Helping a disabled artist get his first job at 53: “His mother was so proud!”

Source of images: Gan Siow Huang

A 53-year-old man recently secured his first job as an artist, bringing joy to his elderly mother. Minister of State for Education and Manpower Gan Siow Huang actively encouraged her resident to upskill himself, which helped him land the artist role.  

In an exclusive interview with Petir, Ms Gan, also Member of Parliament for Marymount SMC, said she first met Mr Yap and his mother Mrs Yap – a woman in her eighties – during a house visit several years ago. Mr Yap has been paralysed from the waist down since an accident in his youth. Although he possessed a diploma, he had never worked.

Mrs Yap, in her eighties, worked in a nursing home to support the family, Ms Gan noted. The old woman’s husband passed away last year, and she had lost contact with her other son who lived abroad.

“Over the last few years, we have tried to help Mr Yap to get a job. We referred him to SG Enable and Bizlink, but things didn’t work out initially. He did not find anything interesting or suitable,” Ms Gan said. “His health condition was also a barrier to go out to work. But we never gave up. His mother also never gave up.”

Earlier this year, Ms Gan encouraged Mr Yap, who has artistic talent, to enroll in a two-month web design course offered by Bizlink Centre. It is a non-profit organisation focused on training and employing people with disabilities. After completing the course, Mr Yap was hired by Bizlink as one of their residential artists to design souvenirs.

“His mother showed me her son’s employment letter. This is her son’s first job. Although the pay is modest, she is extremely proud of him. One of her wishes is for her son to gain independence,” she added. Mr Yap also gave Ms Gan a mug with a watercolour image of orchids he painted himself to thank her. 

Over the years, Ms Gan’s team has continued to look out for Mr Yap and his mother, inviting them to community events like National Day Dinner, and giving them care packs during festivals. Mrs Yap, who trained at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts previously, also helped Ms Gan’s team write couplets during Chinese New Year.

Balancing the needs of diverse residents can be challenging: Gan Siow Huang

Having served constituents in Marymount SMC for over four years, Ms Gan said balancing the needs and interests of diverse residents posed a challenge sometimes. 

Using the construction of a new bus stop as an example, she explained residents had requested a new bus stop along Bishan Street 23 for years. As there were no bus services, seniors and those with mobility issues had to walk farther to the next stop to go to Bishan Central. While Ms Gan’s team raised this issue with the Land Transport Authority of Singapore repeatedly, it was not easy to come to an agreement on a suitable location for the new bus stop.

“Some people want the bus stop badly, but others feel they don’t need it. Residents uncomfortable with a bus stop cite concerns like noise, traffic jams, and proximity to their block,” she said. “So, it’s always about balancing the needs of various groups.”

How did Ms Gan’s team overcome this challenge? She said her grassroots consulted residents extensively over a year, evaluated multiple locations before recommending a suitable site for LTA’s consideration. They also conducted house visits to ensure constituents understood the trade-offs involved in addressing the concerns of those affected.

“Involving the community, consulting widely, listening to residents’ perspectives helps. Not rushing decisions, giving people time to understand challenges and needs, also help in getting some alignment,” she said. “Though not always easy or successful, we’ll do our best.”

The new bus stop was recently completed and residents living in Bishan North could take a shuttle bus from July 14 to get to Bishan Central, she added.

Source of images: Gan Siow Huang / Facebook

Ms Gan noted that noise disputes between neighbours could also be challenging to resolve. She explained: “There are neighbours who don’t get along. Some think their neighbour upstairs or downstairs makes too much noise. It is sometimes difficult to investigate and confirm the source of the noise in HDB blocks.”

Ms Gan’s team of grassroots volunteers, who have previous experience as community mediators, began providing community mediation services about a year ago, she said.

“We’ve been able to bring neighbours in dispute to the Community Club to work things out, understand each other’s perspectives, and agree to disagree even if they can’t agree on a solution,” she said. “That’s one of the positive things we’ve done to make progress on some of the disputes.”

Having to balance her job as a political officeholder and duties as an MP is no easy feat, but Ms Gan said: “Making a positive change and impact on the lives of our residents really drives me to do more,” she said. “And I also feel very energised by the energy of our volunteers and grassroots in coming together to help the community.”