January 31, 2011

Project GIFT: January 2011

I put myself in the shoes of a parent whose child came into this world with disabilities and physical imperfections. If I were a rich parent, surgery is a cheque away, but if I were a poor parent, scrimping and saving to make ends meet, I would be totally devastated for the simple fact that I cannot afford to give my child the necessary cure that can change his/her life. That’s the exact situation that CURE International hopes to change, everyday, in developing countries.

Based in the US and UK, CURE International has a goal to provide healing (both physical and spiritual) to disabled children in developing countries. They aim to provide healing for treatable injuries such as cleft lip, club foot, brain tumour and spina bifida. They work among communities, local hospitals and partner with governments to provide such hope. They run several projects such as Cure Club Foot, Dance 4 Kids Who Can’t and Kids Cure Kids.

What interests us to this project was that they were motivated not only by altruistic reasons but also by the same compassion and love that come from God. They are also very serious about financial reporting and transparency, something we are very particular about when donating or giving to charity organizations. After all, we are called to be good stewards. CURE International’s financial reports are downloadable here.

Many heartbreaking situations take place each day, but in the dimness of despair arises a glimmer of hope, here’s an snippet from CURE’s blog.

“When you are 9 years old, trees are nature’s jungle gym. This particular one was perfect for climbing.  So climb she did, until a village mama came by and told her to come down. Another, less mischievous little girl might have scrambled down the trunk and skulked away, but not her. This branch she was on was made for dancing. But dancing isn’t meant to be done in trees. Her foot slipped. She fell. Landing hard on the packed red dirt, she broke her leg, the tibia and fibula.

Here in Niger, when you live in a village and need medical care, you go to the village healer. He knew well enough that her leg needed to be stabilized and splinted for the bone to heal. Wrapping it tightly, he sent her home.  The pain was excruciating.  She cried and cried and cried. She said the bandage was too tight. Three days later, her parents took her back to the healer. He unwrapped, and then re-wrapped, the broken leg.  Still she cried.

An American nurse from a nearby village heard of the little girl and went to visit.  Unwrapping the leg, she discovered the reason for the girl’s anguish. Her leg had been bound too tightly.  The circulation needed for healing had been cut off. Muscle had died, tissue had rotted, and infection had set in. The tree dancing had occurred in August, and it was now October.

This was, however, no ordinary October for Niger. Something very special had happened. CURE International began seeing patients in its newly constructed hospital in Niamey.  Knowing of CURE, the nurse brought her little patient to be seen – one of the first of many who have come for care since we opened our doors.”

How can you help?

1. Praying – there’s even a monthly downloadable prayer guide.

2. Share on Social Media or better still, help a staff to fundraise.

3. Participate in a Volunteer Project.

4. Give.

Read what Project Gift is.

Disclaimer: The organizations that we highlight each month under Project Gift are not in any way related to us financially. We choose our organizations based on geographical region, causes that we feel strongly towards, operational sustainability and financial accountability.

January 18, 2011

Candidasa, a quieter side of Bali

At the sound of Bali, a few words instantly pops up – surfing, massage, culture, mystic, rice fields, babi guling, shopping and the list goes on. With so much to do and only 8 days to explore, it was an impossible feat. So we set out to do just what a holiday is meant to be – rest, relax and stumble on finds wherever our feet (or in this case) our bike takes us.

We arrived after sundown to a chaotic airport filled with touts offering taxi services. Rescued quickly by our driver, we were whisked away into a private car and off to Candidasa, east of Bali. Shocked by the change in atmosphere, we checked into our resort with a symphony of crickets and the gentle lapping of waves to greet us. Quiet. Stillness. Almost to the point of eeriness.

Originally Candidasa was a small fishermen’s village quietly tucked away from the limelight of Kuta, Denpasar and Sanur. Now this sleepy village is a well-known stopover for divers who are heading to Padang Bai, Amed or Tulamen. Dotted along the streets are cafes, restaurants, homestays, beauty parlours and local gerai’s (stalls).

