Social service group aims to raise $100,000 to support people with muscular dystrophy

Mr Muhammad Saifudeen Abdul Salim lost the ability to walk when he was seven. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - When he was seven years old, Mr Muhammad Saifudeen Abdul Salim lost the ability to walk due to a rare muscle disorder called Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

He had to use a wheelchair and dropped out of school at 11 years old, as his lessons were often disrupted by long-term treatment in clinics around the world in efforts to mitigate his condition.

Mr Saifudeen, now 25, said he bid farewell to an ordinary life, remaining mostly indoors. He turned to video games to fill his time, as he could not play outdoors with his friends from school.

During his teens, he met others with a similar condition through an outreach event organised by the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore (MDAS). He joined the association, and became involved in sports and learnt skills for work.

Mr Saifudeen, now a freelance graphic designer, said: "At one point, I didn't know what to do with my life. It took a leap of faith to step out of my home and find a community that allowed me to play and work again."

He added: "I learnt to keep trying new things, not to think of what I can't do, but what I can do."

This was what he told others with disabilities and visitors at a carnival held by MDAS on Saturday (Aug 27) to raise awareness of muscular dystrophy.

The carnival at Bishan Community Centre is the highlight of the association's annual "Go The Dystance" campaign, which aims to raise $100,000 between July and September to support others like Mr Saifudeen.

The money raised will help defray MDAS' operating expenses in supporting some 500 beneficiaries with programmes, activities and care services, among other efforts.

Visitors at the carnival got to experience the symptoms of severe muscle loss through simulations and interactive activities at various booths.

On display were devices such as a machine that helps to relieve coughing by clearing mucus from the airways, and a computer that is controlled by eye movement to help those who cannot use their arms to activate apps or make phone calls.

Visitors navigated a wheelchair through an obstacle course and played at a Nerf gun shooting range, where they had weights wrapped around their arms.

Brothers Ewan (left) and Egon Lee at the Nerf gun shooting range. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The simulations gave a glimpse of the daily challenges Mr Saifudeen faces. He said he has to plan a wheelchair-friendly route when he goes out or book a special vehicle equipped with dedicated accessibility features.

Visitors also tried out sports for the disabled, such as penalty shootout, where participants strike a ball using a motorised wheelchair, and boccia, a sport resembling bowling created for athletes with cerebral palsy.

Two-time boccia Paralympian Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha looks on as participants try out the sport. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

MDAS board member Nurulasyiqah Mohammad Taha, 37, a boccia player who has represented Singapore twice at the Paralympics, said the activities helped visitors understand the difficulties faced by the disabled and break stereotypes.

Ms Nurul, who has been using a wheelchair since she was seven, said: "Sometimes, people make sweeping judgments and think we are very slow and weak. But these activities help to show our determination and how adaptive we can be to daily challenges."

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