From Left to Right: Chen Pelf Nyok, Ayu Kartika Dewi, Maureen Huang, Anthea Indira Ong and Josephine Tan (Source: http://chartingherownpath2017.peatix.com/)
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2017, the Singapore Committee for UN Women and Our Better World, the digital storyteller of Singapore International Foundation and INSEAD co-organised a small, informal event to celebrate women who have – against all odds – gone ahead to do what makes them feel alive. The event is inspired by a Howard Thurman quote – “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The event centers on the personal life journeys of 5 inspiring women, who are charting their own paths in Asia.
Held at the Amphi 307 in INSEAD Asia Campus, the event showcased these women who are using their influence not only to change their own spheres but also engaging the community to come together and create positive social change. After hearing their stories, we hope that you too will be inspired and hopefully go on to become agents of social change.
Maureen Huang, Founder and Executive Director of Pawsibility
First and foremost, Maureen exclaimed that her therapy dog, Telly, and herself feel very privileged to be able to do work that they absolutely love. If you noticed from the video, Telly and Maureen are absolutely in love with their job and they look forward to going to work every day. Telly gets really excited to meet new people when the doorbells ring, wagging her tail enthusiastically. As part of Telly’s job, she enjoys being able to put a smile on a child’s face, and of course all the treats that Telly gets during the course of her work. Maureen also shared that she is honoured to be able to witness how the unconditional love of a small therapy dog is able to bridge a gap with and touch someone else’s life positively.
Maureen’s favourite part of the job lies in making a huge difference to each person’s life that both herself and Telly get to meet. Maureen recently met up with an ex-client who came back to visit them because he missed Telly very much. When he was twelve years old, he used to have anger management issues and would hit his classmates or teachers in school. That resulted in his teachers calling his mom every other day to complain about his violent behaviour. His character changed drastically for the better after meeting Telly. Together with Telly, he slowly learnt that he was indeed very much capable of kindness and empathy, and he also learnt how to regulate his own emotions. Since the beginning of this year, he has not had any major disciplinary incidents and the school realised that he has made a huge transformation in his life. His mother is also grateful for the change in his behaviour, as it meant that her son’s school does not make any more phone calls to her to complain about him anymore. It is stories and moments like these that make Maureen feel like the work that she is doing is very worthwhile, on top of it making her feel alive. However, she stated that if she was asked ten years ago if she would pursue animal assisted therapy for a living, her answer would undoubtedly be no. This is because Maureen grew up in a very traditional Singaporean family where she studied accountancy in tertiary education and worked in a bank after graduation before deciding to give it all up for this crazy journey of working with animals after seeing how animals can help people in Singapore.
Ayu Kartika Dewi, Co-Founder of SabangMerauke
The second speaker is Ayu Kartika Dewi, who is the co-founder of SabangMerauke, a non-profit organization that aims to make Indonesia a more peaceful place. SabangMerauke runs an intra-nation student exchange programme where students live with host families who are of a different race or religion. By the end of the programme, these students will return to their hometown and be peace ambassadors in their circles. Since 2012, SabangMerauke has involved more than 500 volunteers, 55 students and 55 host families, and had been covered by multiple national and international media such as The Strait Times, Al Jazeera, and CNN Indonesia. Ayu holds an MBA from Fuqua – Duke University, under the Fulbright and Keller Scholarship. She spent five years working in Procter & Gamble, was a primary school teacher in Teach for Indonesia (Indonesia Mengajar), worked at President’s Delivery Unit (UKP4), spent one summer working as consultant in McKinsey & Company, and now is the Aide of Governor of Jakarta.
During one of the exchange programmes, Ayu remembered staying in a Muslim village and having children running to her telling her that there was an impending riot on the Muslim village which they believed was orchestrated by Christians from another village. Ayu then corrected them on the meaning of a riot and told the children that it was just a rumour. Such deep-seated mistrust came about due to a massive riot between the Islams and the Christians in the village 10 years ago that resulted in multiple fatalities. After the riots, the local government decided to separate the Muslims and Christians in the village to prevent friction and this caused their children to grow up without knowing the people from the other side of the fence. Gradually, this segregation caused stereotypes, hatred and fear to develop over the years between the two communities. Ayu decided to kickstart the exchange programme after leaving her corporate job and her hope is to use this platform to allow the Muslim children from Indonesia to interact with Christian families who are different from them.
Ayu also shared how the interactions during the exchange programme changed her life. The experience opened her mind and eyes to the many different types of identities and personalities, and allowed her to better appreciate that diversity is beautiful. She strongly emphasised that the acceptance of diversity had to be felt and experienced.
Anthea Indira Ong, Founder of Hush TeaBar
The video depicting Hush TeaBar’s meaningful work is so well done it warms Anthea’s heart to see how far they’ve come as a movement. Hush TeaBar started as a social movement that gives the deaf community employment, who in turn give those who can hear, the power to stop and listen. In 2015, she was finally able to bring on five of the deaf TeaRistas on their payroll. Initially, it started as just a ground up initiative where Anthea completely relied on volunteers to run the show while only the deaf TeaRistas got paid. The main motivation of starting Hush TeaBar stemmed from Anthea’s own personal experience of a literal collapse 11 years ago, lying on the floor of her barren apartment with only sixteen dollars in her bank account. Then, a strange silence hit her and she realised that she was still breathing. While Anthea still vividly recalls feeling very dystopian and thought that she was going to die in that situation, the silence instead helped to remind her of who she was as a person that night. She told herself that she was not about the titles she held and the wealth she possessed, she was about her qualities, the values she stood for.