We wasted no time in exploring the village, heading up to Amlapura the capital of Karangasem district. Buzzing with life, the local market is a must see. Vendors, fisherman, craftsmen and farmers display their items in baskets, trays and wooden planks. Children sit around twiddling their fingers or helping to sell an item or two. Tiny potholes fill the market floors creating little puddles of germ infested water, fish flopping frantically in shallow pails and meats hanging on hooks are all a norm in Asian markets. We bee lined pass the local crowd and quickly made our exit.

Biking past paddy fields and rolling hills, we arrived at Taman Ujung, a dated floating palace where the late King of Karangasem and his family lived. Literally elevated on a platform, the entire complex sits on stilts where water runs below. Royal pools adorn top of the palace overlooking a stunning sight of water and greens. Dainty huts along the platforms serve as shed. We basked in the splendor of ancient where Balinese women adorned in their sleek kebaya like dresses walk around this compound as servants or maidens of the king. A certain mystique lingers on.

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December 27, 2010

The many things I’m thankful for in twenty ten

Time waits for no man – indeed it doesn’t. As the years layer on, I find that time passes quicker year on year. Despite the busy schedules, this year has been most fulfilling in many ways. More commitments, more life lessons, more focus, more appreciation for life. And the simple things that matter don’t change – God, family, relationships, ministry, faith to believe for greater things and integrity to stand for what I believe in.

I’m constantly in awe of His goodness in our lives. I’d be lying if I said that 2010 was void of challenges or bumpy roads with unexpected potholes. There were times my journal was covered with tear stains and times of doubt and questioning – but God is good. I know I’m never alone and His grace is more than enough for me. He meets me at unexpected places, carries me on eagle’s wings and lifts me up to high places when I’m too blind sighted to look beyond my circumstances. He is real and He walks life with me… He will walk life with you too if you allow Him to!

And as I reflect on the year, I can’t help but fish out my favourite moments and penned them for safe keeping (in no particular order):

2.5 MONTHS GLOBE TROTTING IN TWO CONTINENTS

It was only in March that we returned from our 2.5 months backpacking adventure.  I wouldn’t change the world for it. We were mesmerized by the heaps of snow and the beauty of snowflakes, shared a White Christmas with the Rayners, explored London with Chern, experienced the bizarre weather in Edinburgh, drank so much hot chocolate till it’s spewing out of our nostrils (eww – not literally!), walked the cobblestoned city of Munich, visited Dachau – the place that left a lasting memory for years to come, got ourselves cultured in the Vienna, soaked in the hot open air pool in Budapest in negative temperatures and motor biked around Greece, the ancient city.

Then we travelled halfway across the globe to South Africa charmed by her natural beauty and wildlife. Our dream of a true African safari came to past. We lived among lions, leopards, wildebeest and elephants – humbled by their presence. We drove from Johannesburg to Cape Town being one of the most scenic drives thus far. Will be back one day…

GRANDMA TURNS 90!
She’s a gem! I recently wrote a full post on her. Turning 90 is really something (although at times she still thinks she’s in her early 80s!) Staying young at heart I reckon! Well, I had the privilege of seeing my great grandmother till I was about 12 or 14. I hope my grandma gets the same privilege as well.

2nd ANNIVERSARY
I laughed at this quote when I first read it, it makes more sense now – two and half years down the road! “It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” ~Rita Rudner. We step on each other’s toes, pick on each other’s pet peeves, fight for kitchen space and clean up after each other’s mess. Life would be a bore with Terence…. A real bore! He’s my best friend, my sentence finisher, my all efficient housemate, my partner in adventure and my cohort in silly crimes – and all the other serious personalities that a husband takes on.  Looking forward to our 3rd year and beyond…

ADVENTURE GIRLS
I don’t write about the girls as much as I would love to – but I spend most of my Sundays with them – the Adventure Girls. They are ladies in the making, in the prime adolescent age of 12-14 years.  At this age they sometimes come off as rebellious with know-it-all-attitude, sometimes rude (although they don’t mean to) and friends are their greatest treasure (more than family or siblings). Yet on flipside I realized that it is at this age too that they are hungry for role models, desperate to find their personalities and curious in making their judgment.

I’ve been so blessed to lead this group of girls for two consecutive years. I’ve gleaned from them as much as they have from me and the other leaders. I’ve watched them grow, mature, come to sense and blossom. I’ve learned that in dealing with adolescents – we can’t always be in control and the only way to gain trust is when we invest time to build friendships with them (because they value friendships more than family / siblings – at that age!).

