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How My Illness Gave Me Strength

How My Illness Gave Me Strength

Standfirst: As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. For Sherry Soon (Class of 1997), being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease not only taught her about compassion and empathy, but also gave her the courage to start a ground-up movement, Be Kind Sg, so that she can help uplift others in need.

Sherry Soon Meixiang (second from left), Founder & Executive Director, Be Kind Sg

 The teachers who had the greatest impact on me.
All the teachers in SNGS had helped in shaping the woman I am today. In Primary School, I had an entrepreneurial streak and tried to sell beaded bracelets, even roping in some classmates to make them. The venture didn’t succeed as my form teacher found out and halted it. However, she did not mete out any punishment and instead shared that it was not an appropriate setting. At a very young age, I learned compassion from her, even though I did not understand what it meant at that time.

Favourite & most dreaded spots on campus.
My favourite spot at school, during my Primary School days, was the old playground. I remember playing on the merry-go-round and climbing up the metal structures in the playground and catching (and releasing) tadpoles in the pond when I was waiting for my CCA to start. Those were the carefree days that I look back with a smile. I don’t remember a most dreaded spot but running on the track definitely wasn’t one of my strong suits.

My fondest memory of school days.
Besides playing in the playground as mentioned above, my fondest memory was the times spent in St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. We were a close-knit group and it was my first taste of leadership, being able to guide our juniors. I also learned from the discipline and commitment needed to participate in a uniformed group.

Words to my graduating self, back in 1997.
Listen to your instincts and trust yourself. Have faith that things will work out in the end.

Me in 3 words.
Empathetic. Brave. Human.

(Images from left the right) Sherry with her late mother, Sherry at the playground between the old Primary block and the Hall, circa 1980s, Sherry at Pre-Primary

My biggest regret from school days.
I wish I had more confidence to speak up for myself.

What inspired you to start Be Kind SG(2017) and Autoimmune Diseases SG (2013)?
I was diagnosed with vasculitis, a chronic autoimmune disease, at 19 years old. During flares, painful ulcers occur on my feet and I will have to be hospitalized and put on bed rest for 2-3 months. On top of dealing with the symptoms, pain and fatigue, it affected my social life, career and how I felt about myself. I felt lonely as no one around me could fully understand my medical condition.

Hence, in 2013, I started Autoimmune Diseases SG to meet people diagnosed with such diseases and form an informal support group to share with each other along our lifelong journeys of dealing with these diseases.

With my autoimmune disease, I sometimes felt misunderstood as I looked like a typical healthy person. I realized also, through my career of teaching children with special needs, that there were many other kinds of ‘invisible’ disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities. This inspired me to start Be Kind SG in 2017 to create and inspire a kind and inclusive society for persons with invisible disabilities. I hope that everyone will be able to treat people with compassion and empathy, just like how you would like to be treated yourself.

Could you share briefly on how your roles/ visions differ in terms of the 2 organisations?
I’m the Executive Director of Be Kind SG, a non-profit organization, and Autoimmune Diseases SG is now a program we run under Be Kind SG. We currently support adults living in adult disability homes, the special needs community and those diagnosed with autoimmune diseases.

We spotlight these communities through our advocacy via social media and bridge these communities to the wider community through volunteering opportunities. We activate support for these communities through various approaches, such as by creating micro-business opportunities for youths with special needs and their caregivers.

What are some of the biggest challenges during your journey of starting the organisations?
I think the biggest challenge is that progress doesn’t always look like a straight line and sometimes it can be hard to internalize this concept and explain to your volunteers and stakeholders. I’ve only recently registered Be Kind SG as a non-profit organization, after running it for 4.5 years as a ground-up movement, and the challenge is that while my strengths are in community development and engagement, running a non-profit organization requires many different business skillsets that I’m still learning!

What motivates you to tirelessly help and give back to community?
Having an autoimmune disease taught me that life is precious and that we should live it as meaningfully and as purposefully as we can, with our limited time here.

How do you think your years in SNGS shaped who you are today?
SNGS taught me the meaning of 饮水思源and even though I would not wish for another person to be diagnosed with vasculitis, I am always grateful for the lessons and even opportunities my autoimmune disease had brought me. With this perspective, that is how I turned my weakness (my autoimmune disease) into my strength, and I thank SNGS for shaping who I am today.

Any words of encouragement for our fellow alumnae? And for our 妹妹们 who are currently at school?

Life can be tough sometimes but if we embrace gratitude, we will somehow be able to get through these tough times. And when we do, we have to pay it forward by uplifting the communities around us. Be kind and be grateful always😊

Sherry with a Be Kind Sg beneficiary