Sunday, October 18, 2009

Project Runway at All Saints Home (Season 2)

Lately, I have been assailed repeatedly by an insidious remark made during the debrief sessions at All Saints Home: We should have an All Saints Home volunteer’s tee shirt! Whenever this remark was made, half a dozen pair of eyes (sometimes it could be as many as a dozen) will fix their gaze upon me without fail. Hence, the laborious task of designing the tee shirt for All Saints Home had fallen automatically onto my laps.

Since there was never an All Saints Home tee shirt for the volunteers to begin with, the events committee has to resort to standardizing the color of the volunteers’ attires for any outdoor activities. So far, red seems to be the committee’s favorite color and until recently, white was endorsed as the color for our outing to the Singapore Flyers. Realizing that it will come to a point where the choice of colors will eventually run out for our activities, the volunteers proposed the idea of designing a tee shirt exclusively for our volunteering group.

The demands for the tee shirt design became stronger after we have won the tee shirt design competition at the ESN carnival. As akin to cornered animals when driven to desperation, I often have to rely on the most unsavory of tactics to wriggle myself out of this predicament. More than once, I simply brushed away this idea by counter-proposing an offer, which comes cross as frivolous at best.

Alas, the straw that eventually broke the camel’s back was finally unstrung last week, when Carolyn broached this topic to me again. Tired of throwing up half-baked excuses, I have capitulated to the fact that we do need a tee shirt uniquely designed for the All Saints Home volunteers.

At this juncture, I would like to urge all the volunteers to provide me with ideas for the tee shirt design. No matter how bizarre or seemingly ludicrous the ideas may be, all suggestions to the tee shirt design are welcomed. After all, this is a tee shirt designed to represent all the volunteers in All Saints Home, and your contribution to this design will make the entire affair more meaningful. Thus, I sincerely hope that you can contribute your ideas enthusiastically to the design of the All Saints Home tee shirt together. And with a stroke of luck, we might be wearing this tee shirt to the next outdoor event!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Mission Impossible: Operation Top of the World

Before any unnecessary misunderstanding arises, I need to emphasize that the title for this entry has got nothing to do with the cinematic trilogy of the same name starring Tom Cruise. Instead, it was chosen by me to describe the arduous preparation works involved in organizing an outing for the residents at All Saints Home to the Singapore Flyer in celebration of the Mid Autumn Festival. In addition to bringing the residents to the Singapore Flyer, an arrangement was also made for the residents to enjoy a 5-course lunch at Kia Hiang, a Chinese restaurant. When these 2 activities were conducted in 1 day, it could be effectively summarized into 2 words: Mission Impossible. As the highlight of the outing is the trip to the Singapore Flyer, this mission was unceremoniously codenamed, Operation Top of the World.

Unknown to many, this outing to the Singapore Flyer was the first outing for the residents organized entirely by the All Saints Home volunteers. All previous events, which had involved the participation of the residents from All Saints Home in outdoor activities, were collaborative efforts between our volunteers and the other volunteering organizations. Hence, as we were relatively untried and inexperienced in organizing this type of event, the committee for this event (Sook Ying, Carolyn and I) took an extra cautious approach in the planning of this outing. The number of volunteers required for example, was at least 20% more than that required of events organized at All Saints Home, to cater for any unforeseeable circumstances that may require for additional manpower.

Nevertheless, despite all the planning effort, the staging of this event was still fraud with obstacles. The obstacles that could potentially threaten to turn this event into a complete disaster included the logistical demands required for transporting the residents from the home to the location of the Flyer, and gathering adequate volunteers to run this activity. These 2 obstacles were further exacerbated by the fact that information on the number of residents who could participate this outing, were only made available to us only at the eleventh hour. Thus, we scrambled like mad to allocate each resident participating in this outing with a volunteer when we finally received the list of 13 residents who were going for this outing. As simple as it may seem, the allocation required meticulous consideration. As we do have quite a number of non-mandarin speaking volunteers, there was a need to pair up the volunteer and resident in such a manner where both could speak a common language. In addition, we also had to assess if the volunteer is able to push the resident on his/her wheelchair with relative ease. Thus, we tried our best to allocate the volunteer with a resident that could best match their physical profile.

As only 13 residents from the home were participating in this outing, a good majority of the residents remaining behind would not be able to join us in the Mid Autumn celebration at the Singapore Flyer. Thus, Carolyn had decided to buy 10 boxes of moon cakes as an after-lunch treat to all the residents at All Saints Home with the money provided by this event's sponsors. Alas, to lug all 10 boxes of moon cakes and the equipment needed for the outing to All Saints Home by herself would be unduly harsh on our venerable chairlady. But what do we have to fear when there is the always dependable Benny, clad in the humble ESN Carnival Tee-shirt and driving his MPV to the rescue? Like the noble cavalier from a bygone era, Benny has always offered the use of his car when the need to transport equipments to a remote venue arises. Furthermore, he had always rendered his service for all major events as a photograhper. And thus, Carolyn and I were whisked off in Benny’s car when he arrived at Carolyn’s place with his wife, Janette, and the 4 of us promptly reached All Saints Home at 9 am sharp.

