17 June 2015: If I had one more day to live, I would…

Written by Clare Isabel Ee | Images provided by Joyan Tan 

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Students Joyan Tan (L) and Carissa Lim (R) teamed up to organised the Living Wall. Image provided by Joyan Tan

What would you do if you had one day left to live?

For one week in April 2015, the Yale-NUS community faced this question in their Dining Hall every day.

On chalkboards were the words “If I had one more day to live, I would…”, to which students, staff and faculty wrote their personal responses.

An eye-opening assortment of answers found their way onto the board over the week, ranging from humourous ones – “Play League of Legends (1 game)” – to more heartfelt ones such as “Make sure the people I love know that I love them”.

Organised by Joyan Tan and Carissa Lim (Class of 2017), the chalkboards were a part of the Living Wall project that aimed to raise awareness about paediatric palliative care and to raise funds for patients at Rachel House in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Established in 2006, Rachel House (or Yayasan Rumah Rachel) is the first paediatric palliative care hospice in Indonesia.

The hospice provides home-based end-of-life care to children with life-threatening illnesses from poor communities in Jakarta, “allowing them to live with joy and dignity in a non-discriminatory, safe and loving environment” (Rachel House).

The children’s family members can also approach Rachel House to attend informative sessions on the illnesses, and basic caregiving techniques to implement at home.

“Palliative care isn’t something that is discussed often since the topic of death can be sensitive and difficult to broach, but we believe that it is a very important topic that just needs to be approached in the right light,” shared Joyan.

The students were inspired to launch the Living Wall at Yale-NUS after they completed an internship at Rachel House over their mid-year break in 2014, and after they saw examples of another campaign created by Taiwanese-American artist, Ms Candy Chang.

In the original campaign started in 2011, Ms Chang decorated an abandoned house with the words “Before I die I want to…” as an interactive art experiment. The project soon gained global attention, and there have since been over 500 ‘Before I die’ walls in over 70 countries.

“We saw ‘Before I die’ boards that had been put up all over the world and the very positive reactions it had garnered. We decided this was an initiative we wanted to take up as well, to raise awareness about palliative care,” explained Joyan.

“However, we made the crucial change of words because we wanted the campaign to be about living rather than dying.”

The Living Wall proved to be a popular feature, with many students, staff and faculty members penning their bucket list wishes on the wall throughout the week.

Assistant Professor Anju Mary Paul, who participated with her husband, Vice Rector Eduardo Lage-Otero, says she found it “meaningful and sobering at the same time”.

She said: “Putting myself in a situation where I needed to think about my last day was not something I enjoy doing, but it reminded me about what actually matters.”

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Dr Paul (L) with her husband (R) and her message on the chalkboard. Image provided by Joyan Tan

Joyan, Carissa and a few of their peers who were involved were also on hand to encourage the community to donate money that would help fund transportation costs for the children at Rachel House, as many of the patients live far away from Jakarta and low-income families face the difficulty of bringing the children to medical facilities in the city.

Apart from the Wall, Carissa printed a colouring book she had created during her internship at Rachel House for Yale-NUS students to colour and decorate, eventually turning it into a storybook. The final product was bound and given to Rachel House, along with well wishes received.

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Students colouring the storybook by Carissa. Image taken from the Living Wall Facebook page 

The founder of Rachel House, Ms Lynna Chandra, was also invited to the College to give a Rector’s Tea, during which she spoke about the work done at Rachel House.

By the end of the Living Wall project, the team had raised S$4,112.30, and they were moved by the generosity and deep reflection that emerged through the project.

“The entire campaign was extremely enriching for me,” said Joyan. “Sharing our stories and experiences at Rachel House also led me to further appreciate the work that the Rachel House nurses and staff do on a daily basis.”

She added: “These volunteering opportunities sometimes feel too touch-and-go, but being able to help even after leaving Jakarta for many months was something that we were both very thankful for.“