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... stories, adventures and all things related to life in Singapore and Southeast Asia by AWA members

How to Be The Light for Others in the Community

"You are Not Alone, Really" - Coping with the Ups and Downs of Expat Life, by Andrea McKenna Brankin

My whole life, I'd always been a talker. After some serious mental health problems, I learned something new: I learned how to listen. And when I went through my dark times with bipolar disorder, I saw what it meant to find the light in people to help myself heal. I always promised myself and the universe that I would give that light back. (I wrote about all of this in my personal-journey book, Bipolar Phoenix, available exclusively on Amazon and Kindle worldwide.)

Turns out learning to listen has been the best way to give that light back to my community, including the AWA, for which I launched the Listen Ladies group. We're here on a WhatsApp chat, coffee talks and walk and talks whenever you need us.

Finding light in your community can be fun or challenging, depending on how you're feeling. We can find literal lights during arts week, when the city lights up all its museums and buildings with colorful displays, or even on Orchard Road during Christmas, which this year seems to feature clouds and bear lights. You can't help but feel uplifted when watching the Marina Bay Sands light show with its fountains, music and electric lasers. Singapore really brings the light on!

When it's challenging, though, where can you go? Some go inside and rely on their personal faith and resilience to get through tough times. Some have churches, temples or synagogues. Some have the walking group or morning coffees, where they can connect and blow off some steam. And I hope you all know you also have the Listen Ladies. You can sign up through the AWA website and we'll add you to our WhatsApp chat. All Moods Welcome. Always.

AWA ladies walking together at MacRitchie

Being the light for your community is another way to serve yourself and your people. I found a great list from that shows us how to help do this:

  1. Smile. It's one of the most basic things you can do. A quick flash can make all the difference in an exchange, however brief.

  2. Be there for a friend. Sitting with someone who's struggling can be hard. But this is where the rubber hits the road. Be that person.

  3. Give genuine compliments. Words have power and reinforcing positive affirmations are very good for mental health.

  4. Be friendly. That delivery girl may be having a hard day. Say hello, thank you, goodbye and smile. Go out of your way to be nice to people who probably don't get much interaction, like old folks and helpers.

  5. Use your passion. Becca says one way to shine your light is using your art to make people feel something. I did this to write my own book. And I hope it helps people.

  6. Share your optimism and gratitude. It's pretty common these days to hear negativity all around us. For me, I see it more outside of Singapore, but it's still here, too. Nevermind the skeptics, positive attitudes and being grateful for what we have can undo a lot of damage from negative thinking. And that could really impact others in a good way.

  7. Give to charity. Donate your time and/or money to needy causes. Volunteer for Willing Hearts or AWA's Food for the Heart. Donate to animal shelters or cancer support organizations. Find something close to your heart. There's always someone who needs a little light in the way of funding.

  8. Give what you can. If you don't have money, per se, give more of yourself. Your light can shine through your personality, your smile, your gestures. Believe and know that you can make a difference.

  9. Listen with intent. I would put this one higher up! Put the phone down and listen to people talk about work, or their lives or their kids. Making an effort to actively show interest can mean a lot to people even over little things.

  10. Empathize with others. Sympathy is feeling bad for others. Empathy is feeling the feelings they feel so you know how they feel to be in their shoes. It's another very powerful and selfless act that may make you a little uncomfortable, but really shines a light for people in distress.

I hope you can find some value in this list and maybe sneak a few into your daily life. You never know when you'll make a difference to someone who needs a little light. Let's share that light with everyone!


A mental health advocate and author of the book Bipolar Phoenix, Andrea runs the AWA Listen Ladies Group, providing confidential support for members at regular meetings. You can reach her at


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AWA members are women who come from many countries and life experiences but they all have one thing in common — they have chosen to live in Singapore. Some members are new to Singapore,  while some have been here a long time or have returned to Singapore after time away. Our magazine - written and curated by AWA members - focuses on a diverse range of topics including wellness and family, travel tips, cultural events and information, and other helpful tips around navigating and experiencing life in Singapore to it's fullest. 

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