New book details how ex-journalist helps set up support network even as he is paralysed by disease

President Halimah Yacob (second from left), Minister Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (left) and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam (right) speaking to ex-journalist Asri Sunawan. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - Once an award-winning news presenter and journalist, Mr Asri Sunawan’s world collapsed in 2018 when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that results in the loss of muscle control.

Now 44, Mr Asri – better known as Riz Sunawan – is paralysed from the neck down and requires mechanical assistance to breathe.

Believed to affect about one in 50,000 people a year, ALS is a type of motor neurone disease where the resulting loss of muscle control affects a person’s ability to move, speak, eat and breathe unassisted.

A children’s book about his experiences – titled My Name Is Riz. I Have Motor Neurone Disease. – was launched on Friday, in conjunction with the opening ceremony of the Singapore Malay Book Festival. The event, held at community hub Wisma Geylang Serai, was attended by President Halimah Yacob.

A children’s book about Mr Asri Sunawan’s experiences - entitled My Name Is Riz. I Have Motor Neurone Disease. - was launched on Friday. PHOTO: HELANG BOOKS

The book details Mr Asri’s battles with loneliness and depression amid his struggle with his condition, as well as how he helped form the Motor Neurone Disease Association Singapore (MNDa), a support network for those with the condition.

Published by Helang Books, the book, which is in both English and Malay, was written by Mr Asri together with author Hidayah Amin and illustrated by architect and television personality Khairudin Saharom.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards helping Mr Asri pay for his medical expenses, as well as towards MNDa.

Mr Asri said he hopes that by sharing his experiences in the book, others will be inspired to overcome their own challenges in life.

Ms Hidayah, who is the founder of Helang Books, told Malay-language newspaper Berita Harian that she was inspired to write the book as a way of helping Mr Asri.

The book is part of the “I am Unique” series, which relates the stories of those with various conditions, such as autism and cerebral palsy.

Two other books were launched at the event.

One, titled Aku Menghitung-hitung Nama-Mu, or I Count Your Names, is a collection of 99 poems in Malay by Cultural Medallion winner Suratman Markasan.

The other, Mustafa – Epik Kerohanian Seorang Kiai (Mustafa – A Spiritual Epic Of A Religious Scholar) by Jamal Ismail, is a 540-page period novel set against the backdrop of the 1915 Sepoy rebellion against the British in Singapore.

Madam Halimah said in a Facebook post: “Our local Malay literary scene has grown over the years, and I am confident that our book publishers, writers, partners and communities will continue to build a more vibrant literary arts ecosystem in the years to come.”

Introduced in 2019 as part of the BuySinglit movement, the Singapore Malay Book Festival aims to promote appreciation and awareness of local Malay literature.

This year’s festival, organised by social voluntary organisation Majlis Pusat Singapura and held at Wisma Geylang Serai, focuses on children. It features a book fair with five local Malay book publishers, as well as activities such as storytelling sessions and a poetry-writing workshop and recital.

The festival will run for three days until Sunday.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.