16,000 people lost their homes during the 1961 fire that hit the Bukit Ho Swee Estate in Singapore. Wikipedia describes it as “…comparable to other fires such as the Great Fire of London, although the Bukit Ho Swee fire is smaller…” I was commissioned by the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Committee to create a [...]
16,000 people lost their homes during the 1961 fire that hit the Bukit Ho Swee Estate in Singapore. Wikipedia describes it as “…comparable to other fires such as the Great Fire of London, although the Bukit Ho Swee fire is smaller…”
I was commissioned by the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Committee to create a digital story about the fire. “Promise – The Bukit Ho Swee Story” as told by fire survivor James Seah pays tribute to first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and all who helped turn Singapore from a mud-flat swamp into a metropolis. The story was screened at the Havelock View Community Party on 4 November 2012 .
The DVD was later presented to Mr Lee Kuan Yew together with my personal letter to him…
4 November 2012
Dear Mr Lee Kuan Yew,
Creating the digital story, “Promise – The Bukit Ho Swee Story” has been a transformational experience for me. While I was aware of the fire, it was a small event in the distant past that had little to do with me, or so I thought. I was after all only one year old when the fire happened.
The process of creating the story made me look long, hard, and deep into a point in our national history. I found rude awakenings like,
“…the Bukit Ho Swee fire is noted at a definite term because it set a historical precedent, comparable to other fires such as the Great Fire of London, although the Bukit Ho Swee Fire is smaller...” (Wikipedia).
Ploughing through hundreds of photos from our National Archives, I saw a Singapore I could not recognise. Whenever I can, I visit developing countries in Asia to do voluntary work. Suddenly glaring in my face were slums and kampungs and mud-flat swamps much like the developing countries I visit. How on earth Singapore got to where we are in this short 40+ years is nothing short of a modern day miracle.
It isn’t every day that one is asked to create a digital story like the Bukit Ho Swee story. I am grateful to the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Community for commissioning me to work on this. Kipling said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
On 10 August 2011, the Today papers published, “Telling the Singapore Story.” I almost fell off my seat when I saw on TV Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reading a chunk of what I wrote during his National Day Rally Speech,
“What are memories and shared experiences but stories. And storytelling is what Singapore as a nation needs. There are unsung heroes in our midst – they are people we meet each day in our homes and in our schools, at work and at play. Our children need to realise they are heroes in the making. They have the power to become heroes by the brave and sacrificial choices they make to live well and for the good of others.”
On 12 September 1965, a young leader made this Promise,
“Over 100 years ago, this was a mud-flat swamp. Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear.” (Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew)
I know I speak for James Seah, the storyteller and survivor of the 25 May 1961 fire and many others when I say: Today, I thank God I have a place I call Home – it is spelt S-I-N-G-A-P-O-R-E.
Today, I also honour you and the many brave and unsung heroes who sacrificed to make Singapore what we are today. I wish you and all whom you love good health and peace. God bless you Mr. Lee Kuan Yew.
Thank you for keeping your Promise. May we, the next generation, who have been handed the baton never forget.
Digital Storyteller / Social Entrepreneur
A week ago, I met a young and accomplished composer artiste who saw immediately where I want to go with Digital Storytelling. He not only inspired me but also worked closely with me to put together a self-explaining video for Digital Storytelling Asia. It is not just Hagen Troy Tan‘s skills, creativity, and accolades but who [...]
A week ago, I met a young and accomplished composer artiste who saw immediately where I want to go with Digital Storytelling. He not only inspired me but also worked closely with me to put together a self-explaining video for Digital Storytelling Asia. It is not just Hagen Troy Tan‘s skills, creativity, and accolades but who he is and his belief in people, in me, that makes him amazing.
The young man has been in the music industry for 13 years and for the past three consecutive years has been Sony BMG (Asia)’s top music composer. Hagen’s creative efforts have led him to be noticed by some of the biggest names in the music industry for various collaborations (Ocean Ou, Harlem Yu, Wilbur Pan, Jocie Guo, Joi Chua, to name but a few). Hagen’s song, “A Wonder in Madrid” (“Ma De Li Bu Si Yi”), written for Taiwan pop queen Jolin Tsai, led her to be “Best Female Artiste of the Year” and was also nominated for “Best Song”.
