Hidayah Amin, a Political Science and European Studies alumni (NUS Class of 2001) and Fulbright Scholar 2006 shares her adventure in the United States of America and speaks about her latest book project.
I remember how my NUS days were filled with studying (of course), extra-curricular activities, Raleigh expeditions and other volunteer work. I even went on an exchange programme to Sciences-Po Paris! When I was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship five years later, I wanted to experience my overseas stinct to the fullest. Thus, amidst a hectic graduate school schedule, I made time to get acquainted to America the best way I know how – through community service. My stint in post-tsunami Aceh on a medical relief mission rekindled my passion in helping the sick and that encouraged me to volunteer weekly at St Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I was the back-up support for various departments and performed essential non-clinically related services for patients in St Luke’s Outpatient Dialysis Center.
My other community service activities included Lehigh University’s DC SERVE where I worked in various soup kitchens and homeless shelters in Washington DC, and WinterSERVE where our team worked with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for Hurricane Katrina survivors in Louisiana. I also initiated the ‘Young Lakota Film-maker Project’* where I taught film-making to Native American children in a South Dakota Sioux Indian Reservation. Working alongside Americans during such trips offered me insights into the American society’s woes and plight which the media sometimes neglects.
I was fortunate to have interned pro-bono at the Department of Public Information (DPI) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City for six months after my graduation. I remember visiting the UN base camp in Aceh only to marvel at UN’s humanitarian involvement. Interning at the UN further enhances my understanding of the UN and its overall purpose as the centre of harmonising the actions of nations in maintaining international peace and security. Being involved in organising the DPI NGO Annual Conference on Climate Change had enabled me to network with various NGO representatives, prominent UN officials, representatives of UN member states as well as eminent academics. I was amazed at how strong and dedicated the NGOs were in advocating important issues such as health, the environment and education. As an intern, I was also involved in the weekly briefings for NGO representatives about issues ranging from the eradication of poverty to eliminating stigma on HIV-positive patients.
What I value most about my American experience is the exchange of ideas and the engagement of minds. A social psychologist once said that friendly and sustained contacts erode prejudice. The way to achieve understanding is to build bridges of friendship between societies and cultures. And I am indeed privileged to be able to build many wonderful bridges during my stay in America.
My latest project is to publish my book ‘Gedung Kuning, Memories of a Malay Childhood’ in January 2010. The collection of 28 short stories revolves around my childhood home (Gedung Kuning or the Yellow Mansion) which was acquired by the Singapore government in August 1999 under the Land Acquisition Act. What used to be our family home from 1912 is now preserved as a historic building under the Malay Heritage Centre. Through the short stories, readers get a historical narrative detailing the lives of people living in Gedung Kuning and the Malays of Singapore from 1850 to 1999. Given that the scholarships on the Malays remain far and few, I hope the book will facilitate and enrich the sharing of our cultural and intellectual heritages.