At school today for our capstone (mini-thesis) presentations, our entire cohort gathered together for lunch and a class photo.

As friends gathered around Sarah-Faith, a classmate of mine approached Cliff intentionally and said, “You know Cliff, I really respect you. It’s so evident that you’re a great Dad and husband. It’s not easy, and… you’re amazing.”

As awkward as it might have seemed, it moved me greatly. Because it wasn’t the first time men in my class had told me that Cliff was a role model to them, as a dedicated father and husband.

For all the times Sarah-Faith and I received added attention, there was him quietly loving on us, showering us with His love so we could thrive, grow and flourish. 🌷

Truly, to a man who comes back with flowers every time I send him out to have some “me” time to recharge from all his duties in study, husband-ing and fathering… My greatest Mothers’ Day present is knowing we have you. ❤️

Thank you.

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Even as I prepare for graduation soon, Sarah-Faith seems to be preparing herself for her own milestone by starting to walk this week!

Thanking God for the year gone by-

what a whirlwind!

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I was freaking out.

What was I doing? What did this mean? It was just ridiculous.

A day before the event, with my slides and script in hand, I felt like hiding under a stone. I went to my professor and told her this was all a mistake. Was it too late to back out?

After being nudged to do so by two mentors, I had submitted Kitesong Global as an application. I was certain I would hear nothing back.

But I did. And for the final selection round, they required a 2-minute presentation followed by a 3-minute Q&A.

There was no way I would ever be able to share the story of Kitesong Global in 2 minutes. But worse, I didn’t want to subject something so dear to my heart to the scrutiny of a panel of judges. Kitesong Global wasn’t just a practicum project, a thesis or the blueprint of a non-profit venture.

It was my life.

I didn’t want it to be graded, critiqued on, awarded or not awarded based on the KPIs strangers thought I had hit or missed. I know, it all sounds ridiculous- an award cannot and does not validate or invalidate who I am.

But it was far too personal.

Awards would be given to “outstanding public health practice contributions, in recognition of a practice effort that has made or has great potential to make a sustained impact on a health-related outcome.”

Kitesong Global was none of that. Some days, I am not even fully convinced I did the right thing.

Some days I still wonder, “Did I waste my degree here on this?”

The thought of it was unbearable. I wanted out.

My professor convinced me to stay, “Take it as an opportunity to tell the judges how much being here has helped you.”

We were asked to invited friends, family, colleagues to attend. But I didn’t want anyone to come. So I did not.

As the other candidates presented their slides and got grilled at the podium, my mind went blank. With my stomach churning, I went up, expecting to be asked about the sustainability, feasibility, scalability and over-the-top idealism Kitesong Global reeked of. Who was I kidding, really?

“Stop all of this- the world doesn’t need Kitesong. It was just a book an 18-year old wrote. Keep it that way,” came the flashback of an ex-mentor’s phonecall. This would all have been a farce to him.

But the judges didn’t ask those questions. Instead, they asked me to share the story of each book, how I expected each story to make an impact, and how much they are needed, not just in low and middle countries, but in America too.

As I got off the podium, I felt like retching. So close was I to tears I had rush out of the hall.

As I listened to the other candidates share about the groundbreaking things they were doing in public health, I knew I was out of place.

Up to now, I don’t have grand plans- I don’t have a fancy evaluation model, a sure-win funding mechanism, an impressive blueprint. When people ask me how Kitesong Global is going, I genuinely mean it when I say, “I’m still praying.”

People have suggestions on what Kitesong Global could do to be bigger, better- social marketing, advertising, this and that… and I often feel so small and foolish, thinking, ” That sounds really great, but God didn’t show us this or that way.”

At least it was over.

This afternoon, the results were announced. Kitesong Global received the Excellence in International Public Health Practice Award.

As I teared, I thought about the many times I had felt foolish and fluffy, the many times I had lost my words when someone asked me for my slick elevator pitch, when I wondered why I could not dream the dreams I wanted to but could not.

