Extra.Ordinary People to launch programme to help special needs youth integrate into society

President Halimah Yacob, who was the Guest of Honour, thanked and congratulated everyone for a wonderful performance. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE – Young people with special needs can soon turn to a programme by Extra.Ordinary People to learn how to better tackle integration challenges after they finish their formal education at 18.

The charity’s founders, Ms Wee Wei Ling and her cousin, Mr Wee Boo Kuan, hope the move will help to address this social service gap, with the launch slated in the first quarter of next year.

After leaving the safe confines of a special education school, those who need close supervision may be admitted into sheltered workshops, day activity centres or even kept at home.

The situation is often described as the “post-18 cliff”, where due to limited opportunities of engagement and long waiting lists, they face possible social isolation and add to their caregivers’ burden.

The Extra.Ordinary Campus programme, which will run full day on weekdays, will expose them to self-help and daily living skills, curated diverse experiences like sports and company work visits, and social engagement opportunities in and beyond the charity’s Beach Road premises.

The two-year pilot programme will take in 20 to 30 beneficiaries, who will be trained by about 10 special education trainers to prepare them for social integration and employability.

The fees will be around $180 to $200 a day, compared with a therapy session that costs from $150 to $300 an hour.

Ms Wee, 70, the oldest daughter of banker Wee Cho Yaw and executive director (asset, lifestyle and corporate social responsibility) of Pan Pacific Hotels Group, where she hires about 30 special needs employees, said: “Parents are often emotionally strained and physically exhausted caring for their special needs children. By helping the youth, we are actually supporting the whole family.”

Mr Wee Boo Kuan, 56, who co-founded the charity to commemorate his father Wee Cho Bian’s 25th year of passing, said: “Demand outstrips supply with more people diagnosed with special needs. After 18, they may need another one, five or 10 years to integrate into mainstream society.

“We extend the runway for them and ensure that their parents and caregivers do not need to disrupt their own lives or work.”

There are about 250,000 people with disabilities in Singapore, according to 2018 estimates. They also make up 2.1 per cent of the student population and 3.4 per cent of the resident population for those aged 18 to 49.

The pair provided seed funding to start Extra.Ordinary People in 2017 in Beach Road.

It provides performing arts classes, integrated therapy services and employment opportunities to children and youth with disabilities at subsidised rates.

Ms Wee Wei Ling (left) and Mr Wee Boo Kuan, cousins and co-founders of Extra.Ordinary People, share a common goal of helping the disabled and their families. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

It has not been an easy ride for them in the past five years. With no prior charity experience, the Wees were often asked by naysayers if they knew what they were doing.

“I am the dreamer while my cousin keeps my feet firmly grounded,” said Mr Wee, a director with the charity. “Both of us are bold enough to think out of the box and try new things.”

The charity organises events such as golf to raise funds. Ms Wee invites about 100 friends to her birthday party every January, where they are asked to donate to Extra.Ordinary People instead of giving her gifts.

“I don’t feel embarrassed asking for money as it is for a good cause,” she said. “I am happy to generate more awareness and garner more support for this group of fellow Singaporeans.”

After a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the charity brought back its signature event, An Extra.Ordinary Celebration 2022, at the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre on Wednesday.

The inclusive concert themed Revive, Revitalise and Reunite celebrated all abilities with music and performances by 350 performers from 18 special education schools, including Down Syndrome Association and Grace Orchard School, as well as mainstream schools including Raffles Girls’ and Hua Yi Secondary.

The inclusive concert celebrates all abilities with music and performances by 350 performers from 18 special education schools. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Some 1,500 free concert tickets were given to the performers, their families and guests. It is through this process that the charity hopes to nurture more embracing and understanding attitudes in the young, building the foundation for a more inclusive society.

President Halimah Yacob, who was guest of honour at the event, thanked and congratulated everyone for their performances.

Two of the performers were Cheong Nur Fadisha Qistina and Mohamad Dahny Mikhail, both 13, from Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School. They have been involved in the concert since the inaugural one in 2018.

The duo presented a medley of popular hits by Swedish band Abba – Super Trouper and I Have A Dream.

“I feel like the whole world is with me and we are all singing together in harmony,” said Dahny.

“Performing feels like an announcement to the world to take notice of my existence,” said Qistina, who wants to be a singer when she grows up. 

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