Gradually, this experience became a transformative saving grace for Anthea. Upon her realisation of the power of silence, Anthea resolved to sharing this space of silence with the corporate world, as she came from the corporate world herself and understands how employees can lose themselves in their various stressful careers. Anthea finds her purpose in sharing and giving these gifts to other working professionals. The other compelling reason that contributed to the birth of Hush TeaBar was her own personal experience and understanding of have an eye defect. She had a disability in her eye from birth till 30 years old and only corrected the defect when she was 30. During the 30 years of her life, she was called names, bullied and taunted by the people around her, including her family members. This led Anthea to be able to empathise with people who were disabled and socially marginalised.
Hush TeaBar then provided Anthea the opportunity to marry both together – to bring silence out to the busy corporates and hope that the silence is able to help employees remember who they are and what they mean to the people around them. Hush TeaBar also aims to allow participants to connect with themselves and truly understand what truly matters to them in a very experiential way by bringing two different worlds (the world of the hearing and the deaf) together. Lastly, she added that the deaf do not like to be called hearing-impaired as they do not see themselves as needing to hear, but preferred to be known as the deaf.
Chen Pelf Nyok, Co-founder of Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia
Co-founder of the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia (TCS), Chen Pelf Nyok, runs a non-profit and non-governmental organisation dedicated to turtle conservation in Malaysia.
Contrary to popular belief, Pelf Nyok never had turtles as pets. Growing up, all she could recall was her mother getting her turtle hair clips, turtle pins and turtle t-shirts. After attaining a university degree in marine biology, Pelf Nyok decided that she wanted to do more than just diving and looking at the coral reefs. She then enrolled in a Masters programme where she did biodiversity and conservation and got pulled into the river terrapin programme. In 2004, her first project required her to raise baby terrapins and feed them different food to see which grew the fastest and the fattest. Thereafter, she would release them into the wild and monitor which turtles survived better. The more projects she took on only made her realise that she was but scratching the surface in the study of critically endangered animal species. Furthermore, she also shared her belief that if we have the privilege to bear the knowledge of a subject matter, we have the responsibility to take constructive action.
This belief fuels her passion and enthusiasm about her project, in spite of all the traditional challenges she has faced in the course of running the organisation. She strongly believes in the good work of her organisation, and one such ongoing example is their engagement of local villagers who are used to collecting eggs for consumption, to collect eggs for her organisation to incubate instead. After the eggs hatch, Pelf Nyok and her team of dedicated staff will raise the baby turtles and release them back into the rivers. Ending on a high note, Pelf Nyok exclaimed that the villagers and her organisations were proud of their work and she hopes to spread the message of turtle conservation. She also noted that more awareness is still needed for this movement, and that this awareness of turtle conservation could make a key difference to the success of their cause.
(Video has been removed to protect the identities of the women in this enterprise)
Josephine Tan, Founder of Touch Nature (TN)
TN is a social enterprise based in Kolkata that employs former sex workers who were victims of human trafficking, to produce all-natural soap and candles as a livelihood. Josephine Tan runs this enterprise with the dedication to empower women. Before setting up TN in India, she had set up five other social enterprises in Nepal – all seeking to provide jobs to single mothers to support their children through school. She shared that she had always held a burning desire to go overseas to poor countries and help others.
Her love affair with Nepal started 21 years ago in 1996, whilst she was a volunteer there. Her time there made her realise that there were numerous single mothers in Nepal and that the country was plagued with a lot of social issues. Not long after, she closed her business in Singapore and decided to take up social work to help the women in Nepal. On seeing the high rate of unemployment in Nepal, Josephine started work on creating jobs for single mothers and increasingly relished this task, especially more when she saw how peoples’ lives were being changed. These women were able to bring their children into the factories, and were also able to pick them up from school and return to work later. With a good business model developed, Josephine stayed there and worked in Nepal for 15 years, creating different social enterprises and businesses, from soap making and running a spa, to setting up a mini café just to create as many jobs as possible. She attributed this to her business acumen, which constantly inspired her to progress further after developing each successful business.
While in Nepal, Josephine learnt about the plight of Nepalese women being trafficked from Nepal to India and wished she could do something for them. However, she already had her hands full just by running the five social enterprises and could not offer any other resources to help the women who wanted to leave the red light district industry. Coincidentally, she went to Kolkata and found out that there were indeed many Nepalese women who wanted to leave the red light district, but these women had no ways or means of doing so. Therefore, Josephine decided to set up TN five years ago and started to employ women from the red light district. Now, her social enterprise has about 12 to 14 women working with TN, and Josephine hopes that by providing them with legitimate jobs, they can move towards living lives of hope and courage.
The panel discussion that followed after the sharing of the five amazing women was moderated by Adjunct Professor Virginia Chua.
Click on this link to hear and watch the panel discussion of the night!