Here are two more of his videos.
The songwriter, music producer, artiste, rock star was recently appointed Health Promotion Board’s Breathe Icon/Ambassador.
Hey Hagen Troy Tan — how do I say thanks without saying thanks? You’re cool bro.
Every time I see her on the news, she sits smiling in her home under house arrest or has a large crowd following her. I know she is seen as a beacon of hope by her Burmese people. But in those short clips, she never speaks. I never really took the time to know Daw [...]
Every time I see her on the news, she sits smiling in her home under house arrest or has a large crowd following her. I know she is seen as a beacon of hope by her Burmese people. But in those short clips, she never speaks. I never really took the time to know Daw Aung San Suu Kyi‘s story or find out what led the Nobel Committee honour her with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
A few days ago, I listened to two talks she delivered at BBC in June/July 2011. Her talks deserve to be listened to again.
Passion translates as suffering and I would contend that in the political context, as in the religious one, it implies suffering by choice: a deliberate decision to grasp the cup that we would rather let pass. It is not a decision made lightly – we do not enjoy suffering; we are not masochists. It is because of the high value we put on the object of our passion that we are able, sometimes in spite of ourselves, to choose suffering…
Fear is the first adversary we have to get past when we set out to battle for freedom, and often it is the one that remains until the very end. But freedom from fear does not have to be complete. It only has to be sufficient to enable us to carry on; and to carry on in spite of fear requires tremendous courage.
You can listen to her two talks and read the transcripts at BBC – The Rieth Lectures.
Then see if you agree with the Nobel Committee.
“…the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.” —Oslo, 14 October 1991
A condensed version of this article appeared in the TODAY papers on 10 August 2011, a day after Singapore celebrated her 46th birthday. Click to download the PDF Telling The Singapore Story. Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong’s opening message at the HeritageFest launch resonated with me. “Home means you must have some memories, you must have [...]
“Home means you must have some memories, you must have shared experiences and you must have some sense of where we came from, why we are here what it means to us… we will tell the stories about it to the younger ones and the next generation…we will connect to one another, connect to our parents and past, and to our children and future.”
For a struggling start-up social entrepreneur with a passion to “Create Storytelling Movements. Empower Ordinary people to tell their stories,” PM Lee’s statement is a beacon of hope, an affirmation that Digital Storytelling Asia (DSA) is on the right track. Storytelling is what Singapore as a nation needs.
When I speak of storytelling I do not mean the “once-upon-a-time” fairy tales that we think belong only to the domain of children. Stories are the stuff that life and memories are made of — the stories of our lives shape us. History is story. There are national stories and there are personal stories. We all have histories even the quietest of us.
Stories are shared memories. They can be painful ones like seeing a loved one through cancer or happy ones like remembering the old kampung house we grew up in, or the silly ones that make us laugh at ourselves. We have personal, family, community, and national stories. Stories engage not just our minds but our emotions and glue us together. Stories are the heritage that we leave with our children and our children’s children.
In the 9 September 2010, TODAY papers, Yeo Lay Hwee wrote, “The Singapore Story – A new narrative, a new story that can engage the younger generation, is needed.” Commenting about the immigrant issues, she said:
“I also have a nagging feeling that the unhappiness about the large influx of foreigners is only a symptom of some larger issues and questions. It is not about us and them, but it is a question of who we are, what kind of society we want to build and what kind of Singapore we want to have.”
Have we come closer to finding our Singapore Story? Our “romantic narratives” of fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, of unlikely knights turned heroes on a quest? There are unsung heroes in our midst — they are our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, people we meet each day in our homes, schools, work, and play. There are heroes in the making. The young people in our midst who shape tomorrow.
Our children need to realise that their lives are stories that they are writing by the choices they make each day. They have the power to become heroes by the brave and sacrificial choices they make — to not live indulgent lives but to live well and to live for the good of others.