I was reminded of what happened two weeks ago, when an American lawyer wrote to me to say she was committed to seeing Kitesong Global registered in the States. I asked her how much it would all cost- about $5-8000, a figure that made me laugh out loud then cry myself to sleep. That night, with my head on my pillow and Cliff’s arms wrung around mine, I said “I quit.”

This was all a joke anyway. In a few months, I would be out of the States. All of this was plain illogical. Who would help me run the organization, do bookkeeping, file taxes? I know nothing about those kinds of things, still don’t.

The next morning, on a cold, white morning, a billowy snowstorm snowed us all in. No one could go out. The entire woods facing our home was cloaked in a magical white. And there on our doorstep, God sent us an angel, an aged, wise missionary friend we had met in Singapore, who had served 15 long years in China and had now moved back to the States, who drove hours just to spend the day with us, just to catch up.

I will never forget his words, “If you could trust God to raise more than $100’000 for the Children’s Home in Nepal when you were 18 years old, and that same amount for you to come to Johns Hopkins to do your Masters degree and provide for your family, can you not trust Him for $8000? Can you not?”

The next morning, as the snow melted quietly, he came for breakfast. A phone call disrupted our conversation. And as I ended the call, my face was washed white, as I shared that just over the phone, someone unexpected had called and offered me a cheque to help underwrite these costs of setting up Kitesong Global in the States. I had not solicited, not advertised, not written a thing about this on my blog or an email.

I was speechless.

I am learning, that just because I don’t understand what God says, I have no right to determine that He must be mistaken. I am learning, that it is haughty and precarious, even, to think that my obedience to His directive would dishonor Him. I am learning, that when I am befuddled by my own foolishness, God has a different way.

Exactly a week later, as I began to process this craziness, I read from Oswald Chambers, “Are you debating whether you should take a step of faith in Jesus, or whether you should wait until you can clearly see how to do what He has asked? Simply obey Him with unrestrained joy. When He tells you something and you begin to debate, it is because you have a misunderstanding of what honors Him and what doesn’t. Are you faithful to Jesus, or faithful to your ideas about Him? Are you faithful to what He says, or are you trying to compromise His words with thoughts that never came from Him? “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5).”

I am still, learning.

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“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise;

God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…”

– 1 Cor 1:27

Thank you to Cliff, my professors, classmates and those of you who have believed in Kitesong. Thank you for helping Kitesong fly.

* If you feel led to be involved with Kitesong in any way, please drop us a note at waijia@kitesong.org. We are praying for people to help with web/graphic design, photography, videography, bookkeeping, social media and more.

“Saya boleh tahan (I can withstand it).”

One of the most difficult things I’ve embarked on was a series of in-depth interviews with foreign domestic helpers caring for elderly patients with dementia.

While we have seen specific cases highlighted and punished for elderly abuse, many of us have never heard the silent stories of being spat upon, cursed, hit, soiled on, by patients who are ill, day after day after day.

In an aging society where elderly care is continually being outsourced, have we failed to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made by people we have invited into our homes, no longer as housekeepers, but as companions to our ailing loved ones?

In the face of extreme circumstances, many of them continue day after day, “saya boleh tahan” (I can withstand it), because “I see Ah Gong (Grandpa) like my own father. I know he dementia, old already.”

Those who do not know about the illness, plod on nonetheless, through the sleepless nights of shouting, door-banging, wandering and aimless pacing… which are some manifestations of the illness in its severe stages.

Is it a paradigm shift we need? That perhaps, the privilege and responsibility of caring for our elders remains ours to own as a family and society. That perhaps, there is more we could do to support them, and alleviate the mental burden they carry in this challenging role as caregivers?

Let us appreciate the vital role our helpers play, and recognize the resilience, compassion and dedication they display, to help us care for those we love.

With special thanks to my mentors and friends, for believing in this.

Published in The Straits Times, Singapore, 31 Mar 2018.

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I knew I had blown it.

On the other line was someone I couldn’t believe was calling me… and there I was dumbfounded.

With her being the ex-marketing director of American music bands like Delirious from Nashville and Founder of an NGO organizing a big conference coming up in June, I desperately wanted to impress.

I was certain it would be useless. After all, she had never even met me. I was stuttering. I spoke in an accent that was difficult to hear. Why would she even trust me?

