Elison Wong writes about how she got together with some friends to teach children how to express their creativity through food formation.
Among other factors, it was being “robbed” repeatedly that had motivated me to participate more actively in community services.
It was after having my purse snatched while on a business trip in Vietnam, several attempted break-ins at my house and finally an actual break-in at my office, when I decided that instead of working hard to secure a big horde of gold at retirement and an army of bodyguards to fend off thieves and potential robbers, I should invest time in helping my country build a future generation of useful citizens that do not resort to crime for a living.
The other goal I have is to encourage people to start taking the responsibility of contributing to the wellbeing of their community and not just relegate the task to the authorities.
In my early years, I have dabbled with the usual social work such as giving free tuition to orphans, visiting old folks home and feeding the homeless; all of which are good but I lack a certain conviction that this was how I could contribute towards nation building. They didn’t to put it simply, “light my fire”.
There is one thing which I am very passionate about and that is food. I love to cook, eat, share food and think of food. So it finally dawned on me that I could start a project that involved food.
The principle idea of the project was to share with kids how to have fun with food formation, take an interest on the food they eat, and give them a sense of accomplishment. I wanted them to understand that just because they may not be as academically successful as their peers, it didn’t mean that they were useless or stupid. My target group was from the poorer communities.
When I mooted this idea with my friends, they helped me to set up contact with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) involved in community projects. Over a meal of roast chicken, mash potatoes and a failed butter cake, a project was born.
In private, I called it the ‘Failed Butter Cake’ project but of course, one cannot canvass for volunteers with such an absurd name. So I officially called it the ‘Food Brings Change’ (FBC) programme which subsequently evolved and became known as just ‘Cooking Class’!
Never mind, a rose is just as sweet even by any other name, so says Shakespeare.
Under the umbrella of the NGO, it was agreed that FBC will run for 3 months on alternate Saturdays with children from the ages of 8 to 10 at a low cost housing development in Kuala Lumpur. Each cooking session would be for 2 hours.
Coming up with the idea was easy but implementing it was tough because of my other work commitments. I had to check out the proposed location to assess its suitability; approach my friends to ask them to volunteer; plan the schedules; brainstormed to determine the type of food that would be cost effective and easily available; the goal of each session, and last but not least, all the possible problems that could arise. I did all of these in between working hours and on weekends.
I am very fortunate to have kindhearted friends, who may or may not share my idea, but harboured the same desire to contribute their time and talent towards a cause. They sportingly volunteered to take charge of different aspects of the project; washing the aprons and cutleries, preparing colour charts for the cupcake sessions, making the icing, taking photographs, preparing the ingredients, etc. The list was endless.
Although the sessions were on alternate Saturdays, the preparatory work started during the weekdays. For 3 months, my Thursdays would be tied up solely with shopping for ingredients and doing trial runs for each of the planned cooking lesson to ensure that everything was ready. These ingredients and the leftovers often ended being my dinner or supper.
Very often, we would encounter some problems with the ingredients, which could have hampered the session from running smoothly. When this happened, we were forced to improvise the “menu” at the last minute.
For example, I remember we had a dipping session where we taught the kids to dip soda crackers into dark and white chocolate sauce. Prior to that, each of them had to decorate the crackers with sprinkles, chocolate rice and nuts. The objective of the lesson was to express their creativity with colours. Who was to know that the chocolate, both dark and white began to thicken into a solid mass as the hour progressed?
Dipping was impossible and we had to think fast on how to salvage the problem as the children stared at us impatiently. In the end, we decided to ask them to use the chocolate mass as playdough to mould them into creative shapes and sizes.
All in all, it was an exhausting but extremely fun 3 months. The children enjoyed the cooking classes although we did not do any real cooking at all!
Did I contribute to nation building through this FBC project? I don’t know, but I do know that for 6 Saturdays, a group of kids had lots of fun with food, expressed creativity that they never knew they had and learned some English culinary terms. Some had even developed an interest to do actual cooking!
I hope that through FBC, it will help to build children’s self-esteem and spur a desire in them to learn more. The Mommies have even asked us to do a session with their older kids. This heartens me tremendously as I never knew this project could achieve such a positive outcome.
To me, this is all just the beginning. I look forward to contributing to my nation through FBC and other projects.