Bernice Koh did not expect that an itch on her palm would turn into a condition she would live with for life.
She is just one of the many Singaporeans suffering from eczema — a common itchy skin condition affecting 1 in 5 people here.
Bernice’s eczema condition started when she was just a toddler. Throughout her life, she experienced intermittent flare-ups that caused her skin to be red, dry and especially itchy.
“My sister also has eczema, and I’m thankful that there is someone who understands what I’m going through. But I often wondered how people cope with eczema alone.”
That thought came to mind again while working on her Final-Year Project at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, NTU. Bernice, now 23, roped in her group members — Alex, Benjamin and Joanne to create Starting from Scratch, a campaign aimed at raising awareness of eczema among teenagers.
“My teenage years were the toughest, having to deal with an active lifestyle and managing my condition. At the same time, I felt like my friends did not really understand what eczema was, or even had misconceptions about it,” said Bernice.
Starting from Scratch – It’s not just an itch
Targeted at students aged 12 to 17, Starting from Scratch aims to create a supportive and understanding environment for teenagers living with eczema.
Through a roving exhibition, the campaign visited seven secondary schools in the Southwest district, to educate teenagers on what eczema is. The exhibition leveraged on concepts of gaming, storytelling and interactivity to educate and engage students while keeping their interests piqued.
Students watch on as a class representative plays a nerf game at the exhibition.
“The best part of the exhibition was also meeting students who have eczema. I could understand what they were going through and many of them were also surprised but grateful that we chose such a topic that was close to their hearts,” said Bernice.
‘Beyond The Skin’: A collection of stories by sufferers for sufferers
Titled “Beyond The Skin”, Starting from Scratch curates stories from youths and shares them on social media, in hopes of inspiring fellow sufferers and promoting understanding of the condition among non-sufferers.
Through this, Bernice also came to know twin sisters Tan Yating and Tan Yaling, who are students from Nanyang Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic respectively. The twins have been living with severe eczema all their lives, and are no strangers to public insensitivity.
In a video interview, the twins opened up about their condition and the struggles faced, even recalling a particular incident on the train where a lady attributed the eczema condition on their legs to poor hygiene.
“She said we couldn’t be Singaporeans as they know how to take care of their skin. Whereas to her, our skin was considered “dirty”,” said Yating.
Despite their struggles, Yating and Yaling always had each other’s backs. It was here that both the twins and Bernice realised that others may not be so fortunate to have a system of support.
While eczema cannot be currently cured, management and support are crucial for those who suffer from it.
Feel good to look good: A sample spread from The Eczema Pocketbook.
With help from the National Skin Centre, Starting from Scratch released ‘The Eczema Pocketbook’ catered specifically for teenagers. It even includes self-help tips and personal know-how in managing eczema alongside tricky teenage issues like acne, shaving and makeup.
At the end of the day, Bernice, together with twins Yating and Yaling, believe that both sufferers and non-sufferers can take active steps in creating an understanding and supportive environment for all who are living with eczema.
“The key is to always share it with someone. It could be telling others how you’re feeling or even just explaining what eczema is to someone who doesn’t know,” said Bernice.
“This way, we can all help to drive the awareness of eczema in Singapore.”
This article is contributed by Benjamin Tan.