Thursday, June 29, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 3

(Day 13)

This is the day. Tupi dragged his brown suitcase early morning to the airport. This was the first time in a long time he was excited to go on a flight. Checking in at the airport went smoothly, there was not a long queue and the staff at the counter was polite. Taking in a deep breadth, Tupi felt that this was going to be a good adventure.

It was a short flight and Tupi collected his luggage around 8am in the morning and he felt like he had the whole day ahead of him. The NGO seemed pretty well organized, there was a driver waiting for the group and they were led to a nice comfortable bus that brings them to a hostel. As they were driving, there were parts of Bali that looked like slums, and others that looked like nice resorts. This was the first time Tupi was in Bali and the roads were very different from Singapore.

The bus arrived, everyone checked in and were given rooms. The accommodations were much better than what Tupi expected and Michael was sharing a room with him. "Wow, this is nice, you can see the beach from here...There's air-conditioning, wifi, memory foam pillows..." Tupi said. "We have our own refrigerator in the room too..."

Tupi looked at the itinerary and it showed that there was a dinner and the day was otherwise free. After a change of clothes, Tupi wanted to leave and as he saw Michael taking a nap, Tupi left the room to explore the surroundings. After a few minutes of walking away from the beach, Tupi felt uncomfortable as more beggars can be seen. Tupi returned to the beach area where there seemed to be more tourists around. As Tupi entered a cafe, he sat down at a table and overheard some conversations around him.

"I do 3 hours of English class a day and I get to stay for free, food included." A young lady said. "I can work on my online business and earn more this way."

"I volunteer with this village and teach English as well." A young man said. "I'm just here for 4 weeks and my stay is free as well."

Tupi could not help it but overheard some conversations and it seems that there were many people volunteering. "Foreigners are helping Indonesia. That's nice." Tupi muttered and continued to drink his coffee and relax. Tupi decided to talk to a guy sitting alone.

"Hi, how long have you been on this Island?" Tupi asked.

"I live here." The man said. "I am born in Bali."

Tupi was shocked as this man just looked like everyone else -- he could speak English, he does not look poor and he had a big iPhone. "You don't look local..." Tupi said. "I just got here and want to learn more about this Island."

"The population here is actually quite diverse. Income gap is pretty bad too. We have some people living in poverty and some are ultra rich, but we do have an upper middle class. " The man said. "Is there a way a local should look?" Tupi was embarrassed as his question made him sound like an ignorant tourist -- which he is.

"Hey, don't worry about it, no offence taken, please sit." The man said. "Are you visiting Bali?"

"Yes, I'm with a group coming to help the village." Tupi said proudly.

"Really? Helping the village?" The man said. "How long are you staying?"

"I'll be here for 10 days..." Tupi said and took out his itinerary, "lets see... I'll also build a water filter to provide the kids at a school with clean water and make the whole village healthier."

"Wow, 10 days huh, must be great that you can have such great impact with the kids by staying in Bali for 10 days." The man said. "I'm sure clean water will help much when that village does not even have sewage system."

"I'm here to help." Tupi said adamantly. "You should appreciate it"

"Whatever helps you sleep at night..." The man said. "I guess every little bit helps when things are so screwed up. So many people just come and go, nothing changed, but maybe the hotel owners and restaurant owners got richer."

Before Tupi could give a reply, the man walked out of the cafe, leaving Tupi with a sense of doubt.

Tupi walked back to the hostel. It was owned by the same people running the organization that brought them in. The whole place seemed well maintained and new compared to the surroundings. Perhaps there was some truth to what that man said, but Tupi felt that doing something was better than nothing.


At the hostel, the group gathered in the evening and went out for dinner. On the luxury bus, Tupi looked out and saw several houses along the way with people sitting outside but no lights in the house as there was no power grid and lines to the houses.

It was a nearby seafood restaurant where they had crabs, steam fish, fried prawns and other nice dishes. The food was rather good and Tupi enjoyed the food very much.

"So what is the schedule like tomorrow?" Tupi asked.

"We have breakfast then go to the morning bazzar, follow that, we visit Tirta Gangga -- a formal royal palace, then we go to the village... and in the evening, we go up a mountain to look at the sunset." Michael said. "The views are all very beautiful, remember to bring your camera."

Tupi was confused. It seemed more like a holiday than helping the village, but since its his first time in Bali, Tupi wanted to visit some sites as well, and it seemed to be all planned out.

