The New Paper
Saturday, Nov 28, 2015
There's not much local host-actress Belinda Lee hasn't experienced in her eight years of presenting travel shows.
From digging graves and handling human remains in the Philippines to rescuing abandoned children on the streets of India, the 38-year-old has done a lot to get stories around the world.
She is sharing some of these stories in her new book Larger Than Life: Celebrating The Human Spirit, which was unveiled at a private launch at The Arts House yesterday and is available at all major bookstores. It is priced at $23.35 (before GST).
The 231-page book, her first, is a collection of heartwarming tales of some of the inspiring people Lee met, mostly when she was hosting award-winning Channel U travelogue Find Me A Singaporean, which premiered in 2007.
The show featured Lee travelling to exotic places to meet Singaporeans who have moved there for personal reasons or social and humanitarian causes. Its fourth season aired last November.
Speaking to The New Paper over the phone, the World Vision Singapore ambassador said: "I was greatly influenced by these ordinary people doing extraordinary things and I became a changed person. I realised the show I had been working on has a life of its own and has inspired many people, be it friends, family or viewers."
She added: "It was almost selfish of me to keep those stories to myself. I felt I had to share it with the world."
In the introduction of Larger than Life, Lee wrote that while her entertainment career at MediaCorp was "exciting and new" in the beginning, she had a nagging feeling she wasn't fulfilling her deeper purpose, which made her "sad and a little empty".
Being involved in Find Me A Singaporean turned things around, as it allowed audiences to see a side of her that was "fun, emotional, inquisitive and vulnerable".
She also received hundreds of e-mails from viewers who were moved after watching the show and that "enriched, empowered and restored" her life.
Lee then looked through her catalogue of more than 50,000 photos taken over the years and approached local publisher Marshall Cavendish.
She said: "I was so overwhelmed and it took me two years to work on the book. It was a tough call having to choose only 10 profile stories as I've met so many inspirational people. This is a book with so much emotion, humanity and heart."
While filming another travel show The Places We Live In, Lee met cemetery caretaker Rizalito in the Philippines, who asked her to help him remove the skeleton of a man from a tomb.
Lee's terror at handling the human bones with her bare hands at that point turned into deep respect for undertakers.
Lee also recalled meeting Mr Ravi Rai - "the Singaporean whom to this day I call my hero" - while filming her first episode of Find Me A Singaporean in November 2006 in Lucknow, India.
Then 43, Mr Rai spent his time there setting up homes for abandoned and vulnerable children on the streets.
Today, his Singapore-registered non-governmental organisation (NGO) CoME, or Children of Mother Earth, runs five homes housing about 200 children in Delhi, Lucknow and Gorakhpur in northern India.
She said: "I saw firsthand how these young children were sniffing drugs and then collapsing on the floor in front of me. Some even slipped into a coma for days.
"I had the chance to go with Ravi and befriend these street children, bring them back to the home so they can have a bright future. "These were the kind of things I was exposed to when I travelled."
She added: "It also taught me that whether you are a cleaner, a teacher or a caretaker, it's not about how much you earn, it's about how much value there is in your job. I have the utmost respect for all the people I met."
Despite the many challenges faced, like scavenging in a dumpsite and being hospitalised for food poisoning, Lee has not thought about giving up.
The socially conscious celebrity said with a laugh: "People label me as 'the artist who always does s*** jobs'. But someone also told me that's what makes me different and unique, as I take on jobs no other people would want to do.
She added: "There are enough negative reports in this world now. I think people need to hear positive, uplifting stories that will restore their faith in humanity.
This article was first published on Nov 28, 2015.
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