New book for children based on Minds' in-school minimart

Minds adult beneficiaries wearing colourful socks to mark World Down Syndrome Day yesterday. Milford Loh (far left), 17, and Tan Jun Jie, 16, serving as cashiers at the minimart in Minds Lee Kong Chian Gardens School during its World Down Syndrome Da
Milford Loh (left), 17, and Tan Jun Jie, 16, serving as cashiers at the minimart in Minds Lee Kong Chian Gardens School during its World Down Syndrome Day event yesterday. The minimart was set up in 2003 to teach special needs students vocational skills.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Minds adult beneficiaries wearing colourful socks to mark World Down Syndrome Day yesterday. Milford Loh (far left), 17, and Tan Jun Jie, 16, serving as cashiers at the minimart in Minds Lee Kong Chian Gardens School during its World Down Syndrome Da
Minds adult beneficiaries wearing colourful socks to mark World Down Syndrome Day yesterday. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Eliza loved working at the mini-mart in her school.

Thus begins a children's book by local author Lianne Ong entitled I Can Help You, launched yesterday in conjunction with World Down Syndrome Day.

The story revolves around a girl called Eliza, who finds out while on the way home from school that Uncle Hock Seng, the kind owner of a minimart, has suffered a bad fall and has to use a wheelchair. She then gets the opportunity to show off her proficiency in stocking shelves and counting cash, skills she has learnt from her special needs school.

The book is based on the in-school minimart set up in 2003 at the Minds (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore) Lee Kong Chian Gardens School to teach special needs students the same vocational skills which Eliza demonstrates.

The minimart, which was for the first time yesterday opened to invited guests - including Ms Joan Pereira, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, who was guest of honour - serves as a training ground for students aged 13 to 16 who have intellectual disabilities.

The next-door thrift shop, which is open to the public, also serves as a training ground for graduated beneficiaries aged 18 and above. Their stint in the shop could be a stepping stone to employment in places such as McDonald's or supermarket chain Giant.

Minds currently has about 2,400 students, 20 per cent of whom have Down syndrome. People with the genetic condition typically have certain common physical attributes - and these are depicted in the new children's book in illustrations by Mr Nicholas Liem.

 
 
 

"We wanted to depict Down syndrome in a truthful and respectful manner," said Ms Ong.

The book is the second in a series of six illustrated children's books entitled A Place For Us, commissioned by Minds.

Yesterday, Ms Pereira shared her experience of being saved from a bout of stage fright by a supportive boy with Down syndrome. She had been slated to recite a speech at a World Speech Day event last Friday, but had become too nervous.

She recalled the ensuing silence until the little boy, who was in the middle row in the audience, started clapping and cheering for her. With that, the words came freely and she managed to complete the speech.

She expressed how heartwarming it was to be the recipient of such a compassionate act. "We must not leave the intellectually disabled behind, just like they will never leave us behind," she said.

Mr Vincent Loh, whose 17-year-old son Milford was serving as cashier when Ms Pereira paid for two bottles of Fuji Apple drinks at the minimart, was among the parents present at the minimart yesterday. He said: "I'm very proud of him, not just because he is independent, but also because his achievements have now surpassed mine."

The 61-year-old retiree told The Straits Times that his son met President Halimah Yacob during the National Day Parade last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2019, with the headline 'New book for children based on Minds' in-school minimart'. Print Edition | Subscribe