As I ruined the moment with stuttery ahs and errs, she finally interrupted me, “OK so, what will you be speaking on next week at Hopkins?”

“What? You mean next week on Sarah-Faith’s birthday at the Kitesong Launch?”

This time, I knew it was over.

At her conference, were leaders in the field speaking about therapy, clinical recovery and counseling. Celebrity singers were being featured. Now that she had found out I was from Hopkins, I was certain my answer would be a letdown.

“Dreams.”

As soon as the word left my mouth, I cringed.

I had seen people cringe at the word before, associating me with being fluffy and of no substance. In my mind, I saw her shaking her head, face-palming at her waste of time on a phone conversation with me, one which had taken a long time to coordinate.

Instead, she went wild.

“Seriously?! Because I have ALL my speakers lined up for the event and I’m missing the keynote closing speaker whom I want to speak on Dreams. You’re the person I’ve been praying for all this while! I’ve read your story, now I’ve heard your voice. You’re coming to Nashville! And I want your husband to come speak to us on marriage too! You both HAVE to come!”

Suddenly, at that moment, a million memories, fragmented like broken glass through the years of pain and darkness, became mirrors that reflected the sun’s infinite light.

That week, was the final week she was finalizing speakers for the conference. Had we been connected a week later, it would have been too late. She was connected to me through her psychiatrist friend, who was the sister-in-law of a faculty at Hopkins who found out about my burden to help women with eating disorders when she accidentally picked up a copy of “A Taste of Rainbow” displayed on my professor’s desk at her office.

I know. It could only be God.

For so many years I had grappled with the meaningless of my experience with depression and anorexia. Besides making a good news story, I often saw little meaning in it. I kept filing it away, determined to bury this dream of trying to help others. Although people approached me for advice occasionally, either for themselves or loved ones, things often stalled once they found out I did not have a miracle answer, and the way out was a journey of faith and courage to seek help.

Uncannily enough, on International Women’s Day, when women around the world were being celebrated, I received the finalized flyer for the conference, and a link to an online support group for people suffering from struggles with weight and identity.

As I saw my name printed on the brochure, I thought of the thousands of women like me who struggle with this silently and publicly, daily and continuously, to small and debilitating extents, as they are sold the lie that one can never truly be free of the bondage of comparison and worthlessness.

I thought of the many whose stories of freedom and hope continue to await to be written because within the very same box which the enemy has tried to keep them in, lies the very key to the very destiny that God has called them to, to set other captives free.

This month, as millions of women around the world are being celebrated, you might know someone struggling with an eating disorder or self-esteem issue and feel at a loss as to how to help them. You know it’s not an issue about vanity, but identity. You know there is hope, if only they would reach out.

You are not alone. For years, I struggled with how to reply the desperate voices struggling to find help for their loved ones, and struggled to find resources.

Today, something that I’ve only dreamed of being a part of exists.

If you know someone longing to find the freedom that she deserves, tell her that she’s not alone. If she’s in America, encourage her or go with her to the conference this June in Nashville- it will not be just an event, but a life-changing milestone. http://www.findingbalance.com/hfh/

And if she’s unable to, share this online support program with her. Wherever she is around the world, and at whatever stage of struggle she’s in, there is hope. She is not alone- http://www.findingbalance.com/support/

This June, Cliff, Sarah-Faith and I will be in Nashville speaking on the miracles in marriage and the hope of freedom. We hope to see you there.

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“And it will all be wasted.”

Seven years ago on this day, those words hurt like pelting hail.

As the news reporter threatened to ditch the interview story unless I provided her with more sensational details, I stood my ground on truth.

But after having published Rainbow, a book which was meant to raise awareness of eating disorders and depression among youth, after my own recovery from depression and anorexia, it felt like it had all gone wrong.

The calls persisted till midnight.

“If you don’t tell me more, our paper won’t run your story. Your book will be a waste.”

At the age of 24, it was then I experienced one of life’s deepest, most existential fears- to even think, that the pain and struggles we experience, have all been for nothing.

