Community, caregivers and persons with disabilities (PWDs) gather to celebrate the Enabling Lives Festival

Gerald Png of Soul Food sharing the café’s vision of training youths with special needs a skill as well as providing employment. Soul Food was one of the stops of the Enabling Village Open House Tour.

The crowd of over 20 participants stepped in from the heat of the noonday sun. They are a diverse group of families, people with disabilities (PWDs) and even a dog in diapers!

Awaiting them at café Soul Food is Gerald Png, its founder and director. The social enterprise teaches youths with special needs F&B skills and gives them employment.

This is one of the stops for the Enabling Village Open House Tour, one of several lined up for the day as part of Enabling Lives Festival 2022. The four-day signature event by SG Enable was designed to promote inclusion, giving the community, caregivers and PWDs a chance to interact with one another as well as providing PWDs with a platform to showcase their talents.

Route to inclusion and opportunities

The Enabling Village Open House Tour, conducted by Inclusion Champions or iChamps, covered several of Enabling Village’s facilities. The Enabling Village is the first inclusive community space in Singapore dedicated to integrating persons with disabilities in society.

Asked why he was leading the tour, first-time guide Nakul Gaur who uses a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis said: “I’ve been a volunteer with SG Enable, helping employers be disability inclusive. I thought this engagement activity would be very meaningful.”

Other stops included Active SG’s inclusive gym and Tech Able where integrated assistive technology are on display.

Vani was there with her 18-year-old son Sanjay. He has autism syndrome disorder (ASD).

“My son has just finished school and we are searching for a vocational school for him. We came because we wanted to find out about the programmes here that may help him.

“We were glad to discover that there is a gym here and dental services for people with special needs. When he was in school, his dental work was taken care of by the school. Now that he has graduated, we needed to find a dentist who is able to manage people with ASD.”

Working hand in hand with PWDs

There were also multiple workshops facilitated by PWDs. At the No Sew Festive Tote workshop, participants were taught how to make a bag out of felt simply by folding and gluing. Conceived by Eve Tan, a lecturer of Apparel Design and Merchandising with Temasek Polytechnic, the bag is strong enough to carry a bottle of mineral water, wallet and handphone all at once.

Before rolling out the workshop, Ms Tan did a test run with PWD volunteers from the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) who were on hand at the workshop to help the participants.

Eve Tan (centre) was responsible for coming up with the idea of the no-sew festive tote bag.

“They gave me feedback about the size of the bag. Initially, the bag was designed to be much bigger but they said that it made folding the bag much harder. So, we reduced the size,” said Ms Tan.

Among the participants was Gary Cheong who was there with his three sisters and nine-year-old son.

Gary Cheong with his son (left) at the No Sew Festive Tote workshop

“I wanted to learn more about PWDs, interact with them and understand how they feel. I also thought this would be a good family bonding activity and we could learn something new together. Plus, my son enjoys arts and crafts,” said Mr Cheong.

Katy Lee who has limited vision because of a tumour that sat on her optic nerve shared “I learnt something new as well. The hardest part is drawing the lines of the bag and making sure it is straight. Otherwise, you can’t fold the bag properly because the parts will not be aligned.”

At The Nutty Bar workshop, employees of Metta Café, which hires people with special needs, helped participants make a no-bake health bar full of festive flavour.

Said Cher Weijie: “It’s quite fun teaching them how to do the nutty bar.”

Added his colleague David Chia: “I like interacting with the families who come here to learn.”

Wei Jie and David from Metta Café teaching Lynda Seet (left) and her daughter Chloe Foo how to make the Nutty Bar.

16-year-old Chloe Foo was there with her mother Lynda Seet.

 “I wanted to spend time with my mum and thought that this was a good way to give back to society. It’s more meaningful than shopping.” said Ms Foo.

It was also a family affair at the Coptic Book Binding workshop.

Elora Ng, 7, attended the workshop with his mum Angela Tan, to learn how to make her own notebook from scratch. Helping them was Png Siew Lan from SPD. Ms Png has over 20 years of experience in book binding.

Elora Ng hard at work making her own journal under the guidance of Siew Lan.

“The hardest part is sewing the pieces of paper together,” she said.

Gifts beyond imagination

At the i’mable Gift Market organised by i’mable Collective, an initiative by SG Enable,  some 20 social service agencies and social enterprises supporting the disability community set up shop to sell their products.

There were stalls aplenty at the i’mable Gift Market showcasing and selling products made by or with PWDs.

Among the stallholders was E•VOL Studio, a project set up by a group of differently-abled youths and their parents. 16-year-old artist Reena who has mild autism was there with her mother. The teen has a fascination with colours and many of her  jewellery which she designed for sale that day bore evidence of her bold use of colours.

Reena (left) and her mother, Jennifer with the jewellery she designed and made out of non-toxic polymer clay.

Little Elora, fresh from the Coptic Book Binding workshop, was spotted browsing the range of artisanal, handcrafted products and merchandise made by or with PWDs. She ended up picking a handmade notebook to add to her collection.

As the day drew to a close, a member of the community could be heard exclaiming that the festival had thrown up more interesting activities than she had expected. Indeed, it was an educational, interactive and inclusive time for all.