Friday, October 22, 2010

Pulling Filipino Expats Wives in Singapore (FEWS) for Charity

At last, Singapore, here we come!!!

We arrived in Singapore on February 2009. It was our first time and like any typical expat, we looked for interesting things to do and places to visit. Coming from England, we were more than pleased enjoying the warm weather, the food and the Asian culture.

In between my husband's assignment in Singapore, I and my then Three-year-old son travelled back and forth to England. As a self-confessed workaholic, I could not resist a job offer and took up a six month contract as a Social Worker in one of the Local Authority's Child Protection Team. Finally, we came back in December 2009 to chill out and enjoy the city life for as long as we can.

It is said that the first impression is last...

Being an Asian myself, i have quickly adapted to the lifestyle in cosmopolitan Singapore. A friend has invited me to a few lunches and consequently, I made friends with some expat wives.

I remember my first impression of FEWS were limited to hearsays around their parties, night life and imeldific lifestyle. Likewise, i have noticed that it is typical for its members to be seen wearing branded items or at times, brag about it and i thought, is this all there is to it? But oftentimes, looks can be deceiving.

Numbers, numbers, what will they be?

It was the month of August and nearly my Thirty something birthday. I have been thinking of the best way to celebrate it this year. I wanted something different. Perhaps i have reached that certain level in my life where i no longer aim material things solely for myself. Or maybe it comes with age. So i carefully hatched a plan of coming up with a birthday-cum-charity. I sent out an invitation via facebook, asking a few friends i have met to attend a birthday lunch. I have likewise indicated that i did not want presents, instead, i would rather want to receive used pencils, old children's storybooks, used crayons or any left over school supplies of their children.

Why story books?

We all have our passions in life depending on our experiences. Reading is top on my list. It brings back memories of my childhood in Borongan Eastern Samar, Philippines, when my father, who despite his meager salary as a Government employee would buy us books instead of toys. At the time, there were no television or computers and we relied on radios for news outside our small village in the countryside. In addition, i remember we did not have electricity and i have started reading my storybooks using oil and or kerosene lamps.

For some people like me, reading was a leisure activity and a escape from the grim reality of poverty. I would spend hours reading books and travelled to lands far-away in my mind. Looking back, my books gave me a glimpse into other cultures and places of the world. It took me to places i have never been to and in effect, it taught me to dream.

Years later, i found myself a volunteer for a Charity called Bagong Kulturang Pinoy (BKP), or New Filipino Culture. This group aims to help develop a reading culture among disadvantaged children in poor communities in the Philippines. They believe that the acquisition of good reading skills and English proficiency will improve the children's economic, social and civic lives. BKP was established in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in 1998. BKP Philippines is headed by Alice Quilicot. She can be contacted via her email address: She is likewise on facebook.

Helping Filipino children read their way out of

BKP, Inc.
28 Carlisle Rd Acton, MA 01720

Surprise, surprise!!!

I did not expect the positive response of FEWS. Prior to my birthday party, I contacted Bernadette Albrech, FEWS incumbent President and we met up for some brainstorming about the event. She had told me that FEWS have long been supporting various charities in the Philippines. They also work in partnership with ABS CBN's Bantay Bata and the Filipino community in Singapore. Through FEWS fund raising events, they have contributed cash and in kind donations to the victims of typhoon Ondoy among others.

Upon learning about my birthday-cum-charity, Bernadette did not hesitate in expressing her personal support to the cause. She has added that she will invite other members to attend and bring used storybooks and school supplies.

The Big day....

I realised that, at whatever age, some, if not most of us still feel excited about birthdays. I woke up early and prepared myself for the event. It was school holiday so i took my son with me. He was doubly happy upon seeing expat moms who arrived with their children in tow. My son thought it was a great day to meeting new friends and playing with them.

Marilyn Tjalsma, FEWS founder also came together with Bernadette Albrech and other expat wives. It was lovely to seeing new friends and exchanging views about day to day lives. I felt ecstatic receiving a good number of storybooks, pencils, and other school supplies. Likewise, the day ended seeing ourselves signing up for FEWS membership.

Me and my lovely guests...

My birthday presents...


My son, as he helped in distributing school supplies...

Teaching Children to give ...

Tell Me and I will forget. Show Me and I will remember. Involve me and I will learn.

It was a lovely day. I met up with Mrs. Thelma Banal, Municipal Social Welfare Development Officer in Borongan, Eastern Samar. Her team accompanied us to our chosen village or Barangay, being the most active and organised.

At least Twenty-six pre-school children eagerly met us. They welcomed us with action songs led by their Day Care Teacher. I read a story book about Peter Pan. I must say, it was indeed a challenge as i had to read aloud in Waray dialect. I also tried my best introducing Peter Pan to the children, as they, understandably, did not have a single clue on who he is. I believe they were pleased when the story was finished and we handed over their school supplies and refreshments. As I watched my son helped me in distributing the school supplies, i thought, wow, i hope i am imparting the right values of sharing. I pray that he grows up to be a caring and self-less person, appreciative of his diverse background.

