Listen for Haiyan – wrapping up

by rachel

Somewhere between end November to mid December last year, Listen for Haiyan sort of started up in my mind. Initially it was a project that I was thinking of undertaking with my GPS group (GPS Zambales) but it eventually ended up being separate from that. Below is a little bit of what I wrote when I started up the wordpress for the event:

Listen for Haiyan is still very much a Work in Progress – many things are not certain, including the exact date and venue etc. (Heck, even the name of this event is barely finalised!) However, there are a few items that have been decided upon and one of  those is the motivation behind Listen for Haiyan.

First and foremost, Listen is pitched to be a fundraiser to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. What sparked the initial conceptualization of the event was seeing the damage in a place where just 2 months ago I had spent 10 days for a service learning trip in. The area I had visited was Zambales, Cabangan, a few hours drive away from the city of Manila. Over the 10 days we spent with the indigenous Aeta people, they were endlessly patient and welcoming towards us, honestly teaching us more than we could ever hope to give them back in return. Yet despite it all, everyone there was so glad to have us with them, learning by their sides, working with their children and picking up pieces of their culture to share with the world.

And it wasn’t just the indigenous people. The NGO we worked with, Asian Bridge Philippines, attached two members with us on our trip, Twinkle and Leigh. Both of them are also some of the most selfless individuals I have met.  From translating for us under the hot sun while we conducted our various workshops, to surprising us with bags full of pandesal and mango, the two of them laughed with us through the glee and birthday celebrations on the trip and cried with us when it was time to leave.

When the typhoon struck Philippines, the village we had worked with on our service learning trip had not been very much affected to the best of our knowledge but many other parts of Philippines and many other Filipinos had been, including some of Twinkle’s family members. And so back in Singapore, I rounded up a group of my other school mates to try and do something to help. It’s ambitious and honestly we’re not sure how far we can go with this but we’re going to try.

Vanessa and I are both members of our school’s Spoken Word Poetry club and we thought maybe Spoken Word could be a way to do something for the Philippines.

Thus, Listen for Haiyan (though with a grammatically questionable title) was born to try to fundraise for Typhoon Haiyan while being a platform to encourage Spoken Word across various local schools. All funds raised will be given to Mercy Relief Singapore to be channeled towards the survivors of the typhoon and this website will be periodically updated to provide more details on the event as time passes and we hope to receive your support!


This whole event started off rather shakily to be honest. I knew it wasn’t going to be a huge planning committee type thing but I also knew it would probably be better to do it in a pair as opposed to by myself (and boy am I glad I did). Initially I approached Elaine from Year 6 to see if she would like to organise it with me but due to the workload of Year 6, she was unable to and eventually I found Vanessa!

Part of the reason why I decided on Spoken Word as a medium for the event is because over the course of 2013 it had grown to be a form of writing that was important to me and spoke (oops) to me. A part of me thinks it all began with listening to Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye speak at Home Club when they were in Singapore. This was about April of 2013. Before that, I’d only seen Spoken Word through a computer, through the screen. But being there in Home Club brought Spoken Word to life and that in itself was an exhilarating experience.

Also, Phil Kaye has beautiful eyes. 

From there, everything just flowed. From being in Elaine’s Spoken Word CAS to Listen, I’m very grateful for all that these activities have opened me up to. It was very important to me that this wasn’t an event just geared towards raising funds for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan but also a platform to expose fellow students to a medium of writing that I feel is so powerful, and also a platform for other local youth Spoken Poets to say what they wanted to say.

All in all, I think Vanessa and I have both found the process of planning Listen incredibly fulfilling. Each of the performers have given so much to the event, purely out of goodwill, and they are all so very very talented. Same goes for all the audience members. While we might not have reached full seating capacity, I think we were both very glad that a 150 odd people took time out of their busy Tuesday nights to come support the performers and the cause.

Personally, this was one of the more independent large scale projects I’ve worked on so far. Despite having planned quite a number of activities as part of the Senate and LeAd, among others, this was one where we really had free range with what we wanted to do, being completely student initiated. This also meant there was a lot of responsibility on our hands. As we got closer to the date, the schedule started getting more and more packed. We had to simultaneously organise rehearsals for the performers, sort out venue issues, settle ticketing and communicate with the school and Mercy Relief what we were going to do. It’s a good thing though, that the event was timed for the start of the year because at least that meant that our school work had not quite begun to pile up yet.

