Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A little love for mothers on Mothers' Day

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. 

Proposed/Suggested 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.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Letter to the Editor: Authorities need to show stronger commitment towards ending animal cruelty and abuse


(Photo reproduced from The Star without permission but in accordance with the principles of fair use. Rest in peace, Brianna. I am sorry my fellow humans can be so cruel and ignorant.)

It is with sorrow and outrage that caring citizens learned today of the death of Brianna, the dog shot at with arrows (The Star, May 16). Our disappointment is no doubt exacerbated by the recent report that there is very little possibility that the perpetrator would be charged with a crime despite his intentionally cruel and dangerous act. 

The reluctance of the police and Attorney-General's Chambers to take action against the perpetrator on grounds that he was merely trying to "protect his children" sets a harmful precedent and creates opportunities for other animal abusers to rely on the same flimsy excuse of self-preservation even in cases where it is patently clear that the animal is in no state to attack or harm anyone. 

To condone this man's actions is to condone disproportionate use of force, violence and cruelty in our society, where people are encouraged to shoot, stab or bludgeon to death other living beings when a simple shout or a blast of water from the garden hose would have served the purpose of chasing away a dog from one's gate. 

This case highlights both the need for stronger, stricter laws and heavier penalties for animal abuse and cruelty in Malaysia, as well as the need for the cooperation and commitment of law enforcement bodies, the Attorney-General's Chambers and the Department of Veterinary Services to ensure that these laws are enforced appropriately, fairly and consistently. 

The proposed Animal Welfare Bill which was tabled in Parliament last year has yet to be given statutory footing. The Bill already has the overwhelming support of Malaysians, and once enacted into law, will increase the penalties for animal abuse and provide guidelines as to the adequate care of animals. We therefore urge all our elected representatives to approve the passage of this Bill, the enactment of which is sorely needed and long overdue. 

There is also deep concern over the manner in which the authorities handle animal cruelty and abuse investigations. An Act of Parliament can only be as effective as the persons and agencies who are implementing and enforcing it. The authorities cannot treat animal abuse as though it is not a "real offence". Animal cruelty is symptomatic of psychological disturbance and a tendency to anger easily and resort to violence. We should never desensitize society to cruelty and violence. At the moment, the authorities are only too happy to dismiss this case as an instance of 'a protective father wanting to keep his family safe' and animal rescuers and activists as troublemakers. The Department of Veterinary Services should work with animal rights and welfare organisations to educate and assist members of the public in mediating animal-related neighbourhood disputes, avoiding animal attacks and encouraging responsible animal care. 

On behalf of all rational Malaysians who believe in the sanctity of all lives, I therefore urge the authorities to proceed to prosecute this man under the Penal Code and existing Animal Act 1953 for animal abuse and cruelty. The burden of proof lies on the perpetrator / defendant, and not the police, to prove that he was acting in self-defence! To let him off so easily despite the fact that he had used a dangerous weapon against an animal that was not posing a threat is to create a pathway to depravity, violence and cruelty in our society.  


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Monthly Bucket List, April 2014

Monthly Bucket List for April 2014 

1. Make a new friend. 

 Of the new friends I have made in April 2014, three stand out in my mind: 

i. Alison, who is the founder, manager and administrator of Project Light A Home, a non-profit organisation with the aim of providing solar lamps to indigenous and impoverished rural families; 

ii. and iii. Joslyn and Tena, who I met when I started volunteering again with The Revolving Library, this time to read to the children in Anbu Illam, a home for at-risk boys. 

2. Help a stranger. 

i. My friend Lynette informed us of her friend Rebecca who had rescued kittens while living in Langkawi, and needed funds to transport her rescued kittens back to the UK with her. I didn't ask any questions. I knew that Rebecca and her kittens deserve and need to be together, and contributed what I could afford. 

ii. I've started volunteering with The Revolving Library's weekend Volunteer Reading Programme again, only this time we are reading at another children's home, Anbu Illam. The location and distance are a lot more favourable to me and I can drop by after volunteering at the SPCA. The last reading session merits a post all on its own. 

iii. I started volunteering with the Free Tree Society on Earth Day, and plan to return as often as I can to help out in the garden. 

iv. My friend Suzane informed me of an Orang Asli family who had lost everything in a kerosene lamp fire one weekend, and together with some other friends, I donated clothes, household items and cash. I am also liaising with Project Light A Home to see if we could find sponsors for solar lightbulbs for the entire village. 

