Project Lionheart: Roving exhibition spotlights Singaporeans whose selfless acts shone through during COVID-19
Project Lionheart has been rolled out online and offline across more than 15 locations in Singapore, and is currently located at Our Tampines Hub.
If there’s something heartwarming that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s frontliners working tirelessly to hold the fort, businesses lending a helping hand to the vulnerable and neighbours looking out for one another.
As Singapore progresses into an endemic stage, the heroic efforts and heartwarming stories of everyday Singaporeans are immortalised in various ways, one of which is through Project Lionheart, a roving exhibition launched by We Are Majulah, showcasing art installations, short films, inspirational stories and music performances.
We Are Majulah is a social movement that focuses on growing a fundamental common space through community and identity-building initiatives.
Since its launch in October 2022, Project Lionheart has travelled to numerous community spaces, hospitals, and malls.
The ground-up initiative seeks to champion five core qualities – Hope, Duty, Compassion, Invention and Strength by collecting stories of lived experiences from the ground and sharing them with the community.
Of the many Singaporeans featured in Project Lionheart, two individuals – Sherry Soon and Chanel Li – started new initiatives and businesses in the midst of a pandemic.
Looking out for the vulnerable during challenging times
Sherry, 41, is the founder and director of non-profit organisation Be Kind SG. Her efforts during the pandemic focused on transforming the growing sense of unease in the community into gratitude and optimism.
Be Kind SG was one of the first groups to show appreciation for the healthcare workers in February 2020. Gathering more than 4,000 volunteers, it put together care packages for 7,000 healthcare workers from Tan Tock Seng Hospital and National Centre for Infectious Diseases, each including a handwritten thank you note.
Sherry shares that she had “severely underestimated the time and effort needed to collate and source these care packs from the ground up”.
“At first I thought there’d only be 100 staff but there were actually 7,000. Initially, I felt very alone. But I think I was also very fortunate to have a lot of volunteers who stepped in to support the whole process… We managed to accomplish it in three weeks.”
Another initiative Sherry and team set in motion was Project Super Mum, something she notes as her most memorable project during COVID-19.
“I’m not a parent myself but I have a lot of parents on my social media network. I realised that a lot of parents were having a hard time because their kids did not have school and they had to work from home.
“I was very concerned for (the parents with children with special needs). I can only imagine the type of difficulties that they have, especially because children with special needs are very used to routine.”
As it was nearing Mother’s Day, to show appreciation and support for the mothers with children with special needs, Be Kind SG sponsored a total of 32 cakes and gifted them to these mothers, along with a dried flower bouquet and a card with the words “Super Mum” written on it.
Eventually, the story was picked up by The Straits Times. In the feature, one of the recipients wrote that it felt comforting to be called a “Super Mum”. Knowing that the team’s heartfelt efforts got through, Sherry shares she was really moved.
“I just do things because I want to encourage and appreciate certain communities. Not all the time you will receive feedback which is fine. I think this is an aspect of volunteering (that) volunteers have to understand as well but it’s just that I happened to receive this feedback which then touched me quite a lot,” she shares.
Besides these initiatives, Be Kind SG regularly checks in on the residents from adult disability and destitute homes. However, due to various restrictions during the pandemic, they had to pivot the in-person volunteering activities to online platforms, keeping in touch with the residents through monthly Zoom sessions.
Sherry admits that going online posed many challenges.
She says: “The challenge is that you need to rely on the staff at the homes because we’re not there and we can only give verbal instructions. We cannot be there to support (the residents).
“The second challenge is that it’s a bit hard to communicate fully with them because in the home we rely on physical touch and hand gestures…because not all of them are verbally communicative. Some of them are minimally verbal or some may not understand a lot of instructions.
“Because of the restrictions on their end, we can only engage a very small group of individuals at one time, (unlike) when we’d go to the home and engage 70 to 80 of them in a big hall.”
However, pivoting online also has its merits. Due to limitations, Sherry and team were pushed to be creative with what they could offer and eventually started to enlist friends from overseas to make sessions more interesting.
For instance, they had a lady from Japan virtually bring residents to the park where cherry blossoms were in full bloom. On a separate occasion, they had ballet dancers from Jakarta put on a short performance.
“They all had their own difficulties as well but they were very willing to do it for us,” adds Sherry.
Caring for often-overlooked communities such as destitute adults and individuals with “invisible conditions” has always been something Sherry holds close to her heart.
As a sufferer of an “invisible condition” herself, Sherry shares that she started Be Kind SG in hopes to not just to pay back the kindness she had received while growing up but to also raise awareness of other invisible disabilities.
At 19, she was diagnosed with Vasculitis, an autoimmune disease which causes the blood vessels in her feet to swell up, leaving behind gaping wounds and ulcers.
“I’m actually on lifelong medications, even chemotherapy and drugs. It’s really just to stop the immune system from attacking the body. It’s not easy to manage.”
She added that whenever her condition worsens, she’ll be hospitalised for one to two weeks before being home-bound for another two months – something that inadvertently takes a toll on her social life and mental wellbeing.
“It’s been very distressing over the years. I don’t look like I have a chronic condition…because of that, I felt like (my condition) was really very invisible and that it’s very hard to explain to people.
“But I guess that’s why my heart is kind of in that space of trying to know other communities.”
It’s been about 20 years since Sherry began actively volunteering and she hasn’t looked back since.
“You’d be surprised. A lot of people don’t know what destitute homes are so that was a need that I felt we needed to facilitate. We need to be the bridge to connect members of the public to know and understand about them so that they can also have that kind of inclusive attitude in public spaces.”
Adapting to sudden changes, staying grounded amid uncertainty
Chanel Li, 24, is the owner of the Whisking Bakes cafe. Her journey in becoming a successful F&B business owner was far from smooth sailing and, if anything, was capricious.
