Birthdays are undeniably the only days which we are entitled to be selfish and not be condemned for it. However, one local celebrity decided to turn it around and transform her birthday into a charitable cause. Meet Tammie Chew, the actress from the TV drama, Menantu International on MediaCorp’s Suria channel.
Instead of getting gifts, Tammie decided that each guest would bring one to two items for donation. The guest will donate any amount of money in exchange for the gift he or she wants to “buy” at the donation corner. All monetary proceeds would go to the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH).
As her graphic design sponsor, I felt privileged to be involved in this charitable cause and worked closely with Tammie as she invited film and media crew, celebrities, sponsors, charity ambassadors, friends and loved ones to her cherished event. The recently turned 31-year-old actress looked stunning in her simple but elegant, strapless black-white palm tree print dress as she carefully coordinated the event with the sponsors early on that Saturday (26 Sept 2015) which ran from 4pm to 10pm.
Hosted by The Papa Shop at CT Hub, there were illustrative photo booths with playful props, free food and drinks, and the growing display of donated gifts which included canned abalones, cutlery, clothes, stationery, hand-made cookies, utensils, toys, headphones etc. In the evening, the crowd was entertained by impressive performances of local singers, musicians, celebrities, and a belly-dancer. It was an unforgettable experience of relaxation, socialising and charitable goodness.
I could not wait after the party to find out from Tammie, what drove her to try a different approach for setting up such a unique birthday experience.
This birthday, do you think it’s the most special of all your birthdays that you have celebrated?
Yeah, I actually think so because it’s very different (laughs). It’s personally the biggest of all my birthday parties I had, and the happiest one too.
How and when did you get the idea of tying in charity for your birthday?
It first started off a couple of years back, when I saw somebody posted on Facebook stating that she did not need any birthday presents and wanted people to donate to a charity instead. So I thought [this idea] was really cool, and it stuck to my mind. Around the same time, my mum asked me to volunteer at a garage sale set up by SAVH. Somehow, those two ideas tied up together, so that was how I came up with it.
Is SAVH your first charity volunteer experience?
No. I participated in mandatory charity events at school. But this would be the first active experience in my adult life.
Why did you specifically pick SAVH?
I am more familiar with them and their stories. My mum used to hire the blind for massage at her salon, so I actually had a lot of encounters with them and saw their struggles. It’s really not easy for them to make a living in Singapore. Being blind is really tough. I have friends who are inside the SAVH committee, and who have voiced out their struggles of how they need more volunteers and more money to help the blind to be more independent. This touched me a lot since SAVH teaches the blind how to fish and not just give them the fish. I really like what they are doing. SAVH was really grateful, polite and supportive about the idea that I suggested to them.
How do you think society should react to the blind?
I feel that if you don’t really experience what they [the blind] go through, it’s really hard to understand the struggles they encounter despite just hearing their stories. Try walking in the dark blind-folded, it’s very scary when you can’t see. Although your senses are heightened, it’s still really difficult. You can’t do a lot of things, and you are limited to certain career options. We see the blind sing or do massage. Some of the blind can do minor administrative work but very few companies would hire them because it is troublesome to change the whole working environment for them. For people to understand their struggles, we have to experience what they go through
When you first organised your charity birthday, were you nervous about how you were going to pull this off?
When the idea first came, I thought “Heck! I’m just going to do it!” In fact, I didn’t expect the idea to be so big. When I posted on my Facebook that I needed sponsors, the response I got was overwhelming. Many came forward to volunteer, and I had so much support. My only concern was whether there were enough people coming to attend the party.
How overwhelmed were you by the response to sponsor?
I was very, very touched because once I made known that I wanted to do this charity birthday party, I realised I have so many angels in my life, both local and overseas, who have the heart to do so. I’m very blessed by their support.
Were there any sponsors that you had to turn away?
Oh yes. I had a bit of trouble saying no to a few photo booth sponsors.
What did you think of the gift and money donations?
I think everyone was really kind and they really took the effort find the gifts. We had awesome things like homemade cookies, canned abalones, hat, clothes, etc. that were good quality and some were expensive. At the back of my mind, I thought people would treat this event like a recycle bin (laughs). But since I stated that they should bring gifts that others would like, I was impressed by the quality of those gifts.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
Two days before my birthday, I was super stressed because the haze was crazy and schools were closed. Some sponsors and friends texted their concern since this was going to be an outdoor event and I panicked [at the possibility of postponing the event]. Luckily, the sky was clear. Although the party started at 4pm, we did not really finish preparing until past 5pm. More people starting coming later between 6pm to 7pm. Before that, I had people expressing concern that they did not see a lot of people around, so seeing that most people came later in the evening, it made me realise I shouldn’t have started the party so early (laughs). I was a little worried towards the end of the day as we still had a lot of leftover gifts, so I asked everyone to just take what they liked. Many people were there to give rather than to receive the gifts.
Did you take any donation gifts yourself?
No, I did not. It did not even cross my mind that day. But some people gave me personal birthday gifts apart from their donation gifts, which I thought was really nice. The best birthday gift was definitely giving to charity.
How much in donation did the party pull in for SAVH?
Apart from the gift corner donations, we also received donations from people who decided to donate directly, so we received more than $3000 in all.
Would you do this again for your next birthday?
I probably will, and may add another charity for the event.
Do you think other people will follow in your footsteps?
I certainly hope so. It will be good to have more people to help the disabled in the society.