On Mothers' Day 2005, I participated in a little community service project to make and hand out gifts to mothers of children in the hospital. It left quite an impression on me. I left not feeling proud that I had contributed, but feeling humbled that I had given so little but witnessed so much love, grace and sacrifice.
Sometime early this year I decided to replicate this project at the University Malaya Medical Centre. Knowing the protocols required, I started making preparations and writing in for official authorisation by late January. Several meetings and a whole slew of email correspondence later, we managed to obtain approval for the project to be carried out on May 10, the Saturday before Mothers' Day, and for 10-15 volunteers to hand out the gifts and cards to the mothers at the paediatric oncology and paediatric ICU wards.
I created an event on Facebook with guidelines as to gifts.
(i) Small travel bath / personal care kits;
(ii) Lip balm and hand lotion (The air in hospitals can be very dry);
(iii) Family-friendly reading materials, women's magazines and puzzle (e.g. sudoku, crosswords, spot-the-differences) books.
(iv) Handkerchiefs, small towels, scarves and neck cushions.
(v) Small treats with a long shelf life, e.g. cans of juice, dried fruit, fancy cookies. No peanuts due to allergy concerns, please. Snacks should preferably be vegetarian, as it is universally acceptable.
The initial response was sluggish, but there were an enthusiastic few . I began to worry if I would be able to collect at least 160 gifts for the mothers caring for their children in the two wards. But many friends and friends-of-friends who did not respond publicly on Facebook sent me emails and private messages and handed over lovingly selected and wrapped gifts. Handmade cards were made and printed. Cookies were baked and packaged. The project was going to happen, after all.
The final week was the toughest, and I admit I believed I was in over my head with this project when a million other projects and responsibilities cropped up the same week and both my Battletank and smartphone decided to die on me days before the project. Thankfully, there's always Facebook, and friends and donors went out of their way to get the gifts delivered on time. Meena delivered her gifts to my workplace, Alicia and Isabel had a courier service deliver a package of lip balm to my office, Melissa met me at the train station with cookies, Liza and Illani helped to get reusable shopping bags for all the gifts that didn't come in a bag or basket, Keats got her Rotary Club members involved, Nicole offered to drive me around and transport the gifts, Serina came to assist me, and Joe and Thash turned up at the hospital on the morning of the project with 42 gifts. What a relief and blessing it is to have such loyal, helpful and generous friends!
Many thanks to Sarah who made a whopping 26 of these exquisite Mothers' Day cards. What a wonderful way to brighten someone's day!
We know what we are doing is not significant or life-changing. We don't pretend to understand the hardships these mothers are going through. We're not changing the world or finding a cure for cancer. All we want is to let these mothers know: "We know it's hard. We are thinking of you. We haven't forgotten. We care." It's not much but it comes from the heart.
First batch of gifts for my Mothers' Day service project packed and ready! 6 from Jess, 5 from Elena and 6 from me.
Not only did Melissa deliver these adorable little containers of cranberry cookies ordered by Isabel to me, she also gave me a box of peanut butter cookies (for me! for little old me!) to thank me for this initiative.
So on Saturday, May 10, a group of almost 20 of us got together to carry out our little Mothers' Day service project to bring cheer in the form of practical little gifts and handmade cards to the mothers caring for their critically ill children at the University Malaya Medical Centre. The volunteers were polite and solemn. We know it's hard to celebrate Mothers' Day when you have a critically-ill family member. We know the families are not "charity cases" and we should never make them feel that way. We know that above all, the mothers would value sincerity and respect for their privacy. They don't want to be known as superheroes or people who have performed acts of great sacrifice. They just want to be mothers. They want their children to be strong and healthy and out of hospital. They want normal family lives. And so we respected that, and we were grateful for the opportunity to wish them a Happy Mothers' Day and hand their children gifts that they could then hand to their mothers.
Scenes from the hospital lobby:
Going through the donated gifts while last-minute gifts are still pouring in from people who had pledged gifts.
Keats and the Rotary Club Ladies, with their smart and neat bundles of gifts!
Byen really outdid herself this time! Over 40+ packs of premium hair care products and personal care products!
Jacinta, Nic, Pikwun and Serina getting busy attaching cards to gift bags.
Pikwun's adorable little handmade hugs! What mother wouldn't love one of these?
Nicole and Keats: two of my best friends who I can always count on for support. Nic arrived to help me transport gifts when I was still in the shower!
Delivering the goodies to the wards. Taken at a discreet angle to protect the privacy of the patients and their families.
The kind and helpful nurses were not forgotten. We made sure there was a gift for each of them. There were enough gifts left over to be delivered to the women in the Surgery wards and Geriatric wards as well.
While we were up in the wards, Serina and the others who had remained in the lobby had diligently separated, sorted and tidied up all the bags and boxes. Thank you, Clean-Up Elves!
A group photo of the volunteers and donors for posterity. Many thanks to the incredibly generous donors and wonderful volunteers who made this happen.
As a way of giving thanks for the success of this project and for our mothers, Aravind and I gave blood at the University blood transfusion centre after the project. Aravind and I were the only 2 donors there. Donors must be pretty rare because the staff thought we were lost.
I got to contribute only 300 ml of blood.
Aravind got to contribute 450ml of blood. Lucky duck!
And this is what Mothers' Day at the parental home looked like on Sunday. CovertMum looks happy with her gift basket and we all went out for a pizza dinner.
So many blessings in our lives, if only we stood still and put down our smartphones and gadgets long enough to take stock of them all.