MISSION TRIP TO CAMBODIA
The needs are abundant and it was apparent. This trip planted a seed in me, a seed of hope and of faith to believe in and for miracles. The journey has not ended – in fact it has just begun and connections have been made. The question is what’s next?

WE CONTINUE MAKING A COLOURFUL MESS FROM – SPLATTERED PAINT !
And apart from everything – we have another ‘ball’ to juggle! A colorful ‘ball’ that creates vibrant memories for children…  our weekends polka dotted with children’s events  – the clowning, ballooning, face painting, magic shows and treasure hunts have been a blast. And just recently we had a mentioned in the local newspapers too (how cool!). Time to scale up Splattered Paint for next year…!

Starting up Project Gift
Just in the last couple of years we’ve realized an influx of NGOs around the world rising up to meet ever increasing need out there. Despite spending our time wisely in ways that matter – we only still have 24 hours in a day. Evidently no man can save the world on his own. So we hope that the little we give will extend beyond our circle of life to touch those in need.

OUR 1st CHRISTMAS AT HOME
Caroling from home to home (croaking till the wee hours of the morning), inviting friends over, cooking up a storm, roaming the house in PJs (Christmas tradition), unwrapping presents, family lunches  and dinners, left overs to last us a week after Christmas and above all remembering Christ and celebrating God with us (Emmanuel) – it was a special Christmas indeed.

Our first at home since we got married – other years were spent globe trotting spending Christmas in an unconventional way. This year – we marked the start of tradition once again!

AND ALL THE OTHER TRAVELS…
The privilege to see the world, learn from different cultures, savor distinct cuisines, harvest unforgettable experiences and bask in the beauty of His creation… I’m blessed and will not take it for granted. Langkawi, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Malacca, Danum Valley… and now we’re off to Bali & Lombok!

Have an awesome count down to 2011 everyone! Greater things ahead…

December 8, 2010

Project Gift: Christmas

In light of this coming Christmas, we have pledge to do something different for the next 12 months, culminating at Christmas 2011. The season and essence of Christmas have always been about giving. Shopping for perfect presents, inviting guests for Christmas dinners, sharing Christmas tunes in carols and the list goes on.

But the core of it all is this – God gave his one and only Son, so that we have life, and life abundantly. And it is in His giving that we find meaning in our day-to-day life.

So this Christmas we’re climbing out of our comfort zone by stretching the season of giving far beyond December into the other 12 months of the year. We’re hoping to enlarge our giving for the reason that God gave and our life has been abundant thus far (not necessarily always in the form of material goods or money, but always… always far above what money cannot buy – love, joy, peace…)
That said, we have decided to launch our own personal project called ‘The Gift’. Every month we will make a donation to a cause and will feature them on our blog. The causes that we plan to support can range from healthcare, education, sanitation to anti-human trafficking. We will dedicate a feature in our blogs for these causes in hope that it will challenge and inspire our friends and blog readers to find out more about real-issues that surround us and hopefully to extend some help too.

Our very unprecedented feature this December are the Invisible Children. This organisation seeks to end human trafficking in the nature of child soldiers in East Africa, by using media, film and social activations – to educate and ‘promote’ the action across the world. The war in East Africa has been touted the longest, and Invisible Children seek to inspire and at the same time, empower people and nations, to stand up and call for change.

Aside from rallying the cause, Invisible Children works on building and rebuilding schools, providing books and a sound education, assisting in water and sanitation and also creating a sustainable long term training program for young Ugandians to have a better life in the future.

You can read more about the war and its history here, but it is also translated in the movie they filmed in 2003 called, Invisible Children: The Rough Cut. You can purchase the movie on their website, or if you are close proximity with us, feel free to borrow.

To be more aware, read more about their story here, and you can browse their website which is loaded with much in depth information. Support the kids in their Bracelet Campaign, the Legacy Scholarship Program, or many other programs listed on their website.

Invisible Children biggest achievement would be their ‘We Want Obama’ campaign that ran for a few months this year which resulted in having the President of the United States, inviting them to the Oval Office and passing a bill against the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act into law.

