Friday, July 16, 2010

Violence Against Afghan Women

Ignorance is bliss. Oh! There are countless times in my life I've felt this to be true. Because once I know, ignorance can no longer be an excuse. Then I have to face the question: Now that I know, what am I going to do about it?

I posted some videos of violence against Afghan women on my Facebook wall recently, and a few friends commented that they "can't bear" to watch it. I guess it's easy to not see, not know, and not feel. It's safer to hide behind a closed door and not let unpleasant things get into our system and stir up unwanted feelings within.

BUT YOU HAVE TO WATCH IT. And you must dare to open your heart wide to feel all the injustice, sadness, anger that arise naturally. Because only then, only then, will you be compelled to take action.

According to the United Nations, 87% of Afghan women have been victims of domestic violence.

Many girls in their teens are forced to marry men they do not know. When they are abused and try to run away, they are tortured or flogged publicly, some are even killed because they bring disgrace to their families. And the killers are often family members.

Because this is a fate they believe they can't escape from, many attempt suicide, some by setting themselves on fire. Read about it here.

Here is Sosan's story. She is just one Afghan woman, but we're told hers in not unique...

The plight of women in Afghanistan is horrifying. And so when I got word from Mellisa Chong of UNIFEM Singapore that the Country Director of UNIFEM Afghanistan, Wenny Kusuma, would be in Singapore for two days, I jumped at the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with her.

The interview was held at the Parkroyal hotel on Beach Road, after her day of training with the staff of the International Red Cross. It was almost 7pm when my best friend Ning (she came along to take photos) and I got to the hotel and met Mellisa and Camilla of UNIFEM Singapore. They had made arrangements for us to hold the interview on the 7th floor of the hotel, which was a private VIP floor, so that it was less noisy.

Me seated on the carpeted floor as I interview Wenny Kusuma on the executive floor lobby of Parkroyal @ Beach Road.

Still, you will hear the ambient noise during the recorded interview: Lifts going "ding!" or voices as hotel guests walk by... but I promise you Wenny's stories will keep you hooked.

Her voice was calm, measured and reflective, but there was a sadness that hinted at the many things she has seen, heard and witnessed that she carries perhaps as a burden upon her soul.

Wenny shares that her life has been threatened many times.

If you watched the Sosan video above, you will know that what UNIFEM and other human rights organisations are doing in Afghanistan to empower women to speak up & seek help is changing the World Order in the country. They are rocking the boat, ruffling feathers, and making many people angry.

Wenny reveals off-air that her life and her staff's have been threatened many times. She has even lost members of her staff to these death threats. It really touched a deep chord in me because it speaks volumes of the conviction they have.

I think if you have witnessed the brutality and injustice with your own eyes, it's impossible to turn away from helping another human being.

I will not reveal much more of that interview. You will just have to tune in to hear the full story. In the meantime, to find out more about the work of UNIFEM Afghanistan, click here.

Thanks to UNIFEM Singapore for arranging this exclusive interview: [L to R] Mellisa Chong, Wenny Kusuma, Camilla Adinda.

Thanks too to my best friend Ning for coming down to help take photos & videos for our blog & Facebook page. You can read her blog entry by clicking here.

Catch the airing of this pre-recorded interview on 938LIVE in mid-August.
Keep abreast of the latest by joining our Facebook page here.

C'mon & Tuck In!

Tuck out if you're tucking into the Singapore Food Festival 2010! You'll almost certainly be more comfortable because we doubt you can resist the gastro-cultural fare! Why 'cultural'? That's because this year's festival scoops up the specialty dishes of the five main Chinese dialect groups here - the Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakka, Hokkien and Teochew communities.

Clarke Quay's Read Bridge reads like it's the city's latest hawker centre, all 50 metres of it! You'll be spoilt for choice with 30 food stalls that line the entire length of the bridge on both sides.

