EXCITING UPDATE (18th Dec 2016):

This Letter To Self has been adapted and published in the official Oxford Fajar Form 1 workbook, which will officially be in circulation to 2.3 million Form 1 students across Malaysia in 2017!

If you’re an inquisitive Form 1 student who’s somehow Googled your way to this page, please e-mail me at me[at]gwenyi[dot]com. I would love to hear from you!


Here is the original Letter To Self: (sans edits)

Dear Gwen,

You’ve achieved a lot this year. Awards. Conferences. Accolades. Travels.

You’ve learned so many things. You’ve seen so many things. And you’ve done so many things. But nothing can compare to what you’ve experienced at this camp.


Being here at Kiwanis Youth Camp after a 2-year hiatus felt like coming home, in more ways than one. It felt amazing seeing everyone again. Falling into the safe, familiar route of the past five years — mailboxes, morning exercise, Circle of Appreciation, obstacle courses, and the various dances (Absolutely Everybody, Chicken Dance, Cha-Cha Slide). Trying out new roles — as a facilitator, as a Camp Assistant, as a leader.

But in that came the biggest surprise.

In this camp, you learned how to love. Like really love. Like, soul-crushing, heart-pouring, so-full-I-could-burst kind of love. You have been so focused on your own success for the past two years. This is the first time you’ve felt so invested in other people’s in a while.

You got the best team in camp this year, no joke. They were equal parts serious and hilarious — and 100% smart. They were the youngest group, helmed by “Wrecking Ball” Kyle, so of course you had your reservations. God, I was so wrong… And I’m glad I was.

gwen yi kyc squidtatoes

These kids changed your life. Their dedication. Their dreams. Their wit, their smarts, their perseverance, their struggles. You took them as your own, riding their highs and lows; living vicariously through their victories and falls. Rejoicing whenever they overcame a challenge or out-smart a system. Pushing them to set team goals and break personal records. Stifling a tear when they make sacrifices for one another. Bursting with pride when they think ‘Win-Win’ and go out of their way to help another team. Being their mother. Being their teacher. Being their friend.

I want you to remember this feeling: this odd mix of contentment, achievement, and pure, unadulterated joy. You feel at peace with the world. You wake up feeling challenged and excited to see how your team is going to grow. You are thankful, oh so thankful for having the opportunity — no, the privilege — of being a part of that growth.

Even the littlest things can set you off. One of your kids shared about not daring to speak up in group discussions because he was used to getting ignored at school. You were about to pull him into a hug, when he continued: “But now I do, all thanks to Bryan.” As you watched the biggest, most ear-splitting grin you’d ever seen break across your co-faci’s face, you couldn’t help bursting into tears of joy along with him.

I told you, vicarious. Your heart is full of these kids. Don’t ever let that change.

Arvind, the ambitious, loving boy who goes above and beyond the call of duty to serve his team. Potato, whom in spite of her cold, disinterested exterior, has the biggest heart of them all. Khing, whose sweet but firm ways brought the entire group together. Manisha, who went through a 180′ transformation and blossomed into an assertive, big-hearted girl. Durga, who faced all her fears head-on and inspired us to be the best than we can be. KJ, who finally felt validated enough to shout “Hey guys I have an idea!” — something he’d have never done four days ago. HL, who started sharing his scouts knowledge with the group despite being such an extreme introvert. Dylan, who kept everyone laughing and loose when things got rough. And finally, Kyle, who has transformed into a kind, generous and strong leader who models the way in every situation.

I’ve grown so attached to each and every one of them, and I know they feel the same way. More than anything, I am amazed I was the one who created this group environment — through my observations, my feedback, and the sheer fullness of my heart.

If there’s anything you’re going to bring forward, it’s this — love. Love with all that you are. With careless abandon. With all the kindness you can muster.

That, is how you’ll make a difference.


Every year on the last day of camp, we write a letter to ourselves about what we’ve experienced, felt, and learned. It gets mailed back to us one year later.

This year, I’ve taken the liberty to post mine up – word for word – so that I’ll never forget. Watch our KYC 2014 recap video here.

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