Death is a taboo topic in Singapore. Changing the way our society views death and dying will play a part in advancing understanding and acceptance of palliative care as a way to “add life to days, whether or not days can be added to life.”
If we do not even talk about death, how can we understand the wishes of our loved ones as they approach the end of life? A group of medical students decided that getting people to doodle on chalk boards was a way to start the conversation, and BID@Sg was born.
Shawn and Mervyn, both final year medical students from NUS (National University of Singapore) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, co-founded Project Happy Apples in 2013, with the vision of raising awareness of palliative care in the community by telling the stories of patients.
This year, in partnership with the Singapore Hospice Council, they brought the ‘Before I Die’ (BID) Project to Singapore. BID is a global art initiative aimed at engaging members of the community to share their dreams and aspirations on walls or boards in public spaces.
The team hopes to inspire Singaporeans to reflect on what’s most important to them in their lives, and to live a meaningful life by placing it in perspective with death.
In addition, the team went a step further to capture the voices and wishes of people through short interviews, creating a film in partnership with students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film, Sound and Video.
The video also encapsulates pearls of wisdom of several palliative care patients who wanted to share their thoughts of life before death and what it means to live a fulfilled life.
The full panel of ‘Before I Die’ boards, standing at 2.4m in height and 6.0m in length, were exhibited in various Singaporean shopping malls throughout the month of September, as well as on campuses of Singapore’s two largest universities, NUS and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Their presence in public spaces invites passers-by to share their hopes and dreams in a myriad of colours on the chalkboard, and to share what they have written with the wider community through social media.
There has been a warm reception to the boards, with members of the public taking to Instagram and Facebook to share their thoughts and photos of the boards. ‘To travel the world’, ‘To be able to help people’, ‘To spend time with loved ones’, and ‘Be happy’ are some of the recurring themes.
It is the palliative care patients, however, who have taught us the most – by sharing what it means to them to have lived a fulfilled life, and by looking forward to the simple things that bring joy and contentment. These are the people who are leading the way in showing us what is truly important in life before we pass on.
The BID Project in Singapore is scheduled for its finale exhibition this year as part of the ‘Best-of-You. Exhibition in Marina Square from 13-18 October, as well as during the Voices for Hospices Concert on 17 October, in celebration of World Hospice and Palliative Care Day.
Beyond this year, the team hopes to hand the project over to future generations of medical students, in order to continue the effort to raise awareness of palliative care and the importance having those “caring conversations” that help people to live meaningfully to the end.
Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
Singapore Hospice Council.
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