It all started when 16-year-old Beatrice Wong picked up a newspaper article some time in early 2020, which reported a shortage of disposable masks.
She had also been having discussions with her family about the long lines outside pharmacies, with people looking to purchase masks. *This was prior to the Government's three mask distribution exercises. Read more here.
The Secondary 4 student from Greendale Secondary immediately thought about those who would have difficulty affording the face coverings, such as low-income families.
Reusable masks would come in handy for them, she thought.
And she quickly got to work.
Fortunately, Beatrice had picked up sewing skills from her grandmother since she was 12 – in fact, she had previously started a little home-based outfit called “My Ah Ma’s Attic”, which sold items like pouches and pencil cases that she had lovingly stitched together.
She chuckles, “I’m very skinny in person, so all my uniforms and skirts were always very loose. I would ask my grandma to mend it and make them tighter so they would fit me.
“My grandma was the one who passed her sewing skills to me so that I would be able to do it all myself, and I can pass this skill on to future generations.”
But sewing reusable masks was quite something altogether.
Sewing masks from scratch
As any other young person would, she first turned to YouTube to figure out the steps to making a fabric mask.
“I learnt that you first needed to trace the template on the fabric, then cut it out. You assemble it together and then use clips to make sure they don’t fly away. The final step is to sew the sides and add the strings so that the users can wear it comfortably,” she explains.
The fabric she uses comes from a variety of places. Some came from bedsheets or clothes they decided to upcycle, while others were from a “stash of fabrics we like to buy and hoard at home”, laughs Beatrice’s mum, Brenda Lin, a homemaker.
Beatrice admits that she’s got a perfectionist side – “If the lines are not straight, I would want to pick them out and sew them again. If it’s perfect for the first time, I can get a mask done in 20 minutes, otherwise it can be half an hour to 1 hour!”
Together with her brother, Adriel, 12, and their mum Brenda, the Wong family has made over 300 reusable masks since January this year.
More time during the Circuit Breaker
It’s no mean feat – especially since the Wong siblings both have major national examinations this year.
Beatrice is doing her ‘O’-levels, and Adriel is doing his PSLE.
But the period of Home-Based learning during the Circuit Breaker gave them the extra time – and push – they needed.
“We couldn’t do the outdoor activities that we used to, so the next best thing was to do something unrelated to studying, something not from their textbooks. It’s a different type of classroom learning for them,” says Brenda.
For one, Beatrice learnt the value of patience.
“By nature, I’m quite impatient, so I like to get things done quick and fast. But I realised thtat doing it fast would cause me to make mistakes. The lines won’t be straight, or I would forget to change the colour of the thread, causing me to have to redo it,” she says.
But making masks during their downtime was something that both Beatrice and Adriel embraced.
Notes Beatrice, “We have a schedule at home to follow, so during breaktime, instead of wasting time, sitting down there using my phone, why not use that time to do something even more meaningful, which is making those masks for those in need.”
It’s not Beatrice’s first foray into helping others in the community.
She also does volunteer work with charity organisation Helping Joy, assisting beneficiaries to de-clutter and clean up their homes, enabling them to live comfortably.
“Before COVID-19, the volunteers would sometimes bring the beneficiaries out, befriend them and make them happy. Now we can’t really do these things as some of them are quite old and are more vulnerable if they contract the virus,” she says, adding that making masks for them is one way she can continue supporting them.
Charity begins at home
For the Wongs, giving back to the community is part and parcel of life, with the family frequently volunteering with ground-up initiatives since Beatrice was 12.
Brenda shares her thoughts, “As parents, we are our children's first teachers. Knowledge can be gained from books, but values can only be learnt from home.
“My husband and I firmly believe that some experiences and lessons cannot be taught in books.”
She adds that she often reminds her children that all national exams are just a checkpoint. “Their lives and futures are not determined by a few numbers. It is the values and the attitude that will set their future path.”
Taking the first step
While Beatrice admits that there aren’t many of her friends who are as keen on volunteering as she is, she feels it is a matter of just taking the first step.
“I think they are keen, but they don’t really dare. They are scared, they don’t know what the consequences are,” she explains.
For instance, some of them might have had experiences where they tried to help an elderly person, but the elderly person may have snapped back that he or she doesn’t really need the help, Beatrice adds. “That could be what’s holding them back.”
She urges other youth like her to just give it a shot.
“It doesn’t hurt to make the first move to help those in need. What you receive is beyond gratification. Step out of your comfort zones. You’ll be surprised that your hard work has paid off.
She smiles, “After all these experiences, I can say that I’m proud of who I’ve become.”
This article is part of a series of stories of Singaporean youth who have come forward to help the community, during this fight against COVID-19.
Many have stepped up during this time to help Singapore overcome COVID-19.
For more stories of youths who embody the #SGUnited spirit:
Find out how you can do your part for the community: sgunited.gov.sg