Celebrating the disabled, the ex-con

Celebrating the disabled, the ex-con
NEW LEASE OF LIFE: Mr Singh is one of the everyday Singaporeans whose stories will be told in film clips during the NDP this year. The former convict has completed a law and management course at Temasek Polytechnic.

The intellectually disabled, former convict or amputee may be marginalised in society, but they will be celebrated as "everyday heroes" at next week's National Day Parade.

The stories of their comebacks and talents will be showcased alongside the fanfare and pomp of the Aug 9 festivities to celebrate Singapore's 49th birthday.

Thirteen individuals from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) will not only provide the beat for the military parade but also march alongside their able-bodied counterparts - an NDP first.

Eight of them will play the taiko drums, a Japanese percussion, as part of a military tattoo segment. They will perform alongside a combined band and the Singapore Armed Forces' own precision drill squad.

Keh Eng Song, chief executive of Minds, said that, as one of the key messages of this year's NDP is inclusiveness, their participation helps to send a "strong message" that they, too, are capable and talented.

As the Minds drummers are already a professional performance group, Mr Keh said it took them about three weeks to get their act together and co-ordinate with the combined band.

"Initially, it was quite challenging because of the weather and the long hours of the rehearsals. But after a few rounds, they got used to it and now they are really enjoying themselves," he added.

Besides drumming, Chang Hock Yong, 35, is equally thrilled to be donning a Japanese-style outfit for the performance. "The headband and belt... cool and handsome," he added.

While Minds participants put their skills on show, others will have their life stories told by fictional characters in film clips that will be screened throughout the parade.

Among them are Sarbir Singh, 25, a former prisoner with aspirations to be a lawyer, and amputee Md Shariff Abdullah, 45, dubbed the "Blade Runner".

Mr Singh was sent to the Singapore Boys Home when he was just 15, after flouting the law for rioting. He was also sent to jail twice for fighting.

The 25-year-old has since turned his life around and completed a law and management course at Temasek Polytechnic.

Currently working part-time at a law firm, he is waiting to enlist in national service, before applying for law school here.

Mr Singh, whose parents divorced when he was four, said: "It was about weighing what I wanted in life and making the sacrifices."

He added: "I want to help people out there... there are many out there facing legal issues but can't afford lawyers."

Mr Shariff was born without a left foot and later had to have part of the stump on his left leg amputated due to a skin infection.

Dejected, he later took to using a prosthetic blade and is now a professional runner and inspirational speaker.

"Life is like a marathon - the most important thing is not to give up... Some people say I'm famous. I'm just an ordinary Singaporean who wants to inspire others," Mr Shariff said.

adrianl@sph.com.sg


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