When you think about community service, what comes to your mind first? Is it volunteering at a food shelter, organizing a beach cleanup, or perhaps it’s visiting a home for the elderly? For me, service means raising awareness for an issue close to my heart and giving a voice to those suffering in silence.
Through my research, I discovered that more than 70 million people worldwide struggle with eating disorders, and two-thirds of them never receive treatment. I realized that the stigma attached to this illness needed to be raised. I wanted to create a community where mental health issues can be addressed and not neglected.
Hence, for my high school Independent Study Module (ISM) last year, I decided to start an online business selling customizable jewellery featuring empowering messages. All of the profit made will go to a non-profit organization called Project Heal. Project Heal strives to provide treatment for those struggling with eating disorders who cannot afford it. I came up with the brand name SHRED (for Strength, Hope, Recovery, Eating Disorders).
I chose to sell customizable bracelets as I wanted each product to include a positive reminder that sufferers are not alone, that they are loved and can make a big difference in someone’s life. The message that I chose as the focus of my brand is, “You are enough”. So many of us crave validation and do not feel like we live up to the expectations of others, yet we just have to remember to be whoever we are and to own our personalities.
ISM gave me the opportunity to explore my interests through a real world lens. In the first few months of Shred’s launch, I was able to shed light on eating disorders, and create ongoing conversations about this issue. I really believe that just talking about this issue can bring more understanding to others, hopefully leading to better treatment and prevention programs in the future. I managed to raise over 700 USD within the first few months. I realized how with just 500 USD, I can provide a month of specialized outpatient treatment for a recipient. The outcome of this project was much more than I expected. Not only was I able to give back to a community to help with eating disorder treatments, but I was also able to raise awareness for this issue. Through my business, I was given opportunities to share more about eating disorders, such as being featured in a documentary. However, the part that I valued the most was being able to connect with people going through these struggles. I was able to see how just by taking a tiny step to start a conversation on a taboo subject can make others feel less alone and heard.
Secondary schools and universities in Hong Kong are increasingly requiring its students to get involved in the community by doing voluntary work. For many high school students, community service may be spending time teaching underprivileged children a language, or perhaps joining a charity race, or holding a bake sale for a charity. All of these are great examples of service and must be encouraged. However, success is measured by total number of hours spent volunteering or the amount of money fundraised, and in some cases, the effort is centered around a one-time only event.
The Independent Study Module has however enabled me to combine community service with my passion and a cause that closely align to my personal values through the creation of a social enterprise that can affect lasting social impact while learning to be an entrepreneur.
By speaking up about important issues and encouraging others affected to start a conversation can help to enable change and enable long term positive impact. Starting a social enterprise was my way of enabling that conversation around eating disorders in a positive light. I created a platform where the focus was not on the exact amount of money I raised, but rather by the conversations that I started.
Starting an online business is just one of the many ways to enable change in the community. I encourage you to think about different ways that we can help others and to improve the community we are a part of.