“When I was six, my teacher laughed at me and called me an ugly duckling because I was very tanned and petite. I had serious self-esteem issues after that childhood experience, and it led to many hiccups and failures in my life over the years.

One day, after ten years of working in the government sector, I decided to leave my job and do something for myself. It was a transformative moment that brought me closer to God, and it also got me thinking about metaphors that were related to the idea of beauty.

What makes a woman beautiful? I started to study lots of Asian text and Western perspectives, and I came across the word ‘swan’ which felt quite universal. To me, the swan represents freedom and beauty, and that was when I decided to transform from an ugly duckling to a beautiful black swan.

As I grew up shy and introverted, I decided to pick up public speaking skills at the Money Mastery Toastmasters Club to gain confidence. My breakthrough moment came when I joined the Humorous Speech Contest and came in second. I was the youngest of 5,000 contestants and the only female participant to get a placing, so that boosted my self-confidence.

Through that experience, I realised that God had given me a speaking gift, and it felt like helping people was my calling. I became the Club President, hoping to inspire others who also lack confidence to discover what is brave, bold and beautiful about themselves. Over time, those who attended my coaching programmes came to know me as Shan Swan.

I’ve since stepped out of that role. Today, I’m part of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). I feel that there is a lack of platforms for people to speak in Singapore, so I hope to give a voice to people from non-profit organisations.” – Pei Shan, 32

This interview was conducted at The Human Library session in Singapore, an initiative by Etch Empathy. It is also part of Giving Week, a movement by NVPC. You can learn more about Pei Shan at ShanSwan.com.