My parents had no difficulty wheeling me around town for a shopping spree. There were ramps and lifts for wheelchair users. In some places, there were no steps – only ramps for both the able-bodied and the disabled.
When I was in Sydney recently, I found myself in the place of my dreams. It was indeed a paradise for the disabled.
I told myself: “Wow. This is incredible! Perhaps we should stay a bit longer here.”
I did suspect that my parents may have wished that had not made it so easy for me to drain their pockets.
Anyway, it was also very convenient for me to visit the various tourist attractions including Sydney Tower, Taronga Zoo and Manly Island beach. I will never forget the thrill I had criss-crossing Sydney Harbour in a ferry and riding in a cable car.
Being disabled seemed to have its privileges. I was given a special disabled rate for admission and the adults accompanying me were given concession rates.
What’s more, we did not have to join the queue at some places – including the immigration checkpoints on arrival and departure. It was just fantastic for me.
However, that was not all.
It was the people there who made me feel welcome. They were caring, friendly and hospitable.
I am aware that it is not fair for me to draw any conclusion based on my short visit. However, those people whom I did meet, were kind and gracious.
A number of people greeted me, asked about my day and wished me well.
A few told me that they loved children like me. One elderly lady hugged and kissed me and another gave me a balloon. On several occasions, drivers stopped their vehicles to let me cross the road. Boy, I felt really great!
My visit to Sydney was not all about pleasure. I was there to give a talk at the Allstars event organised by “Tomorrow’s Youth”.
It was a one-day seminar that is conducted monthly for youth who had gone through the “Empower U” programme.
The primary aim of this programme is to equip participants with practical skills that are relevant to their lives.
The Allstars is a follow-up programme to reinforce and enhance the skills acquired by the participants.
It is interesting to note that in Singapore we are not taught life skills in school although they are more important than the other subjects.
I believe that these skills – which are useful for the development of core values, a sense of purpose, self-esteem and more – are relevant for our future.
Perhaps the Ministry of Education could consider making it compulsory for all schools to teach these skills.
The reception to my talk was simply wonderful. I was given a standing ovation.
At the end of the event, I received glowing compliments from the participants. Although my head was growing bigger, I was wondering if they were by nature very nice to people like me.
Coming back to Singapore is like waking up from a pleasant dream.
Don’t get me wrong. Singapore is my home and it will always be.
I have high hopes that it will be the best home for its people, including the less fortunate. It may be as difficult as pushing a huge boulder uphill, but together we can make it so.
I don’t think it is impossible. If Sydney can display love, care and compassion, I am confident that Singapore can do better.
(This journal entry was published in TODAY on 15 December 2004)