Over the course of this, I was reminded time and again how important it is to remember to delegate work and split up the workload. This is something that I honestly cannot stress enough to myself. I’m very grateful to have had Vanessa in the planning process with me, from communicating with the performers to settling last minute power point slides and what not. I’m pretty sure I would have collapsed from the sheer weight of doing this alone otherwise. As a leader, I tend to find myself micro-managing and this ends up with me tiring myself out. But over the course of this project and others, I’ve begun to let things go more and learn also to trust the people around me more.

Re-delegating work also left me with a bit more time to spend crafting my own poem. Previously, there was a poem I liked but didn’t really want to share with 150 people as it was rather personal. So in the week before the performance, I started on a new poem. This was the poem that I eventually performed for Listen, titled “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly”.

Pull your knees as tight to your body as possible,
Curl in towards yourself,
Inch to the edge of your parents’ bed, a suspended cannonball.

You see, when I was younger,
I swear, that was how I flew.
It wasn’t so much flying
as a gentle bobbing through space.

Letting air run through the hollows of my knees,
Elbows, nooks in my spine,
Like a puppet doll
pulled up by invisible strings that
I could control myself.

Five-year-old marionette,
I am lifted
Off the bed, above the floor, above myself.
I can feel, or rather
I can not feel the weightlessness running through me

A slight tilt to the right sends me
Spinning through the lacquered doors,
Straight down the hallway,
I am racing, I am learning, I am flying

I am

You see, when you grow older,
People tell you, you cannot fly.
You are not a bird.

They tell us in science that
birds can fly because their bones are hollow.
My bones might be weighted with the expectations of being
human but I am hollow in other ways.

I am hollow,
in the way summer air filled with light is still hollow
I am hollow,
in the way laughing flutes echo their tunes
I am hollow, in the way that only a person who wants to fill her insides with the world,
is hollow.

I am full,
I am hollow,
I am empty,
I am packed.

Air runs through the hollows of my knees,
Elbows, nooks in my spine,
Like a puppet doll
pulled up by invisible strings that
I can control myself.

The next time anyone tells you you cannot fly,
Tell them they just don’t know you yet.

When I was thinking about what to write, I tried very hard to strike a balance between what meant something to me but at the same time was something I was willing to share with the world. Learning to be more open with what I share with people is also something I’m working on I guess!

So as I thought, my childhood memories came to mind. Initially I started off with snippets of about 4 memories. The one that eventually ended up being the impetus for “Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fly” is a memory that I suppose some people might call a day dream but is 100% real for me

I swear I used to float around my house (no kidding).

Other than that, a number of other memories I had intended to include were that of climbing the door frames in my house and running through a wild daisy patch for the first time in New Zealand.

But eventually I settled on this particular memory. I don’t exactly know why but that’s just the way it flowed for me on Saturday evening, desk facing the window. Within it, I managed to find the balance of something that was really real to me, something that was uniquely mine, while being ‘safe’ enough to share with the world.

I was actually rather apprehensive about performing and it wasn’t until I wrote that poem did I decide I was going to perform. Prior to this, I was leaning more towards not performing. However, I eventually felt like if one of the main reasons why I was doing this was to spread the love I had for Spoken Word (wow this sounds rather melodramatic), then I should at least share a little bit about what it means to me, through my own work.

This was only the second time I’d performed any sort of Spoken Word at all and the first time I’d done it on my own. The first time I did Spoken Word was for Literature Night mid 2013 with Ernest. The theme was humour and we did a piece about jokes and the memories we had about people linked to the various jokes.

The tone of these two poems were rather different and the nature of performing alone is also vastly different from performing in a pair. So performing for Listen was overall a very raw and new experience for me and while I did mess up a little – if you listen to my piece while reading it you will see where, it was still a rather empowering experience in a sense because getting what you want to say out really is quite cathartic.

In the words of Mr. Rozells, “That was very nerve-wrecking and exhilarating at the same time, I see how people can get addicted to doing this”.

After Listen came to a close, I had quite a number of people come up to me and tell me they had been very much inspired by the event and the work that had been done. Vanessa and I were also very glad to hear that Ms Goh had enjoyed the event very much, so much so that they were opening up the Drama Theatre for Literature Night this year as well!

On top of that, so many people came forward to support our cause, going far beyond the ticket prices, donating anywhere from $10 – $200 for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Just to see so many people open up to Spoken Word and support the victims of Typhoon Haiyan made everything completely worth it. From end 2013 till now, the conclusion of the event, I’m so grateful for everything that has passed and I’m so glad it’s something that Vanessa and I managed to successfully execute.