On a reading journey with terminally ill children

SINGAPORE - Medical student R.R. Pravin approached a doctor last year to help him with a research project on palliative care for children.

But when she discovered his passion for writing, she persuaded him instead to write books for youngsters with terminal illnesses, aimed at helping them to come to terms with death.

Timba's Rainbow Journey and Will's Magical Christmas - produced with 35 of his fellow students and a publisher who offered her help for free - are now on sale for charity to benefit the KKH Health Endowment Fund.

"Palliative care is special because you're looking into the comfort of patients and all the positives," said Mr Pravin, a 20-year-old National University of Singapore (NUS) student. "I wanted to see how we can raise awareness about this field."

Last August, he approached Professor Chan Mei Yoke, head and senior consultant for haematology and oncology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), to ask if she would mentor his team for a project.

Prof Chan, who works with children with cancer and terminal illnesses, said she wanted to give parents and other adults a tool to broach the topic of death. "A lot of adults find it uncomfortable to talk about death and dying to children when it really is a part of life and should not be hidden from them, especially when the children are the ones affected," she said.

After they started work on the books, 35 other medical students volunteered to help.

The first challenge was to find a publisher. Mr Caleb Lim, 21, who was a chief editor along with Mr Pravin, said that the team tried more than 15 companies: "We sent a lot of e-mail and faced a lot of rejections or were just ignored."

This is when Madam Betty Tan, managing director of English Corner Publishing, came forward to offer her editing and publishing services.

Madam Tan, 61, who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon and liver cancer two years ago, immediately wanted to contribute when she found out the project would help kids with chronic illnesses.

"I felt a connection to them, especially when you look at children who are so young," said the single mother of four, whose cancer is now in remission.

Printing costs were covered by the Young ChangeMakers grant and sponsorship from Fraser & Neave Foods.

The editorial team, led by Ms M. Logaswari, 20, started writing the two stories in September last year.

Timba's Rainbow Journey, for kids aged four to seven, is about a tiger cub searching for the rainbow colours he lost. This represents falling ill and going through the journey with family and friends.

Will's Magical Christmas is for eight- to 12-year-olds and tells of Will's adventures as he fulfils his Christmas wishes. At the end of the book, he falls into a deep sleep.

The students will be reading the books to the children in the KKH oncology wards on Thursday.

Mr Lim added: "We hope the books will encourage the children and let them know they're not alone in their journeys as they grapple with illness."

The students hope to raise $15,000 for the KKH Health Endowment Fund. Since July, around 200 copies have been sold. The books are not on public sale yet but people interested can e-mail projectflytothesky@gmail.com

joseow@sph.com.sg


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