President meets vulnerable groups in coronavirus fight

President Halimah Yacob and VSA Singapore executive director Maureen Goh observing student Royce Tai, 13, working on his drawing in VSA Artspace @ Bedok yesterday. Her visit was part of the President's Challenge outreach efforts to help vulnerable gr
President Halimah Yacob and VSA Singapore executive director Maureen Goh observing student Royce Tai, 13, working on his drawing in VSA Artspace @ Bedok yesterday. Her visit was part of the President's Challenge outreach efforts to help vulnerable groups battle against the coronavirus outbreak. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The first day Clarabelle attended poetry lessons at the Very Special Arts (VSA) Singapore in Bedok more than a year ago, she had to be carried into the classroom by her father.

The 10-year-old was unable to walk for more than a few metres without assistance as she suffers from hypotonia, a condition which causes her to have low muscle tone and weakened muscles.

Formerly shy and withdrawn due to her disability, her teachers at VSA encouraged her to open up and do things for herself, such as walking to the table to get an eraser.

Clarabelle was one of around 30 beneficiaries who met President Halimah Yacob yesterday, when she visited the social service agency. Her visit was part of the President's Challenge outreach efforts to help vulnerable groups in Singapore battle against the coronavirus outbreak.

Ms Magali Finet, programmes manager at VSA Singapore, said Clarabelle was extremely shy and quiet, but a gifted poet. "We challenged her. We didn't pity her and say, 'Oh, poor thing. She cannot walk or do things'. We challenged her to try things," she added.

A year on, Clarabelle is now able to walk for longer distances independently and looks more confident, said Ms Finet.

The organisation provides classes in artistic disciplines - including painting, drawing, wire sculpting and 3D pen sculpting - for individuals diagnosed with conditions such as autism, Down syndrome, dwarfism and cerebral palsy.

About 250 students, ranging in age from six to 70, are enrolled in its weekly visual arts classes.

Yesterday, Madam Halimah handed out care packages - each consisting of a hand sanitiser, wet wipes and a disinfectant spray - to around 30 beneficiaries at the VSA.

She also gave out vitamins and masks to the centre for redistribution to its students and reminded them to practise good personal hygiene to safeguard against the virus.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 23, 2020, with the headline President meets vulnerable groups in coronavirus fight. Subscribe