They say that time flies when you are having fun. This must explain why I simply cannot wrap my mind around the idea that our annual Bare Your Sole walk on 10th September was our 8th edition! On top of that, the funds raised for this year’s Bare Your Sole walk was designated to Project HomeWorks (the programme where we engage volunteers to clean up the houses of the elderly poor in Singapore), and this project just celebrated its 10th anniversary!
Often, I have been asked how I feel about these anniversaries.
It is a difficult question to answer because at any one time, my mind is swimming with lots of thoughts relating to the work we do. It seems to me that all the events keep flowing in and out in a natural and dynamic way. In a very real sense, these are events that simply happened in the course of our work. We do believe that the hand of God was, and is guiding the work that we do at Habitat for Humanity Singapore.
Project HomeWorks is the perfect example for this as it started as a natural reaction to an actual encounter I had with an elderly lady living in Bukit Merah.
I was visiting a friend who was running a Senior Activity Centre at the void deck of one of the one-room flats in that region. I asked him to show me around, and he brought me to a one-room flat to visit a client. When the door opened, a strong stench of urine came forth. Entering the flat, the first thing I saw was an elderly woman lying on the bed (I still remember the dark blue bed sheet) which was placed against a wall. The flat was in a mess, and the wall was stained with streaks of brown. I later learned that those streaks were blood stains from the bed bugs that the elderly woman caught from her body. She would then smash the bed bugs on the wall beside her. She did that because she was not mobile – sadly, she was paralysed from the waist down, and essentially spent her time lying in bed. And that was where the urine stench came from, for she had great difficulties accessing the toilet, and so defecated on the bed itself.
When I saw the sad state the elderly woman was in, I recalled immediately the statement from our late founder Mr. Millard Fuller, who said that we must ensure that no person made in the image and likeness of God should be allowed to live like an animal anywhere in the world. In other Habitat locations, we have repair and renovation programmes. So naturally, Project HomeWorks was born. And now it has become one of the major programmes we run, with increasing demand as we discover more and more elderly persons in need of help.
To fund Project HomeWorks and other programmes, we had to think about fundraising. My staff and I gathered and did a brainstorm as to what we can do to raise funds from the public. In Singapore, there are many mass participation events all year long, with walks and runs aplenty. So how do we stand out from the rest? From the brainstorming, one of the staff casually mentioned that no one walks barefoot, and Bare Your Sole was born! We ran the first event at Pasir Ris Park, and it caught the attention of Mark Stafford, a senior manager at Barclays Bank. With the help of Mark and his many colleagues, the event really took off from strength to strength, with Far East Organization taking over later as our key supporter. We are also seeing increasing public participation and support, which is great since we also want to advocate for the cause of the poor through this event.
Through all these years, I really do see the hand of God at work behind all that we do. We face challenges like everyone else, and often times it is difficult to know what lies at the end of the road. However, I would say with full conviction that this work has been most fulfilling and meaningful. At our Asia-Pacific meeting last week in Mumbai, our international CEO Jonathan Reckford reminded all Habitat leaders that God never said that our work will be easy, just that it will be good.
And what a good journey it has been! Together with wonderful volunteers, board members and staff, we have walked this journey together for more than a decade, obeying God’s call for us to make this world a better place. May we have the privilege to continue down this journey of good for many more years to come!