Barangay Hindang, Borongan E. Samar was the recipient of our school supplies. The Municipality of Borongan is the provincial capital of the Province of Eastern Samar, Philippines. The province itself comprises a part of the Eastern Visayas Region.

Barangay/Village vicinity

Courtesy call with Village leaders

Fulfilling a dream, one step at a time...

I am more than grateful of having fulfilled another dream. I believe that birthdays are defining moments and this one indeed has inspired me to continue encouraging likeminded people in helping disadvantaged children in the Philippines through partnerships with groups like FEWS and Bagong Kulturang Pinoy (BKP, Philippines).

FEWS, being true to its mission in making a difference in the lives of our disadvantaged kababayans, have once again proven that with great success there must also come great responsibility. Who says, they are only interested in partying and flashing their expensive clothes, bags and jewelries? We all have our preconceived ideas based on what we hear and see. In some cases, these preconceived notions are valid and on others they are entirely inappropriate. In my experience, i must say it pays to get to know FEWS better and i am pleased i did. I hope you will too.

Nah, looks indeed can be deceiving. ☺

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Life as Expats...

I just came from the gym and i feel so privileged to be able to do so on a Monday morning. I thought to myself, this is such a great blessing and i am more than grateful. Looking back, Mondays were always a busy day for me as a career woman. Then, I was programmed to monthly schedules and monthly accomplishments. Almost everyday, i would find myself in endless meetings, training/workshops, driving long hours to visit clients, court hearings, report writings, etc In fact, when i finally settled down, got pregnant and went into labour, i still went to work for one more day even after my bag of water broke. After a full day at work, my husband and i went to the hospital and my Ob Gyne had told me how dangerous it could have been. I was so workaholic that when finally i had to stop working, i felt lost. In my solitude, i realised that my self-esteem was attached to my career.

The good old days as a Social worker/Development worker...

The Free Dictionary states that “Social Work and Development Work are both helping professions with the intention to advance the social conditions of an invidividual, group or community, and especially of the disadvantaged by providing assistance in the form of social services.” However, to be a Social Worker, one needs to be Licensed and or Registered by a Registration body.

Back in the Philippines, my job meant traveling for days, local and international and having very little time for self-pampering. I worked almost everyday and have very few memories of free weekends. In England, my work meant stressful encounters with clients, dealing with complicated child protection cases, loads of meetings, endless driving, learning how to read road maps and or following Sat Nav (Satellite navigation) directions which at times are confusing. However, i stopped working on weekends and have learned to pursue other interests like gardening, cooking, checking DIY (Do it Yourself) shops etc. In spite of all these, i love my job and would continue doing it.
Nonetheless, i have often wondered how life would be when one does not need to work to survive and on whether i would find a sense of fulfilment. Little did i know that one day, this wishful thinking would come into a reality...

On being Expats...
Free online Dictionary says, an expat is a person who is voluntary absent from home or Country. In addition, Wise Geek also says, ““An expatriate or expat is someone who has chosen to live in a country other than the one in which he or she legally resides. Most often, an expatriate is a citizen of a Western nation who has chosen to live in a non-Western country, such as one in South America, Asia, or Africa. An expat is different from immigrants as most expats do not necessarily plan in residing in their new country permanently, and if they do, they plan on retaining their native citizenship for practical reasons. Immigrants, by contrast, usually plan on residing permanently in their new country and acquiring permanent citizenship. ”

Now, here i am, an expat's wife and a domestic goddess. As we deliberately did not employ a house help, i am now a Home Manager. I am in-charge of cooking, cleaning, school run, laundry, etc., although, i am grateful enough to have some part-time cleaners on weekends. I remember i used to hate cooking and i could not seem to understand even the simplest recipe, simply because, back then, i was always working. However, on winter months in England, i have learned to love cooking as catharsis. Now, i have found pride and joy in my local and western cuisine. In Singapore, i have also learned new recipes from our Filipino cleaners and some South Korean friends and have so far been experimenting with it. But beyond this domesticated side of me, i thought, something is missing. Yes, i have fulfilled my wishful thinking however, boredom was gradually creeping in. I need to use my brains aside from thinking of what to cook for dinner.
I wanted to work part-time. However, it is not easy to look for one as most employers here prefer full time work. My hubby says, “Chill out. You don't need to work.” So, the next best thing was finding some volunteer work. I started ringing Non-Government Organisations NGOs/Charities offering my free time and perhaps experience in working with disadvantaged children. To my dismay, everyone i rang asked me to commit a year volunteer work. Much as i love to do that, there is no guarantee that my husband's current work contract will run for another year. I thought, i am offering my free time, am I not allowed to suggest my own terms as to the frequency of my volunteer work? Apparently, in the country where we are in, some NGOs/Charities dictate their own terms as to the length of time of volunteer work and the minimum is one year. Maybe it is absurd especially that expats come and go and therefore one can make use of their expertise even only for a short time. But anyway, I am sure these NGOs/Charities have their own reasons like issues around stability and consistency of services offered by their volunteers and there is nothing i can do about it. But then i thought to myself, “Oh well, it's your loss, not mine”.