My makan companion at the launch (officiated by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Lim Boon Heng) was F-Cube's Levisha Kumar - a self-professed foodie like I am, even though we both don't look the part. Each armed with a special edition SFF2010 Kopitiam Card with a stored value of $20 each, we were spoilt for choice. Apart from the rojak and duck dish, we deliberately bought ourselves food that looked foreign to us. This must have been why a Thai national whom we shared the table with looked surprised when I confessed that the dishes laid out on the table were just as strange to me as they were to her. And to think I am a third generation Chinese Singaporean! That goes to show just how familiar (NOT!) we really are with the specialty dishes of the various Chinese dialects groups.

Visit The Living Room on Facebook for more photos of the foods we tucked into. By the end of the night, we were stuffed. Boy were were we glad we tucked out!

SINGAPORE FOOD FESTIVAL 2010 (16th - 25th July 2010)
Main Event: Clarke Quay Food Street at Read Bridge
Above and beyond Food Street, other appetitising highlights that will have you dribbling will be the Culinary Master Classes, the Singapore Chinese Dialect Heritage Feast and the Tingkat Cruise. Read more about them at

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You have Power Over Cervical Cancer!

A very close friend of mine recently fell prey to cancer. It shook my world because I distinctly remember having a conversation with her not too long ago -- while raising funds for a friend's (who passed away from ovarian cancer) foundation -- about how we think cancer is something that happens to other people. Well, it happened to her.

Visiting her this week hit home the fact that cancer can happen to anyone. It scares me to think that if it happened to me, my two little boys may have to grow up without a mum. And the sad fact is the cancer can't be prevented, in most cases. You just have to deal with it when it happens.

But our guest in The Living Room yesterday revealed that for at least one form of women's cancer, prevention is possible! And that's cervical cancer. Our medical expert was Dr Quek Swee Chong, a Council member of the Society of Colposcopy & Cervical Pathology of Singapore, as well as Senior Consultant & Head of the Pre-Invasive Disease & Screening Unit, at the Department of Gynaecological Oncology at the KK Women's & Children's Hospital

Yes, we have power over cervical cancer! Regular pap smear will help detect if there are abnormal cells in the cervix, and a simple vaccination will help prevent the HPV cancer-related cells from developing.

Hearing the story of Mrs May Tiong and her 19-year-old daughter Wen Ning was particularly moving. A mother of two, she broke down and wept when Dr Quek (her oncologist) first broke the news to her that she'd been diagnosed with cervical cancer. I would too... Wen Ning remembers being in school when her mum told her over the phone. She could not concentrate after that, worrying that cancer would take her mum away.

We have Power Over Cervical Cancer! Here to share with us were [L to R] Wen Ning, Mrs May Tiong and Dr Quek Swee Chong from POCC.

In Singapore, a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer every two days. Every five days, a woman dies of cervical cancer. And the truth of the matter is, IT CAN BE PREVENTED!!! Yet only 3 percent of women in Singapore are vaccinated. Have you been?

I have to admit I fall into the 97 percent who have not been vaccinated. After today, I will make my appointment with my gynae for my pap smear and have my vaccination done. Join me because it matters to those we love. And if you're a man, please spread this message to the women in your life. It is within their power to protect themselves, and that's good news.

Also, do support POCC's Celebrate Life! Bazaar & Pink Party next Saturday. Here are the details:

Celebrate Life! Bazaar & Pink Party
Sat 24 July
12noon - 6pm (Bazaar)
8.30pm - 10.30pm (Pink Party)

Admission is FREE.
To register, visit

To find out more about the work of POCC, click here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Garden(s) of Eden Found!

Fancy a lush garden (above) that greets you when you return home? I don't see why not, especially when we've got award-winning landscape architects right here in our midst. Yes, the Singapore Garden Festival 2010 is back and bloomin'. The 8-day event that opens on Thursday, 15th July is poised to be Asia's premier garden and flower show.