Back then, with hands holding a tear-stained face, I remember wondering what a way it was to turn a year older, with the weight of failure and hopelessness upon me.

In the following years, Rainbow was shared with patients in a few clinics, occasionally at schools, but nothing more. Because of its limited reach in Singapore, its impact hardly grew.

As I received the occasional email from a parent struggling with a daughter with an eating disorder that was killing her slowly, I would hope it could bring them some encouragement.

But a big part of me ached to do more.

One crazy day, I dreamed of speaking in the States, for Rainbow to make a deeper impact among women struggling, on a larger, global scale.

Call it stupid. It was.

Fast forward seven years later, here in USA, God rekindled the dream for Rainbow to be used to bring hope to those struggling with depression and issues with weight, self esteem and identity. But as I knocked on several doors for partnership opportunities, none opened.

I remember sitting in front of a well-known specialist at her office, praying nervously that after having knocked on so many doors, that perhaps she would consider using Rainbow for therapeutic programs for her patients.

“Your book is very nice,” she said. “But I have no use for it. Look at all these books people give me for my patients. Yours is not special.”

I walked out of that office in that famous hospital that day, wondering if it had all been a mistake.

Rainbow was useless. What a stupid dream.

Who here would listen to me speak anyway, with my localized Singaporean accent. I’ll never be a good speaker, at least never for an American audience.

I grappled with God sending me to the States. Really? Did You really spend more than $100’000, orchestrate three impossible scholarships and create this inexplicable block of time for us to come all the way to the States… just to start Kitesong Global? Seriously? And I can’t even seem to find open doors for the books. Is it not a waste, God?

At times, that’s all our struggles seem to be- expensive, exhausting, and altogether meaningless.

Yet, perhaps we often forget, that only the passage of time and the trust of hope allows the dusk to melt into dawn, and for treasures gleaned in the darkness to be shared in the light.

A week before the launch of Kitesong Global on Sarah-Faith’s birthday, just as I was preparing my talk called “A Chance to Dream,” I received a phonecall from a woman, a conference organizer from Tennessee, who was the ex-marketing director of renowned Christian bands like Delirious.

It was an abrupt phonecall, connected by a friend of a faculty member, who had chanced upon Rainbow when she picked it up in my professor’s office.

” I want you to come and speak at my conference this June. Come to Nashville. Talk about Dreams. Talk about Kitesong. Talk about Rainbow and how God healed you to do what you’re doing today. Will you be my keynote speaker? Will you come?”

As I stood speechless, it suddenly dawned upon me, that just when we think that our pain has all been for naught, God has His timing. And His timing is perfect.

The truth is, we all have been created and called to a purpose far greater than we know. Yet, for most of our lives, until we arrive at the crossing of preparation and opportunity, our lives will seem fragmented, lost, and at best, meaningless.

Yet, God never forgets our dreams. He never does because before the passage of time, He created them, us; He had called us each by name, and put those dreams in our hearts before time began, pulsing and burning with a longing for eternity.

A few days after that phonecall, as Cliff drove us through the most beautiful sunset, I started to ask God what my life was meant for. That if I were a candle, what would the flame my life was laid down for be used to bring light to?

And right there in the sunset melting into a million hues, He reminded me of the meaning of my name: 蔚 (Wei/Wai) which describes the splendor and glory of the skies, and 佳 (Jia), goodness and excellence.

And as I watched the sky melt into the glimmery twilight, I started to tear as the full meaning of my name came to me- the display of God’s goodness in the sky.

That was what Kitesong stood for, what its purpose is, and what my name means.

He had written it before time began, before my birth 31 years ago before this day.

So often, we think our pain has been for naught, a thought that exemplifies our pain further.

Yet, do we not realize that very often, before arriving at a sense of destiny, that perhaps, our entire lives are a series of preparatory steps, a probationary rehearsal waiting and anticipating for something greater?

People often look at the awards and accolades of others and think, “Oh wow, what a success.”

But the preceding years, decades even, before that point of convergence, where the nexus of passion and purpose meet, is a painfully mundane and seemingly purposeless course called preparation, waiting patiently in trusting hope for a spark called opportunity, to catalyze it into God-ordained Purpose.

