Girl behind Deaf Dragons

Girl behind Deaf Dragons
Ms Debra Lam (far right) with her mother, Ms Lilian Liew, and elder brother Darius.

Ms Debra Lam, 21, has spent years dragon-boating but her mother, Ms Lilian Liew, did not always approve of her daughter's interest.

"She was spending too much time on dragon-boating, sometimes 10 hours a day. I felt that she neglected her studies and could have done better," recalls Ms Liew, 51, of her middle child, who took up dragon-boating at around 14 as a co-curricular activity at Yuan Ching Secondary School.

For about two years, Ms Liew, a personal assistant who is divorced, did not realise that her daughter had taken a different direction with the sport because of Ms Lam's reticence on the subject.

In March 2012, Ms Lam, who is doing a part-time degree course in psychology and sociology at SIM University, co-founded a dragon-boat team, the Deaf Dragons, with her boyfriend, Mr Ryan Ng.

The team currently has eight members who have hearing disabilities, three who are intellectually challenged and six who do not have disabilities.

Ms Liew says: "I didn't know what she was doing. To me, she was just dragon-boating."

In October 2013, Ms Lam and Mr Ng, 23, started Society Staples, a social enterprise that aims to connect people with disabilities with the wider community through fitness activities.

Mr Ng has a brother with a mild intellectual disability and Ms Lam has two brothers with autism - Darius, 27, an events promoter in a charity, and Darren, 16, who attends Northlight School. The family lives in a condominium in Jurong.

Ms Lam says: "It's my fault that my mum knew only fragments of the whole then. I didn't know how to broach the topic of these projects. I was afraid of failure. If they didn't work out well, I thought mum would focus even more on my academic studies."

In July last year, when Ms Lam conducted a circuit fitness event attended by 100 participants, who included those with and without disabilities, Ms Liew says she was "very touched" when she saw it.

"It's something you rarely see in Singapore," she says. It was then that she understood her daughter's motivation in promoting inclusiveness via fitness.

She adds: "Debra wants to be an entrepreneur in the social enterprise world. She's a go-getter. I'm proud that she has achieved things beyond what a typical 21-year-old can do."

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