To quote Yeo again,
…We now have to think of a narrative that will take us from First World to XXX — the unknown? We need a new narrative, a new story that can engage. And this story can no longer be written by the Government alone…
The story that can engage our imagination must begin with a “WE”. It has to be a story that as many people who want to participate in the writing must be given the opportunity to do so.
It has to be a story that we all believe in.
Our individual stories are like little streams that converge into a river and into the ocean. The Singapore Story is the sum total of the stories of her people.
So where do we start?
Moving HeritageFest to the heartlands and creating events like these are steps in the right direction. PM Lee hit the nail on the head when he said, “These trails should be developed by the community, as a ‘grassroots, bottom-up’ effort.”
BBC Wales and BBC England initiated storytelling projects. ‘Capture Wales” project ran successfullyfrom 2001 until 2008. Nearly 600 stories were produced and it won some awards including a BAFTA Cymru. ”Telling Lives” (England’s parallel to the Wales project) ran from 2002 to 2005.
“Everyone has a story to tell” the sites say. All over the UK, “people made Digital Stories about real-life experiences and each story is as individual as the person who made it. Each Digital Story is made by the storyteller themself, using his or her own photos, words and voice.”
The series which were screened on BBC and showcased on their websites with the aim to “Connecting communities is a key aspect of the BBC’s contribution to social value. Many of our programmes, our physical presence and our grass-roots activities serve to encourage participation and a sense of belonging.”
In my keynote address at the International Digital Storytelling Festival organised by the Aberystwyth University, the Arts Council of Wales, the National Council of Wales, and the BBC held in Wales on 17 June 2011, I said that my dream is to create storytelling movements and to empower ordinary people to tell their stories.
John Hartley and Kelly McWilliams in the book “Story Circle” (2009),wrote:
“…Digital storytelling… is less developed in Asia, Africa, and South America. Most of the workshops held on those continents have been run or led by Western organizations or Western workshop facilitators and, by large, have not resulted in ongoing local programs…”
Digital Storytelling Asia is a Singaporean initiative. As far as I know, an early mover (if not the first mover) of digital storytelling in Asia. DSA which collaborates with the National Book Development Council of Singapore is a bottom-up initiative that seeks to fill that gap by creating storytelling movements and empowering ordinary people to share their stories.
The late Dana Atchley, also known as the father of Digital Storytelling said:
“The stories and anecdotes we share with one another
are the ways we let each other know
who we are,
where we come from,
where we are going,
and most importantly,
what we care about.”
We need to keep telling and listening to our stories. We need to help others find and tell their stories.
I have a regular listening diet of TED talks. Speakers are given 3-18 minutes to talk on any topic of their passion or expertise. It’s their 18-minute opportunity to change the world. Tim Longhurst blogged about the TED commandments every speaker needs to know. No wonder the talks are so captivating. I decided to compile a [...]
I have a regular listening diet of TED talks. Speakers are given 3-18 minutes to talk on any topic of their passion or expertise. It’s their 18-minute opportunity to change the world.
Tim Longhurst blogged about the TED commandments every speaker needs to know. No wonder the talks are so captivating.
I decided to compile a list of my favourite talks. They are not in any order of rating. I’ll add on the list as the days go by.
- Here’s a short one to start with: Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days. Hmm I’m thinking now what I should do for a 30-day challenge…
- Emiliano Salinas: A civil response to violence. The problem is not the things we feel victims of. The problem is that we play the role of victims. We need to open our eyes and see that we are not victims.
- My mother often talks about how as a child the toys she played with were ones they made out of scrap materials they could find. I did a lot of that myself myself growing up. Watch this delightful clip how Arvind Gupta is Turning trash into toys for learning.
- See Yemen through My Eyes — Nadia Al-Sakkaf, editor of the Yemen Times shares her vision and is bringing about change in a politically hostile environment where women are not embraced or welcomed in a man’s world. A role she has taken on not without great sacrifice, including taking over editor father when he was killed.
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DANCE as though no one is watching you...
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