Previously an air stewardess with Scoot, Chanel says that she really enjoyed flying but her plans to go further in her career were disrupted by COVID-19.
She says: “…It was always something that I thought I’d do for a very long time, that I’ll be able to fly till I retire.
“I flew for about a year and I was supposed to join Japan Airlines. But the point when I was supposed to join was the start of the pandemic so I couldn’t continue with the training to officially become a cabin crew under Japan Airlines.”
Like many others, Chanel thought the pandemic would soon blow over and had never expected it to be such a long-drawn battle. As months passed, she became uncertain. Not knowing when the pandemic will blow over discouraged her and she felt lost. It left her with more questions than answers.
“(I was) not very sure how I would continue living out my life, what my next step should be. If I were to switch a career and try something new, what if they called us back to flying a few months later? What would I do then?”
Seeing how difficult it was to make plans for the future, Chanel shifted her time and energy to indulging in pastimes she used to enjoy when she was younger, one of which was baking.
“Apart from the Chloe Ting workouts that almost everyone was doing, I was also baking,” she shares, explaining that she needed something to take her mind off all the distress she was facing.
At one point, she began baking so excessively that her friends encouraged her to set up an Instagram account to sell her bakes so as to avoid wastage.
“In my household, (there’s) only me and my mom and you know, we couldn’t visit anyone as well so it’s not like there was anyone we could share the bakes with.”
Around the time, many stuck at home also hopped on the bandwagon of setting up home-based businesses and when it came to Chanel’s store, Whisking Bakes, she was no different from the rest.
It was only four months into the business that she started to have her own “Unique Selling Point”, which was to offer her cakes in slices rather than as a whole.
“(It’s) something a lot of home-based businesses don’t really do because of the fear of wastage.
“I think that was the initial point that set us apart and helped us grow a little bit more in the beginning of the business.”
Fast forward to December 2020, while talking to a friend, they mentioned how they really enjoy orh nee (taro) and that their favourite store selling taro-flavoured cakes kept selling out. She didn’t think much of it then but she soon took notice of the rising popularity of taro among Singaporeans, especially with the younger generation.
“I noticed a lot of bubble tea shops started to pop up with orh nee pearls and taro drinks.”
Then came Chinese New Year. Whilst trying to figure out something special to do for the festivities, instead of adding to the already saturated market of pineapple tarts, Chanel decided to capitalise on the orh nee craze and attempted to change the tart filling to yam.
Thankfully, sales skyrocketed and business has been booming ever since.
“People were into it and for a very long time, like a couple of months, we were really just very busy making the tarts alone…that was when I decided to move into our first commercial kitchen at Tai Seng,” she says.
As customers began to recognise and associate Whisking Bakes with yam and taro, the team forged ahead in that direction, progressively creating a greater variety of bakes that incorporated the taro flavour.
One would think given the branding of her business, Chanel would be a fan of yam.
Funnily enough, Chanel is quite the opposite.
She jokes: “To be very honest, if I attended a wedding and they served orh nee, I’d be like where’s my mango sago? I’ve always been more of a mango sago person.”
As the demand for her bakes grew, Chanel also expanded her team. While a prospering business was good news, it also came with a new set of problems.
“I’ve never really worked in an F&B setting before so there were a lot of things that I had to learn how to do. It wasn’t just baking. It was also business management and then when I first started setting up the kitchen, it was learning the regulations on what needs to be done, what licence I need to get,” she says.
While preparing for the opening Whisking Bakes, Chanel recalls cafe-hopping “like mad” to see how the various places operate, what’s on their menu and what makes them special that attracts customers.
When it comes to future plans, Chanel shares: “I wouldn’t say I’m a very ambitious, career-driven person. In a way, I would let things go naturally and see how it goes for now.
“Our goal is to have more Singaporeans know about our brand and to do good in the business to always provide quality bakes. At the same time, (we’d like to) try to give back to society if we can.”
Setting up Whisking Bakes, albeit a tribulation, has taught her many new things – one of which being learning how to be honest with herself, her employees and her customers.
“I would say that back then while flying, it was very fun, it was very enjoyable and I learned a lot, definitely. But being someone’s employee, you’re always just limited to what your job scope is and also you wouldn’t be out there thinking about how to really grow your company or how to make things better. But running a business on your own, everything is on you. I would say, to be honest, to be able to know that you’re always serving up good quality. That’s the most important thing I feel,” she says.
While she has no concrete long term goals for the cafe, she does intend on focusing on it for the time being.
“I was meant to go back to flying in July this year but that was also when the cafe opened. So I actually gave up flying and tendered my resignation to be able to focus on the opening. I’m still not very sure if the decision that I made back then was 100 per cent correct.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be but I wouldn’t say that it’s a definite no on returning to the aviation industry but it’s also not in my current goals.”
Through it all, her biggest takeaway has been that everyone gets to where they are at their own pace, in their own journey.
“Singaporeans are very kiasu but I think we can be kiasu in a very good way also. We’re very resilient, we won’t fall easily and also because of our pride, the spirit of wanting to win, that’s what keeps us going forward…they were still able to move forward and be kiasu with their lives, and not just give up when it was a really difficult time.”
To all youths going through a tough time, she affirms: “Don’t compare your journey with others and just take a deep breath and trust that things will be alright in the end. Just trust yourself.”
Project Lionheart has been rolled out online and offline across more than 15 locations in Singapore and will be available till January 2023.
It will also launch five short films by local filmmakers with screenings and debut ‘Unmute’, a mini musical written and performed by Jo Tan, an award-winning theatre playwright and actress at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday (Dec 10) at 10am.
The exhibition will then move to Suntec City from Dec 15 to 25.