Since this outing consisted of 2 major events (the trip to the Singapore Flyer and Kia Hiang restaurant), we were running an extremely pressing schedule. Thus, when we learnt that Rimei and Meng Kwee were helping us out for this outing, we were elated beyond words. The volunteers were quickly briefed by Sook Ying on the activities of the outing, and brought to their attention the point of rendezvous after the Flyer ride. Subsequently, the volunteers were paired up with their residents, and the start to a long and tiring day had officially begun when the bus chartered for this outing arrived.

In my previous entry, I had mentioned residents at All Saints Home are mostly wheelchair bound. Therefore, each resident would have to be painstakingly carried by the nurses from the bus to their wheelchair when they alight, as the buses chartered for most outings are rarely designed to be wheelchair-friendly. At the same time, the volunteers will need to unload the wheelchairs hastily from the bus and unfold them from their stowage position. The process is equally tedious during boarding, as the nurses will still be required to carry the residents to their seats on the bus, and the volunteers will fold the wheelchairs to their stowage position just as hastily, and gingerly carry them onboard the bus.

But we were soon to forget the toils earlier when we finally arrived at the Singapore Flyer. Arranged into 4 different groups, all the residents, volunteers and nurses were ushered into 4 different capsules by the Flyer’s staff, that were reserved specially for All Saints Home. Needless to say, the residents were visibly enlivened by the entire experience as we marveled together at the enthralling sight of the city’s skyline, which had deservingly served as the backdrop for Singapore’s F1 night race. I had never taken a ride on the Singapore Flyer before this, and had always wondered what was all the fuss behind this gigantic merry go around that offers nothing more than a fancy name. But now, I had to eat those words, whole. The resident whom I had the opportunity to speak to, remarked of the tremendous changes in Singapore’s busiest district, and continued that he has never imagined that he was able to be view the sight in front of him from such a height. The brief, but meaningful exchange left a profound impression on me, and I was glad that we were given the opportunity to stage this event.

Although we were told that the ride would last 40 minutes, the entire ride felt more like 15 minutes to us! I guess this was largely attributed to the fact that we took countless number of pictures in the capsule, and spent most of the time explaining each building towering over the Singapore River to the residents. After disembarking from the capsule, we continued to take numerous group photos with the Flyer in the background, before boarding the bus to Kia Hiang restaurant. Predictably, the residents were hungry after spending the entire morning at the Flyer. This was especially true for the residents in our capsule, as a certain someone had forgotten to bring our share of moon cakes, which were intended as snacks during the Flyer ride (I guess I will be put to death after posting this entry). Hence, the residents and volunteers alike, dug heartily to the meal at Kia Hiang restaurant, which had generously given us a whooping 50% discount off the total expenses.

After I had unglamorously polished off the last grain of rice from my bowl, we proceeded to wheel the residents to board the chartered bus and made our way back to All Saints Home. The end to a long and tiring day was finally in sight. Although they were worn out from the barrage of activities, the residents had thoroughly enjoyed the outing. I guess the most heartrending encouragements to the volunteers came (again) from Dennis, who said (I could not remember his exact words, but it goes something like this), “I am already very happy that you (the volunteers) took the effort to do this for us, and I’m thankful for that.” Although I did not tell Dennis this, but I guess I would be echoing the sentiments of the rest of the volunteers, when I say that his encouragements further reinforced our passion and energy to continue our volunteering work at All Saints Home.

Mission Impossible did not end immediately after we wheeled the residents back to their respective wards at All Saints Home, as we proceeded to distribute bite-size slices of moon cakes to the rest of the residents in the ward. In fact, we even managed to find the strength to conduct our usual singing session to most of the residents as they savored the moon cakes in their wards. As the last of the moon cakes was distributed, we were at once relieved that Mission Impossible had finally been accomplished! I did not have the opportunity to thank all the volunteers who had lent their aid to this outing in person, and hence, I shall proceed to do it now. The reason why this outing was so important the All Saints Home volunteers, is the fact that from henceforth, we are able to retort with certainty that All Saint Home volunteers are capable of staging a successful outing on our own. The significance of this capability implies that, with the experience garnered from this outing, we would be able to do more for the residents by staging a similar outing in the future. All these would not be possible without the services of the volunteers, who had joined us in this meaningful Mid Autumn Festival outing. Whether it was the Vietnamese trios, who had taken valuable time off from their preparation for the exams, or the sacrifice of Anitha, Benny, Janette and Esther, who could have spent a precious Saturday afternoon with their family, or the selflessness of Emily, Run Biao, Tina, Anne and Shikhar, who could be taking a much needed respite from work by sleeping in late for the weekends, I guess the gratitude I had expressed here will not be fully sufficient. More than you would realize, any recognition in the success of this outing really belongs to you.

I was also reminded of the steadfast dedication of Rimei and the tireless effort from Meng Kwee. Although Rimei was unable to join us in the Flyer ride, she had provided invaluable assistance in ensuring that all the residents and volunteers were safely disembarked from the capsules, and gathered at the point of rendezvous. Thank you Rimei and Meng Kwee, I hope that we could have the pleasure of roping you into our activities in the future. In addition, from all the volunteers and residents at All Saints Home, we would like to thank all the sponsors for this event (one of them is a volunteer initiator person, VIP), the Singapore Flyer and Kia Hiang Restaurant for their stellar services in providing all the necessary assistance to us, and of course, the generous discounts off our total expenses for this outing.