President Halimah visits special needs centre

Her first public event as S'pore President signals tone she hopes to set in her six-year term

President Halimah Yacob greeting trainees undergoing food hygiene training yesterday at the Association for Persons with Special Needs' Centre for Adults.
President Halimah Yacob greeting trainees undergoing food hygiene training yesterday at the Association for Persons with Special Needs' Centre for Adults. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Madam Halimah Yacob's first public event as President yesterday signalled the tone she hopes to set as she begins her six-year term.

She visited a centre that prepares people with intellectual disabilities for employment by teaching them skills such as cooking and farming.

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

The centre includes a vertical farm where students are taught how to harvest and care for crops, and a cafe staffed by APSN trainees. It is located at the Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub in Jalan Ubi, which houses several voluntary welfare organisations.

Yesterday, Madam Halimah mingled with trainees - who were engaged in various tasks, including baking and packaging - asking them 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 is absolutely crucial because it is important that we help them to be independent, to be able to earn an income and therefore to be integrated into society."

Madam Halimah urged employers to be forthcoming and support the APSN's work. She noted that the association has helped to 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 such as communication.

Asked how she would use her new role to further help those with special needs, Madam Halimah said one way is through the President's Challenge - started by President S R Nathan and built upon by President Tony Tan Keng Yam - 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 support 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 is 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 is 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 braved the light rain and hurried over for a chance to shake the hand of Singapore's first woman President.

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 afterwards. "She is our first woman President."

Mr Manap Adnan, 54, and Mr Syed Shabir Munir Ahmad, 30, dashed out of the WeCare Community Services centre to take a photograph with her. Mr Shabir said: "Of course we are excited - she is the first woman President and first Malay President in so many years. Go, Madam Halimah!"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline President Halimah visits special needs centre. Subscribe