It started with Jollibee.
We must have gone to a children’s party at the popular fast food chain. I don’t even remember whose birthday it was, or when the party took place. I only remember seeing the box of the Jolly Kiddie Meal at home, and the little activity book inside.
I remember thinking, hey this would be great for Doctors Without Borders. I thought it would be a great way to explain to children what we do, who we are, how we can help them. I thought it could be something we could put in clinics and projects, so that children wouldn’t feel scared if they needed our help.
I also thought it would be awesome if it turned out to be something like the Star Wars Reads Day activity books, available online for download, completely free for anyone to use.
I was still so new to the team, but I brought it up with some people, and everyone thought it was a great idea! I had never written a book before, much less a children’s book, or any sort of activity book. But I kept thinking, how would I explain to my son the kind of work people did in my organization?
But then the pandemic hit, and for a few months I was languishing. There were days when I achieved little else except scouring the Internet for the contact information of journalists, or monitoring the news.
Eventually, the activity book became something else. My manager said to me, why don’t we make it an activity book to help kids understand this pandemic? She told me about her niece’s fears about COVID-19, and that people in her family would get sick. I thought about how we explained to Lucas the need for masks, and for sanitizing everything we purchased.
Inspired, I was able to quickly put together the content, imagining I was explaining masks and infections and handwashing to my son. My teammates loved it, and we got the content checked and vetted by medical people on the team. We were able to get renowned artist Elbert Or to do the illustrations and layout. I was so happy when he gave me a call and we discussed his ideas for making the book more interactive.
The most thrilling part was that our team decided to translate the book into different languages. At the time of launch in December 2020, the activity book was available in English, Filipino, Bahasa Indonesia, and Malay. We launched it in the Philippines and in Indonesia on the same day in December, and in Malaysia in January 2021.
We shared it with the rest of the Doctors Without Borders movement, and the response was so amazing! There was so much interest in translating it into different languages, using it in different projects, and sharing it with other organizations.
Now, the book is also available in Chinese and Arabic! (The Arabic version was just launched on June 15. Check out the video here!)
It’s an understatement to say I’m immensely proud of this project. I shed a few tears every time I receive a new inquiry about it, every time someone asks about the possibility of translating it into a new language, every time another office tells our team that they want to use it for something. With every story in the media, every tweet, every unsolicited comment about it, I feel amazingly happy.
In the months that we were putting this together, I called this my happy project. It was tough, and I worked late nights and weekends. The week before launch, I was on leave for my mom’s and my son’s birthdays, and still I was working: checking drafts, sending out invitations to the launch, preparing giveaways. I learned so much in the process of writing, working on the illustrations and layout, translating and proofreading, launching and promoting the book. I was so challenged by all the things I didn’t know, and so overwhelmed by the love and support of the team that put this book together.
Perhaps one of the biggest and most important things this project gave me was a sense of purpose and impact. A hospital clerk in a province of the Philippines asked if she could put it in their pediatric clinic. A Filipino doctor and field worker wanted to put it in her project in Syria. Our office in Dubai worked on the Arabic translation. Even our office in Canada wanted to use it!
It may have started with Jollibee and Star Wars, with my desire to talk about an organization I truly believe in, with the simple hope that my son will understand the work I do with thousands around the world. But it turned into something so much bigger, and it’s been unbelievable.