Youth with autism ‘climbs’ Everest nearly three times over to raise funds for young people with special needs

Mr Gareth Chua is a YMCA Special Needs Ambassador. PHOTO: FUJI.YMCA.ORG.SG

SINGAPORE - It started with Japan's Mount Fuji, then Mount Erebus in the Antarctic, and finally, Everest.

Mr Gareth Chua, 22, who has autism, has climbed all three mountains - albeit virtually.

He is the first out of 830 participants to complete this year's YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge, which seeks to raise awareness and raise funds to support youth with special needs.

The challenge involved participants racking up an elevation gain equivalent to the height of Mount Fuji - 3,776m - by hiking uphill or climbing stairs. Their elevation data was tracked using the Strava fitness app.

The challenge was held from Feb 27 to Aug 9, National Day.

Mr Chua, a YMCA Special Needs Ambassador, took up the challenge with gusto.

He climbed six times a week at various locations, clocking over 23,000m in elevation gains by the end - nearly enough to summit Everest three times over.

"My favourite view after a climb was at the Pinnacle@Duxton sky garden because of the panoramic view of the cars and roads," said Mr Chua, who is an avid spotter of traffic lights.

"My dad told me to try and 'climb' Mount Erebus next, and then, Everest after," he said, referring to the peaks that are 3,794m and 8,849m high, respectively.

The second-year student at the Institute of Technical Education College Central added: "I want to let everybody know that special needs people can also do 'normal' things."

Inspired by his efforts, family and friends donated $3,900 to YMCA of Singapore, which has raised over $260,000 in total to fund its sports, arts and vocational training programmes for youth with special needs.

The aspiring graphics designer was one of the five winners of the Singapore Silent Heroes award, which is in its eighth edition this year.

Awarded by the Civilians Association (Singapore), the awards recognise everyday individuals here who, without fanfare or seeking reward, make a difference across families, communities and society.

The winners, chosen from 50 nominations, received their awards from Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who was the guest of honour at the award ceremony at Shangri-la Hotel on Saturday night (Aug 28).

The other winners are social entrepreneurship mentor Siddharth Pisharody, volunteerism organiser Anson Ng, cycling safety advocate Cyril Ong, and Ms Priscilla Ong.

Ms Ong, 38, runs Project Love Lunch full-time together with a tightly knit team of 15 volunteers, sending out care packs customised to the dietary and learning needs of young families, their children and the elderly in rental flats around Yishun.

Ms Priscilla Ong runs Project Love Lunch full-time together with a tightly knit team of 15 volunteers. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

She expanded the community service initiative, which was founded in 2014, despite suffering permanent disability on the left side of her body after a car accident in 2016. She now uses a mobility scooter to get around.

"I had nothing to do (after my accident), so I put in my 100 per cent into Project Love Lunch," said the former infant-care practitioner, who was passed over for a pay raise and more job responsibilities after the accident.

When asked what Singaporeans could do to help the less fortunate, the mother of two children, aged 18 and 20, said: "Ask them what you can help them with instead of saying you want to help them.

"It's not easy to start, and they are not taught how to say 'thank you', but you know they are thankful when you see their smile."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.