So what's next for me?

Should i be a lady of leisure, partying, shopping, just hanging around with other expats' wives, etc I thought, why not? I have worked almost all my life and maybe this is my chance to enjoy life the way it is. For a little while i did, wandering around shopping malls, partying and getting myself acquinted with designer stuff i never thought exists such as Burberry, Loui Vuitton, Gucci, Dior, etc. Even after my work had brought me to England, i have always been and will always be a great fan of “ukay-ukay”, garage sales, car boots, Charity shops, second hand items, auctions, etc so i was never bothered of having designer stuff. However, like some, if not most women, shopping for new stuff was something exciting. But the euphoria did not last long. All the while, there was a nagging feeling in me that says, “Is this all about life?” I thought i would be happy being a lady of leisure just like some expats i have met whose point of conversations oftentimes start with their designer bags, shoes, how much their husbands are earning, etc. I remember the disadvantaged children in the Philippines and other Third World countries, and of course my own family and friends. Perhaps it's my being a development worker that tells me there is more to life than this. Or maybe it is a false feeling because having worked almost all my life, my self-esteem is dependent on my career. Therefore without a job, whether voluntary or paid, i am nothing. Arrrgghhh, such a painful realisation. Now, i am stucked for words. What will i say next? Reality bites. I am nothing without a paid career. But i am a Home Manager, i run a house, i am a domestic goddess, etc. I should be happy and contented being a lady of leisure. I thought, there should be more to this.

Beads Teacher Wella's leaving do/farewell
party at Singapore's Dutch Club

BBQ party with some expat friends...

A new Game Plan
I decided to look for some short courses to enrol myself at. Maybe i could try belly dancing, Pilates or maybe crochet. Why not? I thought, i am still a lady of leisure doing what i want to do but who knows, armed with new skills, i might find some sense of fulfilment. I looked around checking schools and community centres offering short courses, apparently most courses were offered either as evening classes or during the weekend. I have also checked a few courses offered at the malls but they were either too expensive or the time schedules were unsuitable for me as i had to do school runs. Then one day, another expat friend invited me to a beads party. I was immediately enthralled with the seller's beads designs and styles that i ended up buying a few items. I have never thought that this simple invitation would be the start of a new beginning. Not long after, i was invited to a beads class and since then i got hooked. It has opened a lot of possibilities and perhaps an alternative career for me. It is very therapeutic and i have thought of writing a training module incorporating my background in development work. It makes me think of the disadvantaged women and children who may find some sort of therapy in beads making. I have also thought of it as a future business venture or perhaps a teaching career. Why not? This way, i am fulfiling something in me, perhaps by pushing both my creative boundaries and my entreprenurial spirit.

Me and my son as we try our hands on beads...

Loraine and Armida, beads classmates and expat friends


Some of my beads....

Purple and Blue Spiral necklace and some bracelets...

Daisy chain bracelets and more necklaces for formal occasions...

On being ladies of leisure

As i have started to know other expats' wives beyond their designer bags and shoes, i have realised that just like in any life situations, each one has its own life's challenges big and small. As a popular cliche says, “most, if not all of us do not necessarily have everything. We just try to make the best of everything that comes along our way.” It is never easy to be moving from one place to another after one has built friendships and routines. I myself is now confused on where 'home'' is having lived in three different countries in the last few years. Some mothers i have met at my son's school had told me that they have lived in nine countries in seven years and sometimes it gets confusing. But that's how life is being expats. We come and go and change is synonymous to being expats. Perhaps some indulge themselves in designer stuff as a coping mechanism whilst others love partying, a little gambling here and there, drinking sprees, etc. But it is a choice. As they say, ''To each his own''.
Now i feel that i am starting to loosen up a bit. It is not true that i am nothing without a paid job and my self-esteem is not dependent on having a fulfilling career outside the comforts of home. I think what matters most is doing what makes one happy and learning to love ourselves. Each one of us finds fulfilment in many different ways. It could be stuffing oneself with designer bags, shoes, learning new skills, partying, etc. But i think what matters most is getting in touch with oneself and learning to love ourselves in any life situation whether as expats, domestic goddess, career woman/man, volunteer, etc. I am simply happy of my own choices and the mistakes i make.
Hmmm, now, its time for me to check belly dancing courses. ☺