youtube Channel right here!

When asked what else he wanted to add, Iyad joyfully said

“I wish for a harmonious society to live together, I wish that my family and friends are more understanding and I wish myself great health, wealth and happiness. Cheers!”

 

#TheGoodWomen: Cindy Neo – Art Maker, Tombstone Tourist, Cancer Survivor

While looking for Cindy’s art studio, I found myself staring at flights of stairs wedged between automobile and hardware shops and questioned if I had gotten the right place. As I began climbing the stairs, I got increasingly doubtful, climbing past floors of mysterious offices.

But when I reached the top floor and gazed upon a beautiful piece of acrylic-pour art, I knew I had found Room To Imagine. Cindy opened the door and warmly welcomed me into her cosy art studio, and it felt like a wonderful scenery that has come to greet me after a long climb up.

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“New Chapter”

Cindy describes the studio as a new chapter of her life. “Working from a home-based studio is very different from having a dedicated space.” she explains, looking around her studio contentedly as she talked about how she now has more room to create larger pieces of works and experiment more. 

“Becoming a full-time artist wasn’t easy. I’m really lucky to have a supportive partner who always encourages me to just go for it..” she gratefully adds.

Origins

When I asked about how Room To Imagine came to be, Cindy told me that she was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and left her job to undergo treatments. While recuperating, she decided to revisit her passions – specifically in the Arts.

“I realize I was becoming very impatient with people around me, and just want to be quick and ‘efficient’ all the time.”

Cindy said, referring to the effects that her hectic lifestyle had on her. Whilst undergoing treatments, she found painting really therapeutic. At the same time, having the time to slow down and think sparked a desire in her to do something meaningful. Armed with her past work experiences in marketing and love for the arts, she took a leap of faith to pursue her vision. This is how Room To Imagine slowly came to be.

So what is Room To Imagine?

“Therapy.” Cindy responded with certainty when I asked her. She explains that it’s therapy for both herself and the participants. “There is a sense of satisfaction when people walk in feeling like they cannot do art but leave feeling more confident about themselves.” she continues,

“This is what makes it feel meaningful, to change what people think about themselves. What they can and cannot do.”

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The studio has also allowed her to meet people from many different walks of life. Her youngest students were a pair of 4-year-old twins while her oldest student was an 83-year-old leisure painter, who came for class despite not speaking a word of English and never having tried abstract art before.

“You’re never too old or young to learn something.”

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Cancer Advocate

Having been a patient before, Cindy occasionally volunteers at chemotherapy suites to serve biscuits and milo as well as provide the patients with some company. She sees herself in a position where she can help people who are in the same predicament as she was before.

Furthermore, she talks about how afraid of chemotherapy she was in the past, and volunteering in these suites gives her the chance to overcome her fear by observe the patients undergoing it.

Her love for cemeteries

Cindy told me she does not have many other interests when I asked her about what else she enjoyed doing besides making art. That was until she told me,

“I actually really like to visit cemeteries, especially when I travel”

I stared at her, jaw-dropped, before chuckling in disbelief that she could ever think that she was boring. I was taken aback that such a calm and composed lady like herself would be a tombstone tourist. But the way she described cemeteries soon made me question my stereotypes against the usually creepy and gloomy space.

“It’s like an uncurated museum”

“There’s a lot of culture and history.” she explains to me, giving the examples of differences between a traditional Chinese tombstone and one of a colonial master. She also excitedly tells me about how she once went to Penang on a solo-trip and while visiting the cemeteries there, discovered a surprising link to the Bukit Brown cemetery in Singapore.

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Takeaways

When you meet Cindy, she’s a calm and graceful individual who unexpectedly packs a punch. Learning about her cancer journey and her interests surprised me a lot, and inspired me a lot. She went through a very tough part of her life but didn’t let it hinder her. In fact, it pushed her to pursue her own passions.

