You made me ask myself this question: How will I measure my life?
When I was a little girl, I thought that as long as I studied hard and got good grades, I would eventually get to solve all of the world’s problems. I thought I would be able to end world hunger, reverse climate change and even achieve world peace. Basically, I thought that I would be the superhero the world is waiting for.
Now that I’m (slightly) older, I’m also (slightly) less naive. I know that I do not possess the power to single-handedly save the world. It is entirely possible that I may end up spending my entire life devoted to a cause and not make any impact at all. I’m slowly coming around to accept that the perfect world I had imagined I would create when I grow up is most probably a pipedream.
When you came along and did what you did, I found myself to be totally helpless. I felt that I couldn’t do anything that would make a positive difference. I was too young, too inexperienced, too dumb, have no resources, and wasn’t even allowed to go outside.
I’m 17 years old and a student of the humanities. In class, there is always a conversation around how the books we read are a mirror into the problems of human society. I pride myself in being sensitive to the human condition and its ugliness. I’ve always thought that I am a good person because I know what is bad in the world, and what we need to fix.
The problem with mirrors, however, is that they are just a reflection. COVID-19, your appearance made me face up to the harsh truth: that again, I have done nothing to help the people whose lives you so massively messed up. And I decided that I will not be helpless anymore.
That is why, together with my cousin (the biggest-hearted person I know), we decided to found Hopes in Meals, a food charity. Initially, we planned it to last only as long as you are around to deliver daily ready-to-eat meals to the elderly, who now find themselves hungry because you shut down the economy and caused many helpers to stop helping. The project excited me, because, finally, I’m taking action and doing something concrete.
However, the real revelation came from meeting and talking with our beneficiaries, the vast majority of whom are elderly poor living in rental flats. We learnt very quickly that they were in difficulty long before you came into the picture. In fact, all that you did, COVID-19, was to make their problems that much more obvious.
We met an elderly uncle who have been eating one meal a day in order to save money to care for his sick mother and sister. We met a 60-year-old aunty who survived domestic abuse and is now single-handedly tending to her mentally disabled adult daughter. We met the very young and the very old, who would eagerly wait for us to deliver their meals, and who have the grace to smile at us and say thank you, as if gifting them each a packet of food was something valiant and heroic.
Our experiences made us resolve to continue operating even when you are gone, COVID-19. People talk of a new normal, post-COVID-19: well, we want to be part of that. We want a new normal where everyone doesn’t have to go hungry, or be all alone. We want to give hope through meals (hence our name) and, ideally, work with government and others to preempt these issues in the first instance. This seems like a lofty mission. But with the outpouring of community support for what we are doing, with the help of our 700+ volunteers helping our 900+ beneficiaries, with the likes of BreadTalk and home cooks joining forces to donate food, we believe that success is possible.
Most importantly, we are currently working with MSF and SANA to come up with protective measures so that the elderly and the vulnerable will no longer fall through the cracks. We are incredibly grateful to have a chance of making long-lasting changes, changes that we could never have imagined just two months ago.
I want to thank you, COVID-19. Without you, I would be buried in my books in school, and daydreaming of a better world. I would have been looking into my mirror at society’s flaws, but not actually turn around to try fixing the problems. COVID-19, instead of consigning me to helplessness, you have spurred me into action.
Because I refuse to be helpless. I promise to keep learning and listening. I promise to try to make a difference. And I am not alone. There are thousands of teenagers like me, everywhere on our planet, who also want to change the world. Maybe no one can be a superhero, but if we all try our best to save the world, the world will be full of good people who are trying their best to help. If we all try our best, perhaps we can each make a dent in the universe. And to me, that’s pretty much how I want my life to be measured.