Sitting in the Sahara

“I was an IT executive on a plane every week when the 1997 SilkAir crash happened. If my next flight were to crash, my biggest regret would be not seeing the world the way I wanted. So I quit my job to do that.

That’s how I wound up backpacking in the Sahara in 2002, while visiting a fellow traveller. I was invited on a short road trip, which ended up being a week when the jeep broke down. I stayed in Chinguetti, once the seventh holiest city of Islam, a short walk to sand dunes eight storeys high — a powerful sight! I’d sit on the dunes, watch the sun rise, and return for sunset and moonrise.

I was 38 years old and wondering what to do with my life. I had opportunities to continue with IT, to live and work in California, China, Spain and Portugal. But I was no longer attracted to material things. I had no idea of sustainability yet, but I knew I wanted a very simple life.

At that time, I read about the Singapore government’s 100 recommendations on remaking Singapore in the news. Two bothered me. The first was teaching Singaporeans to take risks — but how do you do that when everything is so well taken care of in Singapore? I knew risk. I had no paper qualifications yet worked my way up and then left my six-figure salary job to travel.

The second was about teaching Singaporeans to be more creative. Creative meant art and artists, fashion and designers, things I’m not. I never thought myself as creative until I started backpacking and learned about creative living. That’s when it hit me, sitting in the desert where it was only me, the sand and the sky — I would go back. I wanted to contribute by helping to make the changes Singapore was looking for. That’s how Ground-Up Initiative started in 2008, to encourage risk-taking and creativity with responsibility, leadership and teamwork, in a 21st century kampung spirit that reconnects people with the earth.”

 — Tay Lai Hock, Founder of Ground-Up Initiative

 


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