A former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), beauty queen, actress and television host — Eunice Olsen certainly has many achievements on her list; she’s also a busy-bee who shuttles often between Singapore and Cambodia for her humanitarian work.
But it is on the topic of her “sponsored kid” Srey Nuon when the eloquent and assured Olsen gets a bit more emotional, her voice shaking a little as she speaks about the change from being a singleton to a “stand-in” mum for the handicapped girl that she helps to support financially.
While she had previously felt too “protective” and unwilling to talk about Srey Nuon, Olsen now feels that there is a need to share her story to inspire more people to take action and help others in need.
“It’s important to speak up for what you believe in,” says the 36-year-old Singapore actress-host; and that’s also the essence of Women Talk, an online talk show series that she had started earlier this year.
“The whole idea of Women Talk is about inspiring empowerment in women, like a YouTube channel for inspirational videos,” explains Olsen. “It’s about sharing stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things, to inspire women to do what they’ve always wanted to do and to know that they’re not alone.”
As we chatted with Olsen, it was easily apparent that Olsen is passionate about the social work programmes that she is involved with.
She is vocal about the need to empower disadvantaged women; she has recently kick-started a feminine hygiene education programme called "Project Precious" for women in rural areas and was also most recently seen on screen in 3.50, a new film on the sex trade in Cambodia.
“It’s the realisation that we are so fortunate and that we’re in a situation that many others out there would give anything to be in,” shares Olsen. “It’s at this point that you realise that there is so much more work to be done.”
Here, the Singapore personality tells us more about Women Talk, her sponsored kid, altruism and the little steps that anyone can take to help do good.
“Empowerment is to be fearless of failure”
In 2011, Olsen was hosting another programme when she met a woman who lost weight just so that her husband wouldn’t be ashamed of being seen with her.
“I was so shocked at what she shared,” remembers Olsen. “I started wondering how many women out there would think the same way. Then I thought about how we should get women to talk about it, to know that there’s help out there, that things don’t have to be this way.”
Thus she started brainstorming about the ways to “empower” women. “To me, empowerment is to be fearless of failure and I hope these inspiring stories can empower and to unite women to think and share their stories,” explains Olsen.
Hosted by Eunice Olsen herself, every episode of Women Talk features an interview with strong and inspiring women like Haslinah Yacob, the President of the Women For Equality Association.
Women's rights activist Haslinah Yacob and Singapore actress-host Eunice Olsen. PHOTOS: HOUSE OF OU
The women’s rights activist was raped when she was 18 and she rose above her own painful experience to help other rape victims in Malaysia. “When I interviewed Yacob,she said, ‘it’s not the rape that hurts, it’s the fact that you don’t receive your family’s support - that hurts more’,” shares Olsen. “‘It’s not your fault’, I think we need to tell this to [rape victims] more often, it’s okay to get help and talk about it.”
The fundraising element of Women Talk is also Olsen’s raring call to action, to make this online talk show even more meaningful. The female personalities interviewed in Women Talk can each nominate an organisation for people to make monetary donations too.
“The easiest thing for people to do, even as a small gesture, is to donate,” explains Olsen. “So I wanted to build a portal that allows and facilitates for this method of contribution and to become the catalyst to encourage more people to do good.”
Viewers are also encouraged to contribute videos online as well, of their personal struggles and other true inspirational stories of the women they know.
Olsen hopes that the Women Talk website would thus became as a “collection” point for donations, in aid of the charitable organisations nominated by these inspiring women.
The little steps to doing good
“I’ve a lot of people coming to me, asking about doing charitable work,” shares Olsen. “But we also want to avoid a flood of volunteers coming to a non-profit organisation, without knowing what they want to do or what the organisation needs.”
“Find out what the organisation needs,” explains Olsen. “Don’t go there thinking that you know what you want to do, which is a mistake that many of us make, myself included.”
It’s also important to act on the desire to help. “You don’t think about making a difference, you just do the work that needs to be done,” says Olsen. Altruism should go beyond lip service; the possibility of being able to help those in need ought to be enough reason to act on it.
“I don’t even know if I have or if I ever will make a difference,” admits Eunice Olsen, “I will just keep trying and believe in the work that I do.”
On being a “mum” to her sponsored kid
Child “sponsorship” has been one of the most immediate ways that Olsen has helped a kid in need.
The Singapore actress-host has helped to provide financially for Srey Nuon, a handicapped child for a year now, who was part of a HIV-positive community forcibly evicted to Oudong, the old capital of Cambodia. A year ago, the young girl was no longer going to school due to family poverty. She was also paralysed from waist-down due to a birth defect and even had to “walk” with her hands up the steps to a pagoda in the mountains to beg for money on her family’s behalf, said Olsen.
When Olsen heard about Srey Nuon’s situation, she was “very upset, very affected” when she returned to her hotel. “I come from a modest background, where all I had was an education,” explains the actress. “So I felt that the least that all kids should have, is to be able to go to school.”
Olsen acted almost immediately by “finding her a school” and by providing Srey Nuon the financial support that she needed. Although Srey Nuon’s birth mother had passed away from HIV complications, Olsen has become her ‘stand-in’ mum since, taking pains to visit the young girl regularly in Cambodia.
“I celebrated her 13th birthday with her recently,” smiles the star. “I visit her often. She has a wheelchair now and she’s looked after by her aunt and uncle.”
3.50 premiered at Golden Village VivoCity on October 24, 2013; the film is expected to be screened for a general release in February 2014. Follow the 3.50 Facebook page for more updates. Go to womentalktv.asia for more information on the Women Talk web series.