“There is no one path that is set for you that you must follow”

She says that people often limit themselves more than others do, and this is what hinders them from living their best lives. If I’ve learnt anything from Cindy, it’s that we have the power to do whatever makes us happy.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment, just have fun.”

#TheGoodWomen: Na Xin Yi – Educational Advocate, Child Sponsor, Mentor

“When I was young, my dream job was to scoop ice-cream. Oh, and be an MRT driver”.

So says Xin Yi, the bright and chirpy head of Marketing and Development at WEEAT, a food catering service that specialises in healthy eating.

While I raised my eyebrows in mild confusion, she smiled back in response, “Weird right?”

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First Impressions

When I heard I was going to meet the head of Marketing from WEEAT, part of me expected a stoic lady to show up for what was to be a very formal meeting. When Xin Yi waddled in wearing a pair of beat-up converse and a pastel floral dress, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. She seemed like your everyday bright and promising fresh graduate, except just a little older and with heaps of experience.

Having previously worked at the youth-centric social enterprise Trybe, I was curious as to why she made the choice to join the WEEAT team.

I thought that promoting clean eating was something very purposeful, and I would also be able to hone my professional skills through marketing… but basically, I also like to eat ah. All Singaporeans love to eat what right.

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“After all, even in my role at WEEAT, there’s still space to reach out to youths.” she explains, talking about the opportunities to interact with the children she meets during deliveries and workshops.

Community Warrior

Xin Yi’s heart is one that beats for the community. From youths at risk, to underprivileged children overseas, to construction workers and the elderly, she’s had a hand in supporting these groups of people.

“For a year and a half, I’ve been journeying with some youths (at risk)… we started off just hanging out as friends, but slowly the relationship deepened and they started to share their challenges in life. Over time, I’ve slowly taken on the role of a mentor”.

She also sponsors a child from the Youth Charity Foundation, reaching out to children in remote villages in Thailand from families affected by AIDS and HIV. Her dedication goes as far as learning to speak Thai fluently and making visits down to the village itself to meet her sponsored child.

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“Seeing the children mature into adulthood is something very rewarding… I’d occasionally visit them and we’d have fun laughing at their baby photos together”, she says with a longing smile.

When asked what drives her to be so heavily involved in the community, she says:

I believe in leaving things in a better state than when I first encounter them – be it in our relationships with our friends, family, even passersbys. “How do you make this place you are at a better place than it already is?” – is a question I always ask myself.

A self-confessed geek

Xin Yi shared the importance of what education means to her, which is also part of the reason why she decided to sponsor a Thai child to attend school.

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“My dad has always been a very firm advocate of education. And when I was young I was pretty geeky too. I mean, I am still quite geeky,” she laughed sheepishly. “He would always give me the best and buy me assessment books. The fact that some children have no access to education made me think of my own privilege”.

“A Learner of Life”

Xin Yi’s identity extends beyond being a learner of life – she’s also a learner for life. According to her, we’ve loads to learn – about people, about ourselves, about places and spaces, and about anything and everything.

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“I’ve been super keen on DIY recently… you know those clay earrings that are all the trend recently?” she shares excitedly. “If I could learn anything or be anything though, I would be a travel photographer. But honestly at this point in time, I think I’m in a pretty good place,” she chirped.

There’s also lots to learn from others, specifically female leaders. “My Thai female pastor of the church I attend is someone I really admire. It’s not an easy feat to lead a congregation made up of predominantly male construction workers, yet she does it, and she does it well.”

To Xin Yi, a female leader with strength can also be gentle. In fact, gentleness to her is defined as “strength under control”.

It’s knowing when to step up when you’re called to, but also when to pull back and listen when you need to. I’m quite strong-headed, so this is something I’m also learning even now.

So who is Xin Yi?

An aspiring travel photographer, MRT driver and ice-cream scooper all at once. But also a woman who is audacious and bold in standing up for the causes she firmly believes in. Xin Yi radiates an infectious positivity, one that fiercely believes that our little actions do travel miles beyond our own lives – that our sphere of influence is not as limited as we think it is.