President Halimah Yacob to use President's Challenge to help those with special needs

President Halimah Yacob speaking to retail trainees. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
President Halimah Yacob interacting with trainees undergoing the social skills programme. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
President Halimah Yacob's message posted at the APSN Centre for Adults. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - In her first public event as President, Madam Halimah Yacob visited a centre that prepares people with intellectual disabilities for employment by teaching them skills such as cooking and farming.

The Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Centre for Adults aims to help its students find jobs - a mission that dovetails with Madam Halimah's call on Thursday (Sept 14) for Singaporeans to work together to build a brighter future for all.

Madam Halimah on Friday (Sept 15) morning toured the centre at the Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub in Jalan Ubi, which houses several voluntary welfare organisations.

The centre includes a vertical farm where students are taught how to harvest and care for crops, and a cafe staffed by APSN trainees.

Singapore's eighth president mingled with trainees - who were engaged in various tasks like baking and packaging - asking about their ambitions, and their commute to work.

"This is a really wonderful visit because it gives me a very good idea of what APSN is doing in order to help our friends with special needs to acquire skills and to be placed in jobs," she told reporters later.

"That's absolutely crucial because it's important that we help them to be independent, to be able to earn an income and therefore to be integrated into society."

She urged employers to be forthcoming and support the APSN's work.

Madam Halimah noted that the association has helped modify workplaces to suit those with special needs, who may find it difficult to pick up skills from training courses at regular centres.

"Here it has been refined to suit their needs," she said, adding that trainees are also taught social skills like communication.

Asked how she would use her new role to further help those with special needs, Madam Halimah said one way to do so is through the President's Challenge, which allocates resources to various charities including APSN.

"I certainly would want to see that continue, and APSN has told me that they have some ideas on how to grow and develop further support for adults with special needs," she said.

She hopes to provide support for those ideas through the President's Challenge, among other ways.

APSN vice-president Chan Chee Keong said he was excited to see Madam Halimah, whom the association had worked with when she became Minister of State for Social and Family Development in 2012.

"We know that her heart is in this sector, for the underprivileged, for the heartlanders. It's a privilege and honour for us to be able to say the first charity organisation that she visited is for special needs students," he said.

"That's really a lift especially for parents of such kids and the children themselves, who still face discrimination from some parts of society."

During Madam Halimah's walk around the area, curious passers-by and volunteers from other social service groups hurried over for a chance to shake the hand of Singapore's first woman president, disregarding the steady drizzle.

Retiree Emily May, 70, who was doing community service in the area, hastily pulled out the book she was reading and asked for an autograph.

"Yes!" she exclaimed with a fist pump after. "She's our first woman president."

Meanwhile Manap Adnan, 54, and Syed Shabir Munir Ahmad, 30, dashed out of the WeCare Community Services centre to take a photograph with her.

"Of course we're excited, she is the first woman president and first Malay president in so many years. Go Madam Halimah!" said Mr Shabir.

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