It had been some time since I last joined a camp out of state, and much longer since I was last part of a small and close-knitted group. The events I had previously been taking part in the last seven years since starting the Heart4Hope campaign consisted of large numbers of unfamiliar people, which made the Leadership Camp I attended in Malacca last weekend a much desired change of pace, an overhaul.
One of the first people who introduced themselves to me upon my arrival at the Sri Melaka Hotel was a man from Jakarta who held up his Blackberry to show me a photo of his daughter. He told me Emma’s story without preamble. Erwin and his wife were informed by their doctor that Emma’s brain was under-developed when she was three or five months old. They were given the option to abort this child. But they had already been through a miscarriage previously, so they decided to keep Emma and raise her up to the best of their ability. Emma can’t see or hear, and she has limited cognition. The night before Erwin came to Malaysia for this camp, Emma experienced another bout of epilepsy. All Erwin wants is for Emma to grow up safely. Erwin’s intention for sharing this story was to encourage me. “Be strong”, he said. But little did he know, his introduction did more than that. It opened my heart.
Opening my heart was what I needed to feel at home with unfamiliar people and be humble enough to learn. People often tell us to open our minds to learn. But I have observed that if the heart is closed and hardened, the mind would be unwilling to learn.
We saw the effects that Erwin’s sharing had on me the first night when each of the 40 participants were asked to cut out pictures from magazines that portrayed our dreams. We pasted our magazine cut-outs onto our piece of manila cardboard which then became our ‘dream-board’. The idea was to place our dreams onto the board and paste the board on a wall where we can always look at it. By constantly looking at it, our dreams as portrayed on the board will come true.
I have been doing some soul searching over the past years as I achieved one accomplishment after another, one dream after another. I believe many of you would agree that I have accomplished much compared to many others my age. But what I have been able to accomplish thus far were things that I could attain by sheer will power, persistence, creativity and recognizing opportunities. As more of my goals were achieved, I dug deeper into myself and discovered my deepest desire – a desire that I had been wishing and hoping for since I was a young child. But I could never attain it in the past. Because it is not something that money can buy, not something we can attain by simply insisting on it. That desire is to have a happy and healthy family. I have been wishing for it since I was a toddler, an age when I could only express my emotions through play. There are many factors beyond our control which contribute to whether a family is happy. More so since it is not just about myself and how I handle things. It is about interpersonal relationships within the family, maturity of family members as well as their ability to deal with stress, disagreements and problems.
I learned these through my growing up years living with my parents and relatives. My dad’s stroke and the events that followed taught me important lessons about life and family dynamics that I would otherwise not learn at an early age. This is one of the gifts my parents had given to me with their lives.
Therefore, when asked to put my dreams onto the board, I decided to put this one dream – to have a healthy family of my own. Because it is not something money alone can buy. Not something I can obtain by simply insisting to have what I want. It is not about me alone. This does not mean I don’t have any material wants. I do. But they are obtainable as long as I work for the money to buy them.
While presenting my dream-board on stage, I saw Erwin nodding his head in agreement so hard I thought it was going to come off. Erwin’s board was similar to mine. It was filled with pictures of motherhood and children. It’s a portrayal of his wish for Emma to grow up safely.
I had the opportunity to exercise empathy that first day.
When my heart was opened and my guards were down, I was ready and eager to hear what the next program was with an open mind. And boy, I sure must open my heart in order to open my mind to the extend it needed to, because what followed next was a walk through history as far back as the 1300s – a story of how the Euro Zone debt crisis came to be.