The group returned to the hostel where they met other expats from Europe visiting and everyone started to drink. There was several bottle of fine scotch and lots of beer. "Bali Hai Hefeweizenbier" Tupi muttered as he looked at the beer menu. "My god, they have local beers..." And Tupi ordered one and join the drinking secession.

Beer was relatively inexpensive and Tupi had 3 pints before he felt light headed and decided that it was time for him to go to bed. Perhaps, drinking can help him sleep too. Tupi went to his room, cleaned up and as expected, when he closed his eyes, he had no problems sleeping.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Refugees: The situation which should concern us all.

Who are refugees?

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

There are also refugees who have left their homes as the environment became hostile due to natural or man made disasters. They are also known as Internally Displaced People (IDP)


The UN estimates that more than 1 billion people globally are refugees due to conflict, environmental degradation, and lack of economic opportunity.

Factors as varied as conflict in Syria, civil strife in Burundi and El Salvador, rising sea levels in Louisiana, and droughts in India all have contributed to this total. Six million people have been displaced in the last twenty-four months alone. The EU has allocated $6 billion this year in charitable aid to meet the basic needs of displaced people both within, and outside of, its borders. The US spends an additional $5-10 billion per year resettling refugees and asylum seekers, providing temporary assistance, medical care, housing, and more.

Change is constant. The sea level is rising, weather patterns are changing and the most vulnerable people who are already living in poverty are affected most. On top of that, conflicts seem to be increasing, and economic discrimination leaves victim with no opportunities.

This situation is not just going to go away. In fact, it will only get worse. The current system is not working and our apathy may create a situation when we realize that we need to act but the problem will become so bad that we ourselves get affected.


I've engaged with survivors from the various disasters I've been to and I've met the Syrian refugees in Europe. One common theme that I've experience is the "Curse of Exclusion" -- the skilled human capacities of these survivors are wasted. This is not about giving or donating. This is not about aid or resettlement. 

When are constantly talk about disruption, people spend their ideas and funds to create the next billion dollar company. Others will speculate their savings on stocks or even cryptocurrencies. However, I feel strongly that the crisis of wasted human capacities is costing the world more than what we can afford.


The Refugee Opportunity

We should lift the curse and look at refugees in a different light. Many of these people are survivors. They have survived despite all odds and can contribute their skills and abilities to humanity. 

Here are some facts:

Refugees are a diverse group. (They have different skills, experiences and cultures)
Refugees are escaping a variety of hardships. 
  1. Conflict is the largest cause of displacement 
  2. Environmental degradation is an emerging threat for 50 million people. 
  3. Economic discrimination leaves victims with no opportunities 
Becoming a refugee cripples dignity and prosperity. (Most of them lost all their physical belongings to escape their fate, but their capacities remain)

If we can utilize human capacities and maximize their potential, there are great opportunities to be found, but the current system is failing us, there is not enough resettlement options, "refugees" become a political point where many unethical politicians leverage on it to create a climate of fear -- and fear sells. Lastly, aid and nonprofits are not able to generate enough revenue to create sustainable economic activities for all the refugees.


I have met up with various change makers, connectors and philanthropists in New York City this week to discuss the current situation and with updates from various folks from the UN, the picture painted for the future seems pretty bleak.

I've spoken to several Syrian friends and many of them had family or friends in these camps who had suicidal thoughts. Syrians are proud people, and culturally, they work for everything they own and are not used to receiving aid. Being in the camp with no economic activities is making many professionals who were middle class very depressed. Being labeled "Refugees" does not help either.

Perhaps it is time for us to work on solutions or to change the "refugee" labels. Many Syrian refugees actually have a lot to contribute if given the chance. There is a great opportunity to use these spare human capacities if we could be creative, and not doing so is a crisis of imagination.

If you would like to work on some solutions that would benefit refugees or support in any way, please contact me.

-- Robin Low

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 2

(Day 7)

The first week has passed. The theme of the week is change. Change was not easy for Tupi, and like many people, there were sleepless nights, anxiety and some depression. Tupi never had that much free time, and doing nothing was killing him. His schedules were always packed and his routine fixed. Tupi rarely took much leave or gone on a holiday, as he enjoyed having certainty.

Tupi with his new laptop has applied for many jobs which he thinks he has the right skill sets. By the end of the week, Tupi has exhausted all the contacts he had and applied for all the jobs he could find. Tupi decided to attend all the networking events he could find online. He reached out to friends, ex-colleagues and alumni, and after scheduling some meetings with friends he did not meet up for years.

