Jurong Lake Clean-up campaign: Volunteering experiences

It was a straw that broke the Internet and started a worldwide environmental movement.

Was it the straw that broke the camel’s back?

Yes, symbolically it was.

Was it the straw that was stuck in a sea turtle’s nostril, as shown in a viral video in 2015?

Yes, literally it was.

It was the final straw that galvanised conservationists and animal rights activists into action.

The interesting thing is that it isn’t the usual kind of straw, but a tiny one.

It shows how even tiny things can cause so much suffering.

It also shows how just one living creature that was being subjected to suffering can create such a huge global impact…

To the extent many restaurants started banning or limiting the use of plastic straws.

And a number of people with certain disabilities were unhappy to be deprived of being able to use a straw to drink in those restaurants.

Some substitutes of plastic straws, such as metal straws, also turn out to be dangerous to use if one is not careful.

It shows how complex and intersectional environmental issues are.

Nevertheless, it presents lessons for us to learn and understand how to be more empathic.

Doing a clean-up at Jurong Lake on 13 Dec 2020 (Sunday), organised by Red Dot United (RDU), provided me and other volunteers such an opportunity to show empathy to our wildlife.

This tiny plastic straw reminds me of the straw that was stuck in a sea turtle’s nostril shown in the viral video in 2015.

Like Elijah Tay, the youngest member of RDU at the age of 18, wrote:

“I think that this whole journey, albeit a short one, was a perfect metaphor of our society.

Singapore is a triumphant land with luxurious sights.

Despite this, like the footpaths that give a reason for most of us not to venture beyond the path already put in place for us, our privilege also often gets in the way of us being able to broaden our perspectives and recognise the problems that are not in plain sight, yet are happening right under our noses.

If only we took the effort to take a step away from status quo, from what is comfortable, we could redistribute our energy to undo our contributions to the suffering of others.

Empathy takes intention, and it is only with such intentional efforts that we can build our space based on something substantial and thorough, going beyond what we see on the surface.

If anything else, I think my experience through the Jurong Lake Clean-Up also served as a timely reminder about what it means to serve and advocate.

This pilot event may seem trivial, but it is one that will pivot us towards greater advocacy for our people and every other life placed under our care.”

If you are keen on getting involved in such future events, you may like to follow Red Dot United (RDU) Facebook page.

P.S. On a similar note, there is another kind of “straw” that has sparked a wildlife conservation movement. It is called a straw-headed bulbul, a critically endangered bird. Singapore is one of its last strongholds. You can hear their songs in Bukit Batok Hillside Park, which is also in danger of being “developed” partially for housing. Refer to the link here for more information.


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