November 19, 2010

Celebrating nine decades with granny

I have stumbled upon many quotes on life – many mesmerizing at the fact that life is too short to waste, musings of a beautiful life and reflections of how unexpected life’s journey can unfold. And I have recently pondered on thought of aging gracefully even as we celebrated my grandmother’s 90th birthday.

What a privilege and blessing it is to live ninety decades of life to witnesses marriages, births, graduations, celebrations, umpteen birthdays and a throng of other family gatherings. And on hindsight, this privilege is also tainted with bitter sweet memories played out at funerals, farewells and hardship.

Grandma whom I fondly call ‘Mama’ has played a significant role in my life – sowing seeds of endurance, perseverance, passion and love since I was a little girl. She vividly remembers the nightmarish days of World War 2 when she was working as a midwife travelling from village to village delivering babies. She recounts the ghoulish escape routes she took in order to stay clear of Japanese invaders. That day of sheer determination and passion in carrying out her mission as a midwife gives me the drive to live for what I believe in.

She grimly speaks of how poverty nearly robbed her of her dream to study – but a miracle happened when someone sponsored her to continue her studies in midwifery. As a child, her pursuit for knowledge gave me the rise to never stop attaining knowledge, even if I had it much easier these days (with extra to spare, google university at my finger tips and a sea of books to choose from).

Above all, it was Mama’s generosity that touched my heart the most. In her adulthood, she married my grandfather – ‘Yeh Yeh’ who was a principal of a school. They got along pretty well and soon earned a little more to afford a helper in the house to help with the children. Mama never mistreated the helpers, instead most of them ended up working with her for more than 10 years.

During family gatherings as a child, I would be introduced to aunty so-and-so and uncle so-and-so. When asked how we are related to them, my parents would often sit me down for a story or two about how Mama used to take in poor neighbours and friends and raised them up by helping with their school fees, medical bills and basic supplies. And that’s how we are related – Mama made them part of her family… our family.

How at 90 years old, she’s unable to walk due to a fall about a year and a half ago, her memory is fading and she is a lot less active. A year and a half ago, I was worried we might lose her – but she braved through another operation at 89! Such a fighter… Her eyes still lights up whenever I visit her at my parents’ home. She eagerly waits for our weekly visits and constantly asks when our next visits will be.

Her greatest strength has been God and her daily conversations with Him. Prayer her lifeline and it has been our family’s lifeline too… Through prayer she has sown eternal gifts that no money or wealth can buy. Through prayer, she has built a foundation in our home that’s unshakable and unmovable.

Photos taken by Joshua Chan

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November 8, 2010

Yala National Park

After reading an article in Action Asia and missing the sight of a leopard during our South African safari, Yala National Park was a must as encounters with the agile spotted cat is almost guarantee (as safari guide claims). Descending from chilly Nuwara Eliya snaking down mountain slopes and onto wide open roads, the trip to Tissamaharama, a small town 24kms from Yala, was smooth one. The weather gradually changed from cold and dry to hot, arid and humid. Yala reflected the weather in the deserts of Dubai leaving a knot of dryness in our throats and trickles of sweat on our skin.

At Tissamaharama a, we checked into our hotel, treated ourselves to a serve of rice and curry and curd for dessert. We retired early that night to reserve energy for a pre-dawn start to our safari experience.  Yala National Park covers a vast area of 97,878 hectares mostly covered with dry vegetation of short thorny shrubs with patches of secondary forest interspersed between. The park is well known for it’s wildlife. Dubbed by Action Asia magazine as the “asian safari” spot, this national park is home to Asian Elephants, sambar deer, mongoose, water buffalos, sloth bear, crocodiles, pangolins and over 120 species of birds. The park’s coastline is a beautiful sight with historical significance and blocks of half torn buildings standing as a solemn memory of the 2004 tsunami.

We hired a safari guide who brought us into the park in his jeep at about 530am to beat the growing queue of jeeps rushing to go in. The atmosphere was tense, guides waited to purchase permits to enter while guests wait patiently in respective jeeps. This was incredible different from the South African safari experience we had in Kruger National Park. As soon as we got the permit, our guide rushed into the driver seat and drove rapidly pass the park gates.

