When Tam Wai Jia became a medical doctor, she was encouraged to pursue a life of wealth and prestige. However, a life-changing journey challenged her worldview of success. Having returned from a year-long stint serving in Uganda in 2014-2015, she launched her fourth picture book “Savour” in 2015, which radically challenges our conventional ideals of success.
To date, Wai Jia has been on more than 16 mission trips to make a difference to underprivileged communities around the world. Her humanitarian efforts were recognized through the Young Outstanding Singaporean Award 2011 and Singapore Woman Award Honoree 2011.
We interviewed Wai Jia to find out how her latest picture book Savour was born through a twist of events, and how she hopes it can impact the lives of youth and families in our nation.
1. What inspired you to write this book?
When I became a medical doctor, people had plans for the perfect future for me. I was encouraged to climb the ladder of success, under the guise of becoming "more useful to society". With more, I was convinced that I would be happier.
However, a painful journey of self-discovery revealed to me that there was more to life than that.
When I met my husband, Cliff, my worldview was overturned. Having survived liver cancer, his resilience brought him to complete a 14-hour Iron Man endurance event (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) after a liver transplant. In his words, God gave him a second chance at life. This inspired him to live life to the fullest, and to take every chance to serve the needy whenever he could.
My turning point in life came when Cliff encountered a medical crisis, shortly before we married each other. To the doctors' bewilderment, they could neither find the cause to the problem nor offer any solution to it. When it happened, I prayed and asked God why. Later, my husband's condition miraculously settled down on its own. It was just medically inexplicable.
Through this crisis, I had a glimpse of the brevity of our lives. It was then that I realized that while accolades, academic achievements, money, and status all hold a charming allure, they are not the important things in our lives.
Following this, Cliff and I both felt a divine inner calling to take a leap of faith to serve in Africa for an extended period of time. However, leaving our home, career plans and material comforts behind was an excruciating process. I grappled through grief as I struggled to let go of the things which I had tied my identity so strongly to. My entire worldview of success crumbled.
But we felt that it was worth it, in light of the second chance God had given to us to live.
Savour was thus birthed through a pilgrimage of discovering what it means to truly live a life of purpose, through my journey in the working world and serving the poor in the pearl of Africa and back.
To find out more about Cliff & Wai Jia’s time of service in Africa, watch Channel NewsAsia’s documentary A Singaporean Abroad.
2. How have your personal experiences influenced the writing and painting of this book?
Many have commented that the illustrations in Savour have been the most powerful of my 4 picture books. Though the illustrations may appear child-like, many youths and older adults have shared that the illustrations spoke volumes to them, echoing their experiences of struggling through their journey to success.
The rich analogies and metaphors in the book were birthed from a period of pain, as I myself struggled and sought to discern what it truly means to live a life worth savouring.
3. How would you like your readers to respond after reading this book?
It is my heart's desire for the young people of our nation to be challenged to redefine their ideals of success. Through various platforms and dialogues, I hope that Savour can spark meaningful conversations within families, schools and workplaces about our ideals of success. For instance:
Is success defined by wealth and prestige, or can we write our own stories of making a difference to our world?
Is grooming my child to be a doctor or lawyer the only pathway for him/her to “make it” in life?
If I am not academically outstanding, does that mean I am a failure?
As we ponder over the meaning of true success and grapple with the tensions between societal expectations and our inner giftings and callings , I hope to inspire us to consider how we can each live our lives to the fullest, making a meaningful difference to those around us.
As Singapore celebrates 50 years of achievements this year, I hope we can take time to ponder over the values we wish our next 50 years of success to be built upon.
4. To whom is your book dedicated to, and why?
Savour is dedicated to God, my parents, and my husband, Cliff.
While my parents were traditional Chinese parents who always encouraged me to study hard, I am grateful that they gave me the opportunity to pursue my calling in life to serve the needy. I remember that they told me, "You have a responsibility to help those less fortunate around you. How you choose to do that depends on you. But choose something you are good at, that no one else can do." I am thankful they taught me the right balance between working hard and following my heart.
5. What cause does the book support and where can I get a copy?
Savour was written to impact lives, for us to reconsider what our ideal successes really are. As we do so, I hope we can remember the global responsibility we have to make a difference to someone else’s life.
At present, Wai Jia and Cliff have started an international social venture called Kitesong Global. Kitesong Global is dedicated to catalyzing change and inspiring community transformation to empower underserved women and children, through philanthropy, advocacy and education. At the intersection of art, global health and civic engagement, Kitesong Global is dedicated to promoting social justice and inspiring people through the power of narrative through their books.
To find out more information, please visit www.kitesong.com.
Wai Jia's books are available at venues such as Faithworks Bookstore, Focus on the Family Singapore and on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/waijia.