3. Eat something/at someplace new to me. 

i. I've always been curious about rhubarb but have never tried it, not even in tarts or pies, simply because it isn't common or popular here. When I found a can of Waitrose sliced rhubarb stems in syrup at the discount section of the supermarket, I wasted no time trying it out. I'm thinking hard about what I have to say about rhubarb. Maybe it's the preparation. Maybe it would taste nicer fresh, or if it were another brand of canned rhubarb, or if it were baked in a pie or tart. I think I wasted way too much enthusiasm and curiosity on rhubarb. 

ii. When the Battletank started heating up in traffic one night, I decided to blow my schedule rather than blow up my car, so I parked behind a gas station in Section 17 to let the 'Tank cool down and walked over to a restaurant I have never been to, Restoran Sayur-Sayuran Guan Yin. I had fried udon noodles with vegetarian ribs (which I would otherwise never have, but it looked filling, and I was famished) and an iced longan drink. I'm glad I found this reasonably-priced neighbourhood restaurant, and I plan to visit again sometime. 

iii. On a night out with Ellen and Tom, Ellen learned that I love liquorice and aniseed flavoured liquor, so she bought me a shot of Anisette. Predictably, I loved it! It was sweet, fragrant, spicy, and all the good words in the dictionary. I would have kept drinking anisette all night if not for the fact that I had to drive home. Next time, I will take the cab. 

4. Go someplace I've never been. 

i. Volunteering with the Free Tree Society brought me to a part of Bangsar I had never explored. I was thrilled too, to find that the nursery was adjacent to the Federal Hill green lung, and had the opportunity to explore the trail on a Saturday. 

ii. I visited Aquaria KLCC with Aravind on April 18, before watching Jersey Boys. And although I had been to Istana Budaya once in 2002 to take CovertMum to watch Cats, since I had never been there to watch Jersey Boys, I count the new experience as "someplace I have never been." 

iii. With all the new shopping centres mushrooming all over the country, there was no way I could keep track or visit all of them, nor do I have the inclination to. On one rainy Wednesday night after work, however, I dropped by The Sphere in Bangsar South to pick up a potted plant and seeds from my friend Pikwun. The shopping mall was unremarkable and pretty similar to all the office-cum-shopping-complexes in the city, but I was happy to meet my friend and have dinner with her. 

iv. Resuming my volunteer reading sessions with The Revolving Library took me to Anbu Illam Home for Boys in Taman Permata, Ampang, a part of town new to me. 

5. Learn something new. 

i. I learned that I could name 162 Countries of the World within 12 minutes on the JetPunk Quiz, and that I know my Africa and Asia better than I do my North and South America. 

ii. I've taught myself to ride off the ledge and ride up a curb on my skateboard and am learning how to do a manual. It's not easy when you are 36 years old and out of shape. 

iii. Visiting Aquaria taught me to identify many species of fish, while volunteering with the Malaysian Nature Society at the KPA Teachers' Workshop taught me to identify several species of mangrove plants. 

iv. I also learned that I don't like the taste of Waitrose canned rhubarb very much. 

6. Declutter and cull 100 items

i. The Free Tree Society asked for donations of plant pots, so I spring cleaned my garden and driveway, washed the unused plant pots, and donated more than 10 pots to them. 

ii. I also spring cleaned the Bachelor Pad and removed over 20 items each week for disposal, recycling or donation, and this includes expired and unwanted medicine that I will take to the University Malaya Medical Centre for safe disposal. 

7. Give up something for a month

i. I have a thing about buying t-shirts, especially football jerseys and tees, rock band tees and tees from non-profits. For the whole month of April, I gave up buying or acquiring new t-shirts. 

ii. I also gave up relying too much on my dominant hand, and for the whole month, practiced using my right (i.e. non-dominant) hand to do most household chores, including using a knife and scissors. Still struggling with writing and using chopsticks using my right hand.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Volunteering with the Free Tree Society

"Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life."
~ Hermann Hesse

I have always loved the idea of giving out plants as a greening and environmental education effort. I haven't known a person not to smile upon finding himself or herself the recipient of a potted plant. Deep down inside, we all want to be reminded of our connection with the natural world. We all love to bring a little bit of nature into our homes. We all hope to be successful at nurturing our plants and feel triumphant when we manage to propagate them. I am a big fan of tree-planting societies, urban community food garden projects, guerilla gardening and seed-bombing. We need more of this oddball, non-violent, thumb-our-noses-at-corporate-agriculture, tree-hugging kind of rebellion.