At the Kitesong launch, I was surprised to see eyes filled with tears as I shared my talk- as people related to the stories of this universal, unexplainable thing called pain, so inextricably tied to our purpose. And just yesterday, as a I led a young woman who had come for the Kitesong launch to Christ, she shared with me the bizarreness of her pain. It was a pain I could relate to, without which I would never have heard her heart.

I am learning- that what the enemy tries to rob from us, is often the very thing God has planned for us to triumph over, to bring victory into the lives of others.

As I turn 31, I thank God for the seemingly senseless pain in our lives, that finds its purpose in His hope. I thank God for you for journeying with us through those moments, and for exulting in the joy He gives us when our pain turns to purpose.

Because that is only pain worth living for, the kind that never goes to waste.

Here’s sharing the video-recording of the message at Sarah-Faith’s birthday and the Kitesong launch:

 

Thank you once again for journeying with us.

We are always looking for people whose hearts are longing to make a difference.

If you have a gift, however small-

writing, photography, videography, reaching out through social media, teaching etc,

and you would like to

take a risk to be a blessing through Kitesong Global,

please write to us at waijia@kitesong.org.

Love,

Team Tam

Since the high of the launch of Kitesong Global and Sarah-Faith’s 1st birthday, an incident happened which had left me feeling low.

Yet, how God has His special ways of reaching out to us, reminding us how much we’re on His heart.

I was just about to leave the auditorium at church because Sarah-Faith had started to babble loudly during a guest speaker’s sermon when he stopped midway in his message and said over the microphone with a joke, “Hey I was once a baby too- Mama, please don’t leave,” asked for her name over the pulpit (which the audience shouted back) and then announced, “I want to give this children’s book of mine to Sarah-Faith.”

Sarah-Faith then gave a loud “BAAAAHH!” which rang through the entire auditorium at church, that met with warm laughs and applause.

Thank you God, for the special ways you remind us of how special and loved each of us are and for the gifts of joy you give to us daily.

This baby just makes a splash wherever she goes!

Happy Lunar New Year

 

It’s been a week since she turned one,

but she still loves leafing through all the birthday cards she’s received.

“From the bottom of our hearts, thank you!”

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Never in a million years.

I had dreamed it perhaps, twirled the thought around between fingers perhaps, but never in a million years, did I expect what happened.

I wasn’t even sure if all the seats would be filled. So when I returned to see a line spilling out into the hallways, when I saw extra chairs being moved into the hall, I thought another event might have been going on.

Never did I dream there’d come a day where security guards and fire marshals had to lock the doors of a hall because it was at full capacity.

Never in a million years did I dare expect to be speaking at the largest function hall at Hopkins on Sarah-Faith’s first birthday, launching our first social venture.

It all happened because of a series of miraculous events, catalyzed by prayer, and fueled by the love of a community, at Hopkins and around the world, who gave us a chance to dream.

I confess, I had dreamed a little dream, prayed a little wish several months ago- that with people whom we loved and who loved us, we could celebrate these two milestones together.

As I walked down the filled hall with Sarah-Faith on my arm and took the crowd in, I stood in awe, at how that little wish which found its shaky confidence only in the walls of a tiny classroom with homemade cupcakes had grown into what it had become.

The wide hall, the banquet seating arrangements, the video-recording crew, food, decorations, flowers, cake… all would have cost thousands of dollars in total.

Yet, through the generous love of faculty, friends and anonymous donors (I still don’t know who they are), this had all been sponsored, this was all happening.

The previous day’s event had the tables and chairs in the format I could only dream about, and so we avoided the set-up cost which would cost hundreds of dollars. The hall had actually already been booked for another event that evening and the facility supervisor said “I don’t do double bookings for this venue usually” but said she would make an exception for us. A large school-wide biostatistics concentration meeting was supposedly scheduled for the same time but my professors announced it would be cancelled for our event. Someone offered to video-record my talk without charge- “I’ll edit it for you for free too, because when I bless you, I feel I’m blessing the people who are blessed by your work too.”

It was as if an entire community stopped time for a moment for us. It was as if God had had it all planned, all before I even knew it would come to be.

