Thursday 20 February 2014

Dreams in a hat

Some women know exactly what they want. Bernadette is one of those. From the determined look in her eyes you can see she is not to be trifled with. Others need a little help finding their way in life. 

My 'Dreams Class', that I teach to domestic workers staying in the shelter of the charity I work for, is all about giving them hope for their future. Some positive feelings, and two hours of fun. To help them find their way in life, their dream, we are playing a game called ‘Dream in a Hat’. Everybody jots down three or four dreams for the future on a small piece of paper, their own or imagined, crazy or realistic, everything goes. All our dreams get folded into little squares, and thrown into my floppy pink hat. I give the hat a good joggle. We are going to take turns picking a piece of paper from the hat, to see what dream fate will deal us. 

The first girl in the circle, Rosie, opens her piece of paper and grins. ‘What did you get?’ I ask. ‘Show us.’
She holds up the paper in front of her: ‘My own house’ it says, in green felt pen capitals. 
‘And, do you like it? Do you want to keep it? Tell us why.’

The rule of the game is, that if you do not like the dream you pick, you can have another one. But you have to wait until everyone else has had her pick and the hat comes back to you. Dreams don’t come true overnight. You need to be patient. Luckily, there are enough good dreams in the hat for everyone.
I can guess what she is going to say. Building their own house is one of the favourite dreams of the domestic workers I teach this workshop for. 
And yes, Rosie nods, she likes this dream. She hugs the paper to her chest. Everybody else nods as well, and we don’t spend much time on the explanation. It is a good dream to have, and it is not unrealistic either for these women to build a house in their home country with their Singapore wages. 

The next girl, Ratna, picks her dream. ‘A good school for my son’ it says. She shrugs. ‘I don’t have a son,’ she says. ‘I don’t want this one.’ 
I take the dream from her, and hold it out to the group. ‘Anyone wants this one? Who has a son?’ Many hands go up, so I say, ‘ok, why don’t you share it.’ 
Ratna will have to wait until the hat comes back next round. We match up some nice dreams with happy girls. ‘Be with my family’, ‘Take my kids on a beach holiday’ and another ‘Build my own house.’ One girl passes on ‘Start a restaurant’ as she does not like cooking. She would prefer to start a cleaning business.

The hat has now reached Bernadette. She reads out her dream and sniggers. ‘I don’t like this one,’ she says, dangling the note from the tips of her fingers. I take it from her hand and read it out loud. 

It says: ‘plant a beautiful garden’
‘What is it you don’t like about it?’ I ask. ‘Don’t you like plants and flowers?’
Bernadette shrugs. ‘Sure. But I don’t want a garden. I want a farm. I want rice paddies and an orchard. What use is a garden?’

‘Well, a garden can be beautiful to walk in. It can make you happy. I would gladly take that dream from you, I love gardens. But I think you should keep it. Sometimes you need to start with a small dream, and take it from there. You can plant vegetables in your garden, sell them for a profit, and expand your farm later.’
Bernadette nods hesitantly. The hat goes further, handing out happy families, bright futures for children, a seamstress shop, foreign travel, nice new employers and many more dreams. Ratna gets ‘to become a business woman’ and keeps it, sharing with us she would like to start a clothes shop. 
At Bernadette’s second turn she gets ‘to raise my own chicken for eggs’. 
‘See,’ I say. ‘Your farm is already expanding into the egg business.’
Bernadette looks uncertain, but then everyone laughs, and Bernadette too. 

In the last round, someone generously share’s her dream ‘buying a piece of land’ with Bernadette. The three pieces of paper Bernadette now holds make a nice farming business. 

‘I have three now,’ she says. ‘Can I keep them all?’
‘Off course,’ I smile. ‘You can never have too many dreams.’ 

I love it how this game, with all its randomness, always teaches some important life lessons. It teaches better than I ever could. At the end of the workshop, when we share our vision boards of our dreamed future, Bernadette tells us her real dream is to help other people, like she did a few years back when she worked for a charity that assisted victims of one of the many typhoons that hit the Philippines. ‘Once I have the farm running and my kids are provided for, I will work for charity as well. That is my real dream.’

Everyone applauds Bernadette. I do too. The hat had given me 'to be a good mother for my kids', which I liked, and kept. In my mind I add Bernadette's real dream to mine. You can never have too many dreams. 


  1. Hi, I came over from Karen's Expat life. What a wonderful and inspiring story.
    Your class must be fabulous and you give these women hope for the future!

    1. Thanks Sami. I think I learn as much form them as they do for me. They are an inspiring bunch!

    2. PS there was an indian lady called Sami in the class as well that day. She is lovely, and meant to write her in, but it was getting too long...she does not wrote very good English, her dreams very very cute

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