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Heroes Unmasked: Inspired by his own tough time, he led effort to make 750 journal kits for IMH patients

SINGAPORE — When he was going through a rough patch during the circuit breaker period, Jonathan Kuek, a 29-year-old research assistant and doctoral student from the University of Sydney, turned to writing in a journal to pen down his thoughts.

Heroes Unmasked: Inspired by his own tough time, he led effort to make 750 journal kits for IMH patients

The journal kits for patients at the Institute of Mental Health created by Mr Jonathan Kuek and his friends.

As Singapore battles the Covid-19 outbreak, TODAY’s Heroes Unmasked series highlights those who are doing their bit to spread kindness and compassion during this period. In this instalment, we talk to Mr Jonathan Kuek about how he turned his own challenging experience into a gift for others facing their own battles.

SINGAPORE — When he was going through a rough patch during the circuit breaker period, Jonathan Kuek, a 29-year-old doctoral student from the University of Sydney, turned to writing a journal to pen down his thoughts.

His research work, weekly volunteering stint at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and doctorate studies in psychiatric rehabilitation had to be put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Besides these disruptions, Mr Kuek’s grandfather died in May, during the circuit breaker period that curtailed movement and activities and that lasted from April 7 to June 1.

“Writing helped me to externalise some of these issues and to get them out of my head, akin to having someone to talk to without needing to have someone physically there to talk to,” Mr Kuek said.

As a result of these difficult times, which Mr Kuek said led him to feel “a lot of sadness” and emptiness, he conceived the idea of creating a journal kit for inpatients at IMH — patients who are hospitalised for treatment.

Mr Kuek has been volunteering with IMH since October 2014, when he was studying psychology as an undergraduate.

Since all physical activities with volunteers have been suspended from January, Mr Kuek decided to create the kits to help inpatients occupy their time meaningfully.

He rallied two fellow leaders from the youth volunteering group, Matchsticks of IMH, before seeking the help of six other volunteers who demonstrated strong commitment.

Together, the nine-member team started the “Journey with Journaling” project in May.

At the beginning of June, the group was prompted by an acquaintance of Mr Kuek’s to apply for a grant under the Oscars@sg fund run by Temasek Trust, the philanthropic arm of Singapore investment firm Temasek.

In the last week of June, the team was awarded funding from Oscars@sg to create 750 journal kits for IMH. The Oscars@sg fund supports ground-up initiatives that respond to significant and urgent community needs in Singapore due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Mr Kuek declined to disclose how much funding his team received from Oscars@sg, he added that he and another teammate had put in another S$1,000 to help pay for the kits.

The journal kit includes a pocket notebook, colour markers and pens, origami papers and stickers designed by his team.

There is also an instructional booklet on four different easy techniques on writing a journal that can be practised by anyone — along the themes of gratitude, reflection, coping strategies and narrative writing.

Under each technique description, users are provided with simple prompt questions such as what they feel grateful for, which they can attempt to answer as they journal.

It also contains a motivational handwritten card and note for the patients, which Mr Kuek and his teammates wrote over two weeks.

On Friday (July 24), the 750 kits were donated to IMH, which will distribute them to the inpatients of the acute ward in the coming week.

Ms Samantha Ong, chief nurse at IMH, said that journal-writing is a healthy way for patients to express their emotions and feelings.

“It can also help them identify their stressors and ways to manage these. As they prepare for their discharge, our activity nurses will guide them on how to use these journals,” Ms Ong said.

She added that the case managers and nurses of the hospital will assess patients' readiness to engage in writing a journal. The activity would be appropriate when their conditions have stabilised or when they are being prepared for discharge, she added.

On the challenges they faced, Mr Kuek said that his team encountered a lot of uncertainty due to the Covid-19 situation.

They were fearful that another circuit breaker might be declared after they accepted the grant, which could have prevented them from meeting up to pack the kits.

Their project is the first time that journal-writing has been done in a volunteer-led initiative at IMH.

Ms Tan Khai Teng, 21, a fellow volunteer who is studying psychology at the National University of Singapore, said that the most challenging aspect of the project was having to spend three hours a day for two weeks to help out with the design of the kits.

“I had to juggle my short-term internship during the period, which required a balancing of time and time management.

“It’s bittersweet to see this project complete as the team worked very well together and we are very pleased by the outcome,” she said.

On plans for the immediate future, Mr Kuek said that he hopes to partner the Tapestry Project, an initiative that promotes mental wellness, to bring journal-writing to an even wider audience.

“We are hoping to target secondary schools as our first potential avenue to promote the concept of journal-writing as a mental health and wellness activity,” Mr Kuek said.

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Jonathan Kuek journaling kit hospital Covid-19 coronavirus

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