Entitled “A Chance to Dream,” the day mirrored the theme of my talk as I talked about Kitesong, in that it reminded me, who are we to despise the day of small beginnings?

“Our dreams, no matter how small, can sometimes have unimaginable endings.”

I was nervous. With my personal faith being so entwined to my journey in global health, I wasn’t sure how people would respond. I was also speaking to a hall of some of the most distinguished people I respected and admired, some of the world’s top leaders, in the present day and future- why should they have anything to learn from me? What could I say that they didn’t already know? Worse, I was nervous that the books on Amazon had all been sold out and couldn’t be restocked in time for the event. What would they think?

But never in a million years, did I expect the outcome.

” I cried about five times.”
” It was so moving, my entire table teared.”
“You gave me chills as you spoke.”

As a way of thanking everyone at school for being such a family to us, for welcoming Sarah-Faith and I into lectures and seminars every day, for believing in me as a mother and student- that I could have the same opportunities as everyone else and not less, I decided to give away 100 copies of the limited edition first print of my 4 titles.

Even then, we were out-blessed.

” When will you release the video-recording?”
” Security wouldn’t let us in- you need to prepare for an overflow room next time. Would you give this talk again?”
” When will the books be out?”

Once upon a time, I had shared, publishers told me the books would never find a market because the books were too poignant to be children’s books and too guileless to be adult books. They were right.

And yet here was there an entire hall of people who overwhelmed us with their love and support to make this social venture even possible.

Such is the testament of the loving kindness of this family at Hopkins. What was supposed to be my way of thanking everyone for the support and love they had given us at school, became yet another avalanche of love and blessing from the community.

Cake on a cart for Sarah-Faith. A thousand candles that couldn’t be blown out by Mama. A handmade kite with everyone’s signature on it. A bouquet from Cliff. Cards, lots of cards. Gifts, lots of gifts. Hugs. Kisses. Book-signing.

Today, Kitesong Global is being set up as an international non-profit social venture that uses the power of narrative through the 4 picture books to catalyze change and transform communities- through education, advocacy, fundraising or otherwise, by uplifting the poor and promoting social justice.

Sarah-Faith, Mama decided to launch Kitesong Global on your birthday as a gift for you, because I want you to know that you, too, can dream big dreams. But they all happen when we first give the littlest of our littlest dreams to God. He’s the one who makes things grow.

As shared in my talk, the world often tells us that there’s no dream too big- but may I challenge us to consider, that perhaps, there’s no dream to small?

When the world said no, thank you for saying yes.

Because of you, Kitesong Global and Sarah-Faith and what and who they are today. Thank you for giving us a chance to dream.

On behalf of Sarah-Faith and Cliff, thank you for being a family to us. Thank you, to our friends all around the world too, for journeying with us all this while.

As shared in my talk, my prayer is that each of you would be set free to dream, and be free to set a million other kitesongs free.

Happy 1st Birthday, Sarah-Faith. Mama loves you.

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Waiting to start…

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Sharing my heart

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The Surprise Cakes from my Program Director

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A special kite made by my classmates for Sarah-Faith

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Surprise!

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So many candles!

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Saying Thank You

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My sweet professors, and Cliff’s sweet bouquet

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Book-signing with Sarah-Faith 

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100 books were given out as our way of saying Thank You

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Gifts and notes for Sarah-Faith

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This sweet child

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A Day to Remember

“Do not despise these small beginnings,

for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…”

-Zech 4:10

What started out as a little wish to celebrate Sarah-Faith’s first birthday in a little classroom at school with a small group of friends has gone beyond my wildest expectations.

The school program office ended up booking the largest function hall at Hopkins, professors cancelled a concentration meeting, and just last week, as I was making enquiries on catering to buy lunch as a way of thanking everyone for their love & support… my program director informed me that some anonymous donors had stepped in to sponsor the entire event, including lunch and cake for 200 people.

I’ll be giving a short talk on the intersection of publishing, philanthropy and global health, and launching Kitesong as a global social venture. If you’d like to come and enjoy lunch & cake on the house, feel free to join us tomorrow.

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