More and more young Singaporeans are finding innovative ways to raise funds for worthy causes in their spare time. We speak to one such person, yoga teacher Sabina Fernandez.
Editor: We hear you’re organising a yoga class and all the proceeds go to charity. Tell us about it.
Sabina Fernandez (SF): Well I just came back from a trip to Sri Lanka and while I was there I heard about an event run by an NGO (non-governmental organisation) called The Emerge Lanka Foundation. They go to shelters that house young girls who have survived rape and teach them life skills and business skills, helping them to save up and be independent.
I was looking for volunteer work, so I got in touch. During my meeting with the country director, Mumtaz, I had to hold back tears. The stories she told me were heartbreaking. Girls as young as ten caring for babies – fathered by their rapists. Girls who’ve been cut off by their families, because their relatives blame them, and can’t cope with the shame of abuse. Girls too traumatised to speak. I left that meeting shaking. And I knew I had to do something.
Editor: How did you come up with the idea to do a fundraiser? SF: It’s quite a common thing in the yoga community. Not a new idea at all. I’d done one before, after the Japanese tsunami in 2011. I ran a by-donation yoga class ie, students pay whatever amount they like for the class. We raised $450 and it went to relief efforts in Japan via globalgiving.org. I called the class Yoga From The Heart. The day before I left Sri Lanka for Singapore, I decided to resurrect Yoga From The Heart for Emerge Lanka. Young girls who’ve survive rape and are raising babies on their own are to me, a disaster. Maybe not as large-scale as a tsunami, but equally sad and worthy of support.
The girls make glass bead jewellery – it’s part of their business skills module and it also acts as a creative outlet for them. I’ll be selling some of their hand-made necklaces and earrings after the class.
Editor: Young people are building houses in Cambodia, teaching English in Africa, and shaving their heads for cancer cures. Why do you think more and more people in Singaporeans want to give back like this? Is it just a trend? SF: I see a lot of people doing it, for sure. It’s awesome! I think second- and third-generation Singaporeans like me live in very good conditions, and we know it. It’s Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, right? We have roofs over our heads, food on our plates, our familie are doing ok and now that we don’t have to worry about survival, we have the space to think about our wider community. We’re looking for ways to contribute. That’s what being human is, once we rise above the base instincts.
We’re social creatures, and what affects a fisherman in Japan, or a young girl in Sri Lanka, or the auntie selling tissue packets in the hawker centre affects us. Perhaps it’s a trend in terms of we have reached this stage in our economic and social and spiritual development. But I think that helping each other out is an intrinic human desire.
If it’s a trend, it’s a positive trend, and that’s a lot better something silly like the harlem shake or the tama gotchi. But now I’m showing my age!
Editor: You weren’t always a yoga teacher, you used to be an editor at a top magazine. Was your career change also part of that desire to give back? SF: Definitely. I reached a stage where I felt like just another rat in the race. Working such long hours and dealing with idiotic office politics. I felt so strongly that the skills and talents I’ve been given were meant for more than just putting money into the pockets of the corporate Goliaths I slaved for. Teaching yoga is a way for me to pay my rent while doing something positive for people, not to mention it is my passion and it makes me unspeakably happy. It doesn’t get better than that. Plus I get to do things like Yoga From The Heart. And that’s priceless.