Monday, November 7, 2011

Kiddie party with the kids of Yong-En Care Center...

Several weeks before my birthday, I was thinking of what I can do to make my first birthday away from home really memorable.

The answer came while I was on my way to work one morning. Why not celebrate it the way I've been celebrating it in Manila for the past four or five year.

Together with friends. At a kids' institution. With games and presents for the kids.

I thought to myself that it would be a nice and meaningful activity to gather together friends from different groups not just to celebrate my birthday, but also to share with friends something really close to my heart - volunteering.

When I got to the office that day, I Googled for orphanages and care centers in Singapore. Surely, a First World country would still have institutions caring for children in need. The good thing about Singapore is that it is well-organized and very efficient. I stumbled upon a website that listed almost all the charitable institutions in the island-state.

Since I had no idea about each institution, I tried to narrow the list down according to type of organization, location and whether they had volunteer activities for the kids.

After coming up with a list of 5 institutions, I drafted a nice email to introduce myself, mention my proposed activity and the reason behind it. I even added photos from my previous kiddie birthday parties to show the institution that I'm no psycho and that I just want to have a birthday party for the kids. Haha!

I sent out my first email. A day passed. No reply. I sent out a second email to another institution. Decline. I sent out a third email to another one. Decline. I sent out a fourth email to one more. Decline.

Wow! I certainly did not expect getting turned down. And then I remembered I am in a First World country. Hehe! Almost all the institutions are well-funded or are very strict about their programs for the children. I told fellow UP volunteer Jean about the declines I was getting and how I was starting to get crushed. She said not to worry about it because I will find the right institution.

The right institution turned out to be the first institution I emailed - the Yong-En Centre. After several days, I got a very positive reply from Sharon (a program executive from the center). We agreed to meet up at the center so that I can explain the activity and talk about what I had in mind.

After finalizing the date, the time, the program, the next thing I did was to invite friends and get them to support the activity.

I was overwhelmed by the support extended by my friends. We were supposed to prepare gifts for just 20 - 25 kids, but we were able to gather so many gifts. Work colleague Alexie promised to make her delicious cupcakes for the event. Friends who weren't available on the day of the event itself promised to send gifts and they did. I couldn't be more grateful.

On a nice Saturday aft, Jean, Julie, Robert and I arrived at the Yong-En Centre quite early to wrap some more gifts and to prepare the venue. I also decided to come in early to wait for the food and to buy some more stuff needed for the party.

By 4PM, more friends arrived. Yong-En Centre's Sharon and Candice then gave us a pre-activity orientation. I was really impressed at how organized and efficient they were. They gave us a brief background about the center before proceeding to discuss the afternoon program's lineup of activities.

Fifteen minutes later, close to 15 bright-eyed, highly energetic and happy kids entered the activity hall.

Looking at my friends, they seemed just as excited as the kids were to be there that afternoon.

We started the fun afternoon with Human Bingo. I gotta say the kids were really smart, huh. I wasn't expecting young ones like 7 or 8 year olds ready to play that game. But as soon as Sharon signaled for the game to start, everyone - kids and adults - scrambled around to look for people to sign their Human Bingo sheet. I had a great time watching the kids and my friends interacting amidst laughter.

The next game we played was Streets and Alleys (I think). This one was more tiring because it involved some running. Hehe! I knew it was tiring because I volunteered to be the first player. Haha! It felt nice to be running around the hall chasing after one of the kids, while everyone else did their own role for the game. To be a kid again. Haha!

By the time we finished the second game, the kids were prolly starving. I guess so were the adults. Hehe! So we all moved towards the back of the room to queue for the food. It was nice seeing my friends taking care of the kids and making sure each kid had food.

Cheesy as this may sound, I felt a huge amount of joy in my heart watching everything.

The last part of the afternoon was probably the kids' favorite - gift giving. Because we had so much presents, each kid got to queue for a gift twice.

There were several gifts left and I just asked Sharon to please distribute the remaining gifts to the kids who were not able to attend the activity.

Oh, the kids also surprised me when they started singing "Happy Birthday" and birthday cake was brought out.

The activity ended past 6. I felt tired after the event, but I was just really happy with how the activity turned out. The kids left with big smiles on their faces. My friends said the kindest words.

It was definitely, definitely a very memorable first birthday in Singapore. It was the perfect way to close my three-part birthday celebration. Haha! (Yeah, I had a long birthday celebration. But the story for that is reserved for another blog post.)

To everyone who became part of the event, thank you very much! I am really, really, really grateful.

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