Over here in Malaysia, we would occasionally receive potted plants at events organised by MNS or FRIM, but there are no organisations with the specific objective of giving out plants. Until 2012, that is.

In March 2012, MNS member Baida Hercus founded the Free Tree Society of Kuala Lumpur ("FTS KL"). The Society is based on very simple principles - they take seeds, sprout them, look after the seedlings, and then give away healthy little plants to the public for free on environmental observance days such as World Water Day, Earth Day and World Environment Day! 

Through this act of giving away plants for free, the Society hopes to encourage a whole host of other green goals and objectives, such as to: 
- Increase and improve the suburban and city greenscape; 
- Educate people on the correct way to plant and care for trees;
- Increase peoples' awareness of environmental holidays; 
- Encourage a love of local plants; and 
- Establish a dedicated plant society where like-minded city greenies can come together for the love of plants and grow and nurture seedlings in a sustainable and environmentally conscious manner. 

My best friend Nic and I dropped by the FTS KL Nursery on Earth Day 2014 to volunteer our services for a few hours after seeing some posters shared on Facebook. We came away impressed with the Society and its objectives, leadership, supporters and, of course, its beautiful nursery, which is managed in a way that minimises waste and saves resources.

The beautifully landscaped nursery with a Hobbit House in the middle of it all.

Exquisite terrariums for sale to raise funds for the Society. FTS offers terrarium and gardening courses, too!

Nic and I clearing weeds from the pond and weeding the garden. All the garden waste goes into a compost pile.

Trees to be given out to visitors, along with instructions for their care. 

A brilliant rainwater harvesting system.

Baida very kindly offered Green Living the space for a little booth outside their nursery for their Earth Day Free Tree Giveaway so we could carry out some environmental education activities, so Aravind and I turned up to join in the festivities.

Manning our little booth under the trees.

The Society accepts donations of seeds, plants, volunteer help and cash.

Visitors admiring the nursery and pond during the Free Tree Society's recent Earth Day Tree Giveaway. The water in the pond is reused for watering the plants with, so nothing goes to waste!

Young visitors at our booth.

There's even a tiny jungle trail that is part of Federal Hill at the cul-de-sac where the nursery is located. It must be the shortest jungle trail I have ever seen. It took all of one minute to complete.

The trail had quite a bit of litter, though, so I did my usual thing and picked up all the litter.

There are many ways members of the public can help and support FTS KL. Our involvement should go beyond just taking and benefiting from the free plants that FTS KL gives away. Here are ways in which all of us can help: 

The best donation you can make is that of your time and effort. Drop by their nursery on any Tuesday from 4.30 - 6.30 p.m. or any Saturday from 9.00 - 12.00 a.m. to help them plant and re-pot plants, weed the garden and keep the nursery premises clean and pest-free. If you are good at painting signs, FTS KL also needs someone who is able to paint wooden garden signs for them.

You can donate seeds and plants to them when you drop by, but if there is no-one around, there is a Seed Depository outside the nursery gates so donors could drop off seeds and small plants.

FTS KL needs pots to grow their young plants in, so please spring-clean your garden and donate your unused and unwanted pots to them.

4. If you have a large garden (and a green thumb) and you would like to help raise seedlings, please get in touch. FTS KL will organise seeds and materials to help you start. Host gardeners need to be committed to looking after the seedlings to ensure a good germination & survival rate.

Popsicle sticks make great biodegradable plant markers. Children can help collect and wash popsicle sticks to be donated to FTS KL for use as plant markers. 

Free Tree Society’s nursery is located on Jalan Limau Purut in Bangsar (opposite the Bangsar Aman apartments). There is no street number so keep a lookout for the green Balinese flags that adorn the nursery. 

To learn more about FTS KL, please visit their website at http://www.freetreesociety.org/ and connect with them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FreeTreeSociety.