Asia was always rich with natural resources while the Europeans had cold weather with little to survive with. But they were extremely farsighted people. The Europeans needed to buy resources from Asia and they had the Silk Road that connected them to the East. For many years, things were fine. The Europeans were Christians. The Arabs like Syria, Turkey and Palestine controlled parts of the trail route between East and West. For many years, Christians would buy from Muslims and Muslims were the middle man, until the crusades and religious war broke out. How should the Europeans get all the resources they need when the road was controlled by their enemies? They went by sea. When Prince Henry the navigator was 21 years old in the year of 1415, he came up with a plan to find his way to the spice islands in the East, take over the trades and colonize them,
The Europeans learned the oceans and their currents over many centuries, until Vasco Da Gama reached their first base – Goa, India, in the year of 1498. Gama then told Diogo Lopes of this place called Malacca which controlled all the straits. Lopes came to Malacca and decided to conquer the land. He sent Alfonso De Albuquerque in 1511 who took over Malacca. The Sultanate of Malacca fell into the hands of the Portuguese who set up their settlement. The Dutch who had been watching with greedy eyes then came to get rid of the Portuguese and took over Malacca as well as India.
Seeing that the East was all taken, the Spanish decided to travel the other way to find India. Christopher Columbus the Spanish reached a land he thought was India. But it was actually America. That’s how we have the red indians today. The Spanish took over North and South America. The French then said, “Since everyone went to Asia, let’s take over Africa”. And take over Africa the French did. Later, the English came too. The English fought the Germans, the Spanish, they beat everyone and took over India, China and Malacca. The English and Dutch formed a pack and treated us like cows and goats for 500 years.
India, China and Africa combined made up 75% of the world’s GDP before colonization. India and China combined were 50% of the world’s GDP. But the Europeans were ingenious. They came to study us to find our weaknesses. They figured that to control the Indians, they had to break the Indian’s minds through cultural enslavement. To control the Chinese, they had to break the Chinese physically by introducing Opium.
That’s how the Europeans managed to take over our natural resources to build the good life they have today. They became rich and complacent with a lot of benefits. But after 1960, they had to start trading with other nations already. They needed money to sustain their social security and other benefits, so they resorted to borrowing money. More and more debts incurred over the last 40 years which resulted in the Euro Zone debt crisis today. This all started in the year of 1394 when Prince Henry was born. Tada!
So, who was this person telling us such an interesting history? A teacher? A historian? None of that. He’s Mr. Perminderjit Singh who was an engineer by training and profession. He’s now a millionaire businessman who spends his time studying the world economy and guiding others in escaping the rat race.
That was only the first day.
By the second day, the 40 of us were split into three teams. Each team was given an assignment to prepare a group presentation on different topics concerning the Euro Zone crisis, which we presented on the third and last day of the camp.
On the second day onwards, Mr. Perminderjit taught us what to do to protect our finances as the euro zone debt crisis escalates. Among other things, he advised us not to buy properties now but wait until the market crashes and prices drop. He also advocated storing cash in U.S. dollars as it is the world reserve currency. It has nothing to do with America.
That was a lot of facts, wasn’t it? But factual learning was intermingled with physical activities and games at this camp. The games and activities facilitated by Shelley Ooi were designed to exercise our individual autonomy and spontaneity which were what we needed to have inside of us to be able to take up personal leadership. One of the group activities that Shelley Ooi facilitated involved discussing the Cashflow Quadrant – the pros and cons of every quadrant. This activity made us reflect on our financial planning decisions and how we might want to modify it for the better.
Has this brief summary of the Leadership Camp been interesting? I am sure many of us are intrigued by Mr. Perminderjit’s economic lecture. He spoke much more than what I had shared above. If you are interested in hearing more from Mr. Perminderjit for yourself, he will be speaking on these topics again at a one-day seminar on 7th July 2012, starting at 1pm to about 9pm at the Sunway Convention Center. Ticket price is only RM30.00 per person. In exchange, you will learn information that can save some families’ lives. Let me know how many tickets you want. The organizer is expecting 2,000 attendees.
Much thanks to the organizer for sponsoring the participation of my friend, Cheng Siew Jun, who came as my typist even though the first day of camp fell on her birthday. As a result, I was able to fully participate and learn.