Tupi ended up packing his schedule by going to help some friends move, baby showers and his friend's children's graduation. Tupi felt a lot better when he helped others and started to look to tasks to volunteer. Then it seemed like an opportunity has came -- Michael, Tupi's classmate from high school is going to Indonesia to work on a charity water project in a village.

Tupi took in a deep breath. It felt out of character. Then he nodded to himself and clenched his fist and pumped it like he was tugging on an invisible chain. "This feels right." Tupi muttered and took out his phone. "Here it goes."

Tupi could feel his heart beat faster. Suddenly he felt excited like he was going to do something good. He felt nervous and anxiety again. "What if I get rejected? Should I be looking for a job instead of spending money?" There was a lot of self doubt, but before Tupi put away his phone, he took in another deep breadth Tupi made himself dialed Michael.

Ring, Ring...

"Hello Michael." Tupi said as the phone got connected.

"Hi..." the voice responded.

"Its me... Tupi, from St. Andrews Secondary School?" Tupi said.

"Oh.. hey! What's up buddy?" the voice responded with an upbeat pitch.

"Saw from your Facebook post that you are going to Indonesia to help a village. Seems like a very noble and interesting thing to do." Tupi said. "How can I join?"

"Oh, I volunteer with a Church group, and they are working with an NGO here which is going there." Michael said. "I think there is a fee to join, and that is excluding your own airfares to get there."

"Can you send me more information?" Tupi requested eagerly. "I've not done this before, and I am free this weekend and have no plans anyways."

"Sure! Let me send you the information." Michael said. "What is your email address, perhaps I can send you the forms and links to register...."

Tupi got all the information from Michael and chatted a while. It seemed that many things have changed, and Michael is now a father of 2 kids. Tupi received the email and immediately registered and booked his tickets for the weekend trip. It felt spontaneous. It felt great. It is not go time!

The brown suitcase was taken out from storage. It had a layer of dust and Tupi used a damp rag and wiped it off. Many thoughts were going through his mind as his heartbeat increased, his breadth was shallow as he started to pack for the trip. Everything was well organized and he had no problems searching for what he needed. "Hello camera...." Tupi muttered and found his trusty old camera. It was a film camera - Canon EOS 1, and photography one of his hobbies he had before he got offered his first job.

Opening his refrigerator, Tupi found a few rolls of film. "They are still around..." he muttered and checked on the condition of the film. "Still looks good." Then continued to check on the batteries and other equipment he wanted to bring on the trip. This was an unfamiliar feeling, something he has not felt in a long time. Tupi was not sure if it was discomfort or otherwise, but the trip was going to happen and there was no turning back.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 1


Tupi -- An International Capybara just read about Social Entrepreneurship. Recently retrenched from his boring job, Tupi thought he needed a change for the better. He loves to challenge himself and apply his creativity to create solutions, but have always been afraid to step outside his comfort zone. He had the same routine everyday for the past 15 years -- wake up, wash up, go to work - drive back from work, answer emails, watch TV, clean house and go to bed. On the weekends, he would do laundry, work on his model car, go to supermarket, and sometimes watch a movie with friends.

His routine got predictable. 2 eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast, milkshake and protein bar for lunch and some form of rice or pasta dish for dinner. His commute never changed. 7:30am subway train to work, 7pm rush hour jam to get home. His experiences were so consistent that even his expenses was almost identical every month.

(Day 1 out of work)

Tupi woke up as usual, cleaned up and before leaving the house, he had a sudden realization that there was no work to go to. He sat on his dining table and looked around. The house was neat and nothing needed replacement or repairs. The garbage was thrown, laundry done and all the errands were completed over the weekend. He took a deep breadth and sighed. "What should I do today?" he muttered. He looked at the clock - 7:15am, and thought, "Maybe I should take a short nap?"

Lying in bed, Tupi was restless. He wanted to do something and could not figured out what. Looking at his clock - 7:18am, but it felt like an hour. Tupi could not rest and decided to go out, but sitting at his table, he could not decide on what to do. Looking at his mail, an envelop dropped out. Tupi opened it and saw a thank you note from an organization where he donated some money to in Indonesia. Looking at the photo of the card, the villagers seemed to live in a very nice and green environment.Tupi smiled and decided to start his computer to perhaps look for a new job.

Looking at his notebook, it was stored properly in the drawer of his desk. It could not be powered on, but the power cables were neatly stored in the same drawer. Tupi turned on the power and started the notebook. Tupi went to get a cup of water and when he was back, the computer was still loading. The machine was old, when Tupi had his job, he never needed to use his personal laptop. "Perhaps I should get a new machine." Tupi's face lit up, finally, there was a task which needed to be done.