Honouring Extraordinary Women

VisionsMulti-tasking comes naturally to Ann Phua, founder of Hemispheres Foundation — from championing major causes like protecting the environment and providing education to children, to housing the homeless, providing clean water to villagers and empowering women to make time for their loved ones.

 

By Swapna Mitter

 

It was her love for nature that led Ann Phua to set up the Hemispheres Foundation (hemispheresfund.org) in 1996. She had a clear goal in mind — to provide environmental education to children, and through them, educate the larger community.

The foundation, a social enterprise run by a small team of Singaporeans and expatriate professionals in Singapore, has reached out to more than 500,000 children, bringing into focus issues like global warming and environmental waste.

Hemispheres spearheads campaigns in developing nations like Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar, with Phua travelling to these countries to spread the message among the locals to be more environmentally conscious.

The indomitable 63-year-old also chairs the International Women’s Federation of Commerce and Industry Singapore (IWFCIS) — a global business network that provides women entrepreneurs access and resources to participate in business and networking opportunities.


Improving Women’s Lot

“In every culture, in every part of the world, women have always multi-tasked, working quietly behind the scenes to improve the lives of their families and the wider community. We want to recognise these unsung heroes — women with guts to follow their passion in business,” says Phua.

 

“... we hope to inspire other women that they too can be extraordinary.”

 

In 2012, IWFCIS instituted the Xtraordinary Women Award which recognises and honours women who successfully manage the domestic front while making a mark as entrepreneurs and social activists. Phua says that what makes a woman extraordinary is “selflessness and belief in family values”.

Phua adds that this award is not about self-glorification; rather that “by recognising women for their excellence, we hope to inspire other women that they too can be extraordinary”.


RAISING FEMALE DO-GOODERS

Like Phua, last year’s winner of the Xtraordinary Women Award, Linda Aich is also a mentor to other women who are fighting the odds in life and who want to give back to society. The 41-year-old mother of two was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago after she moved to Singapore from France. When she overcame her battle with cancer, her perspective towards life changed. “I quit my job as I didn’t want to be in the rat race any longer,” explains Aich.

 

From left to right: Ann Phua (centre in orange blouse) with Cambodian women and children who were among the 1,000 homeless locals resettled into new houses fitted with a kitchen and toilet, under her Zero Carbon Resettlement Village project in Cambodia.

Three years ago, Aich started Green Caravel, a company that sources sustainable and eco-chic products from artisans all over the world, and 5% of her sales proceeds go to various charities.


IMPROVING LIVING STANDARDS

Phua has her hands full with many projects. One example is the Zero Carbon Resettlement project which the foundation initiated in 2011. More than 1,000 homeless people were resettled into new houses near Phnom Penh in Cambodia with facilities like toilets, kitchens, wells and a bio-digester system which converts human, animal and agriculture waste into natural gas for cooking and lighting at night.

 

“In every culture, in every part of the world, women have always multi-tasked, working quietly behind the scenes to improve the lives of their families and the wider community.”

 

Another is Project Clean Water where the focus is on raising hygiene standards by providing clean water for those living in the Indochina region. Others include Project Economic Empowerment which seeks to provide employment and enforce fair trade to improve the livelihood of people in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Bangladesh.


NATURAL MULTI-TASKER

Phua is the epitome of multi-tasking as environmentalist, entrepreneur, humanitarian, mother, grandmother and now author. Yet, she says, “As busy as it may look, I have time to relax, watch TV, play mindless computer games, cook and catch up with friends and family.”

“I prioritise and try not to procrastinate,” she explains, adding that she does not take up projects that she cannot fully commit to. But once she does, she gives all her energy to fulfilling that commitment.


MENTORED BY MOTHER

She counts her parents — especially her mother — as early inspirations of strength and selflessness. Phua’s father died when she was just eight, and her mother not only singlehandedly took care of her 10 children and the extended family, but also made time for neighbours.

“She was always concerned about others”, Phua says, speaking about her mother. “She was loved and well-respected in Tai Seng Village (located in Paya Lebar in the northern part of Singapore) where we grew up.” Growing up amid nature, Phua says she misses that spirit of community.

The journey that Phua has embarked on is not easy. She says it’s important to continue to strive and to make a difference: “Think deep and follow your heart. All you need to do is take the first step.”

 


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