I was among the first to view the showground at Suntec Singapore during the media preview this afternoon and am impressed by the effort that's gone into transforming empty space in a convention hall into plots of lush gardens. Right from when I entered the lift on the ground floor, I knew this show was going to be different and coming up roses. (lift interiors left & right)

The Landscape Gardens section features spectacular creations by local designers and top award-winning designers from renowned garden shows around the world. Standing tall and distinctive is the two-storey structure called Tree House by local designer and certified horticulturalist John Tan. Lush greenery including bamboo wrap around a warm wooden structure with a meandering stream complete with catfish. The ground floor's furnished with a bar and a couch and the staghorn fern as a a plant 'installation' in place of a regular wall painting. Neat! The upper deck's like a patio with even more space to lounge around and mingle with moss. It was perhaps the closest to feeling like you're in the Garden of Eden, only without fruit trees hanging their produce and friendly animals a whisker away. Oh and John, despite his ability in designing enchanting gardens (his garden by the way won 'Best of Show' award - the festival's top honours) whisks you back to reality and has you know he lives in a modest HDB flat.

Also on show and garnering a Gold award is Daintree, designed by Australian garden architect Jim Fogarty (left: with Kenny Eng of Nyee Phoe) who was our guest last week in The Living Room. His latest tie-up with Nyee Phoe Flower Garden as the implementing partner makes it a hat trick at this biennial festival since striking his first Gold in 2006.

Kenny, whom we've also hosted previously in The Living Room, wanted me to tell you that there's literally a 'green' message behind their garden and it's got to do with penning on pebbles. Click here to find out about Project Pebbles.

I'm also proud to report that another former guest also bagged a Gold for his entry (see below) in the Landscape Garden category. Congratulations to Peter Cheok from Far East Flora!

For more photos of Singapore Garden Festival 2010, visit The Living Room now on Facebook!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Ti(mor)e or Les(s)te - A Paradise of Promise!

It's paradise...more or less.

The imprint of Portugal, Timor Leste's colonial master, on the land lingers. If you don't hear it taught or spoken, the signboards on streets and signages of shops and property are visible representations of a language very much alive in this place. The old-world feel of this young nation (gaining independence only in 2002 after a shortlived 9-day stretch in 1975) has many scars to show for - holed out buildings, poverty, malnourished citizens and high unemployment attest to a nation finding its feet. Like a mother hen is to her chick, a strong United Nations presence is felt throughout Dili - exactly what a fledgling nation needs to attain some kind of social and political stability to get the economic engine going.

Leading the charge towards nation building is its President Jose-Ramos Horta, a Nobel laureate. The former foreign minister has encountered firsthand the atrocities during the Indonesian occupation, where four of eleven of his siblings were killed. Yet his focus is forward-looking. When Pam and I spoke with him in person during our visit to Dili, he singled out Singapore as a country whose successes ought to be emulated. He said in jest that if he had a nation made up of Chinese, Jews and Indians, they'd work hard to get the economy growing and the rest of his people could just sit back and watch. He was a president most candid and accessible to his own people.

Pam and I were honoured to have chatted with the president the day before we participated in the inaugural Dili 'City of Peace' Marathon. Pam chose the leisurely 5-kilometre run while I signed up for the punishing half marathon - my first and one I hadn't trained for. Together with about 20 other members who signed up with The Chain Reaction Project (TCRP), amongst them our ex-colleague Melanie Oliveiro, we were part of the small Singapore contingent of runners at the landmark event that saw international participants, mostly from Australia (just a 60-min flight away).

The run wasn't the sole purpose (no pun intended) of the trip. Rather, it was a trip with soul! Our particpation to be 'catalysts' through TCRP would benefit HIAM Health - a local NGO in Dili set up to alleviate the widespread problem of malnutrition and to raise awareness among parents on what they can do for their children. Our visit coincided with the official opening of a sponsored playground in the premises by Singapore company Playpoint. Director of HIAM Health Rosaria Martins da Cruz was most heartened by the contributions received. It was TCRP's founder Zhang Tingjun who'd helped raise the awareness of their work to the attention of President Horta. That was how he agreed to be the guest of honour who officiated at the ceremony to open the playground.

Timor Leste has much potential for economic progress and development. With hope in the eyes of a people wanting to move on from the its grim days of civil unrest, with natural resources and an untapped market that could bring in the tourist dollar, Timor Leste has a lot going for it, and it could do with international help to prop it up on its feet and prime it for the long run ahead.

> To keep tabs with more exciting projects planned by The Chain Reaction Project, sign up as a member with TCRP on Facebook!
> To support the good work at HIAM Health,
click here.
> To read our previous entry on TCRP, drop by this page.