You struck when I was in the middle of my birthday trip, exploring the beautiful canyons of Utah in the United States, in March. I returned home to serve a self-declared Stay-Home notice in a hotel for 14 days with my travel buddy. With the help of “Crash Landing on You” and much fun documenting the meals we concocted in our hotel room from grocery deliveries (only 3 rounds of GrabFood!), 14 days flew by and I entered 3 months of circuit breaker and a very different Singapore.
I guess I didn’t really have time to not be productive from the start of circuit breaker. One week prior during my SHN, it was announced that all students nationwide would have to start home-based learning immediately – and so we scrambled for working laptops to be donated to the kids and the families we serve, as a ReadAble core team.
They say when it rains, it pours. We were angry at you (I was, at least). It just seemed so unfair as we watched inequality worsen because of you. It’s not just working laptops that our families needed, but time and care from us to help ensure they had working WiFi connections at home and that they knew how to connect to the HBL applications for effective learning. These may sound like simple steps, but for a family grappling with job loss, illness, sometimes domestic violence, and multiple childrens’ needs, HBL was another unexpected burden to overcome.
ReadAble has been in the Jalan Kukoh neighbourhood since 2014, and we have built very much cherished friendships for the last 6 years in the community, so it came natural for us to check in with the families we serve to find out exactly how you had affected them. When I heard of household incomes being severely cut, I jumped right into the opportunity of asking 2 mums if they wished to start a small business selling home-cooked food.
I’ve always been one to search for the silver lining. It was a no-brainer, jumping onto the bandwagon of home deliveries, sharing their delicious food on my social media, with confidence that the food I’ve had the privilege of tasting privately was something that many would also enjoy. A little project called Project Cookoh was born.
Soon orders piled up and more mums in the neighbourhood joined. My friend Rachel joined in with her big heart, crowdfunding a refrigerator for one of our mothers, in addition to consolidating massive orders that gave our mums a boost of confidence at the very start. My friend Abby joined in and with her talent in graphic design, food styling and photography – she created menus and took beautiful photographs of the food that made all the difference.
We grew fast. At its peak in the middle of circuit breaker, we had 5 mums on board, with me as the sole point of contact taking orders, sourcing for delivery riders and managing numerous deliveries, communicating payment details with customers – on top of managing my day job. Getting overwhelmed with orders was a happy problem to have though, and it gave me much satisfaction seeing the mums of Project Cookoh grateful to have received help and now had income to pay for electricity bills (that went up because of HBL), purchase new household essentials and save up for school fees.
I’ve always been a believer of small businesses and how there’s empowerment through enterprise, and it’s been amazing to have gotten the chance to help kick-start this journey for mums. Today, one of these mums is fully managing her home business, with 2 others managing their own social media pages, logistics and deliveries. Abby and I made a submission for Zirah, one of the mums of Project Cookoh, for The Codette Project Cares, a competition organised by The Codette Project, an organisation that empowers minority women with awareness and access to technology. It was Zirah’s first formal interview in a long time, and we were so pleased when she emerged as one of the winners to receive funding support and a year-long mentorship, and even more overjoyed seeing how deeply encouraged she was.
And so your greatest gift to me in this time was the chance to stand still and look inward, as well as understanding the power of human connection – two seemingly opposing ideas but very much aligned when you think about it.
I never thought I would learn to stand still. You came unannounced, and for the first time in history, the majority of the world had to be still. With the hamster wheel I was on stopping, I found myself pausing to breathe. And for the first time in a long time, I found time to dig deep. I realise how easy it is for me to pursue what’s pleasurable, to be constantly preoccupied with exciting new plans. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the insatiable desire for newness and excitement can sometimes cloud the ability for quiet self-reflection.
You showed me how easy it is to confuse planning for productivity, to mistake a lack of motion for a lack of progress, and you revealed to me how when being on autopilot mode chasing after temporary relief from any feelings of sadness, fear or boredom, I can miss out on what’s true – the opportunities to build deep connections with others, which in themselves can be healing in extraordinary ways.
Though there is still much darkness in the world, the world seemed more vibrant in the time of circuit breaker, with daily sunset skies and rainbow sightings. Maybe it’s because we were stopping to see, smell and hear what’s around us a little more. Maybe it’s because we sought ways to build human connection in the form of virtual drinks, surprise food deliveries, encouragement and prayers over video calls, even though we could not physically meet and gather. Maybe it’s because we took time to share, care, learn, feel, and choose what mattered more.
Or maybe it is in the intentionality to find joy in the ordinary places. It is in the mindful decision to seek familiarity in the sunlight peeking through the bedroom blinds and find to comfort in the taste of rich black tea. In between the quietness of the night and the melancholic melody of a rainy day, it is to find myself in the space that calls my heart to know, even when I am still – there are so many ways to find my way to gratitude.
We do not know when this will end. But we do know it is not forever. This is the strangest, most global thing we have experienced to date – or at least I have in my lifetime. 10 years from now, we might have forgotten what we were doing in this time. For now, I count my blessings – for the chance to wake up to the realities around us, for the chance to learn to stay in the here and now, for the chance to share what I’ve been blessed with, with those who have less.
And for all of that, I am thankful.