“What was the rush?”, I thought. Eventually I found out that every visitor who enters the park has an unspoken expectation to see the elusive leopard. Guides who manage to ‘show’ their guests the leopard will be paid a higher tip. Our guide’s handphone rang, he picks up with a few words exchanged, we were sped off to an apparent sight where a leopard has been spotted. About 5-6 jeeps parked bumper-to-bumper and intrusive camera’s snapped away. To add to my annoyance, the engines of the jeeps were still puffing away while we ‘enjoyed nature’!

Disappointed at the lack of responsibility and respect these guides had for nature, I silently wished the leopard episode will soon come to a halt. As if the leopard heard my cry, she stood up and trotted away leaving the invasive crowd of human paparazzi.

Thank goodness the rest of the safari was conducted in a more respectable way. We cruised along quiet plains, stopped at water banks and simply observed nature – as is. We managed to catch a glimpse of a family of spotted deer lapping water in a bed of crocodile infested pond.

We watched the solo elephant gallantly stroll pass swinging his clumsy trunk right and left. And we caught a peacock parading his fan in the bushes as we munched on our roti for breakfast. Yala is a pretty sight and the local guides need to learn how to respect it for what it has to offer, less nature and wildlife take a backseat.

November 7, 2010

Nuwara Eliya – the little England of Sri Lanka

While at Kandy we engaged a travel assistant named Pio Mendis who would be our driver / guide for the next 5 days. Traveling in Sri Lanka with a limited time frame is best to be done with a guide who can take you from one place to another.

Pio, a jovial and ‘giant’ hearted man was a pleasure to travel with. We talked about everything under the sun, from politics to tradition to our families – Pio was a marketing manager in a manufacturing company who quit his job to help his brother-in-law in his travel business. Pio chimes, “I love my job, I get to meet new people, bring them around and show them my country. These people usually end up being my friends.”

Continuing our journey on an ascend, we climbed 2000m above sea level on tight two lanes roads avoiding potholes, oncoming traffic and the occasional villager who decides to walk halfway into the road. It was a long ride but we finally arrived and ready to sprint out of the van for a stretch. Surrounded by lush tea plantations and a breath of crisp cool air, the washed out sign saying “Welcome to Nuwara Eliya” beckons us.

Known as the “Little England” of Sri Lanka, this region is a haven for tea lovers. A pleasurable retreat with many old colonial style guest houses refurbished to treat the tasteful traveler. This is also the base for those who want to climb Horton Plains to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking panoramic view of World’s End – an abrupt end to a cliff that overlooks several mountain ranges. The latter was the main reason we decided to stay a night at Nuwara Eliya.

We checked into an unusual place to stay – a Catholic convent / kindergarden that has several rooms situation at the top of the convent block. Basic, simple and more importantly clean; we decided this was the place to stay as we were on a budget. The sisters were extremely friendly too attending to our every request for extra towels and a speedy repair for our shower heater.

Nuwara Eliya has a lot to offer tourists including visits tea plantations, horse riding, hiking, exploring the beauty of the landscaped gardens or simply retreating to a cup of aromatic warm tea. We visited to Heritance Tea Factory hotel about 45 mins from the town centre an old factory, restored and refurbished elegantly. Tucked away on a hill surrounded by tea plantations, this hotel is a sanctuary for those who opt just to relax and unwind. Since we just came from the Heritance Kandalama, we thought it would only be far to pay their ‘sister’ a visit. We were in awe at how much they managed to salvage keeping the main structures in place.

November 6, 2010

Sri Lanka: Kandy

Kandy (literally pronounced as Candy) is Sri Lanka’s charming hill capital. Formally known as the capital city of country, this buzzing cultural centre is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage City. Nestled in a large valley, the city is surrounded by low lying hills and buildings parade on the hills forming a concrete crepe-like sight. In the middle of the city is the Mahaweli Lake that connects to the Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka’s largest.

Kandy is a cultural hub with cultural shows of song, dance and fire rituals being staged daily for the curious traveler. Busloads of tourists are drawn to these shows, either by choice or great marketing, I’m not too sure. But I personally am not too keen with culture being staged, so we opted out and decided to walk the streets and observe life as is in Kandy.