Singapore

New series allows more onto Istana grounds

Yesterday marked a series of firsts for nine-year-old Dylan See. It was his first outing on the Istana grounds, his first time meeting a president and his first time feeding a swan.

Dylan's visit was made possible by the new Picnic@Istana series, which is part of President Halimah Yacob's push to make the Istana grounds more accessible to Singaporeans.

He was among more than 30 children from the Dyslexia Association of Singapore invited by Madam Halimah to yesterday's picnic.

They had light refreshments, painted with School of the Arts students and learnt more about the pair of mute swans, which the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew would visit and feed during their evening walks.

Madam Halimah said: "The Istana has a very special place in the hearts of many Singaporeans, because I think many people grew up with memories and stories about the Istana.

"And that is as it should be because this is part of our heritage, our history. It is a symbol of our independence, our sovereignty."

The Istana now holds open houses five times a year, but Madam Halimah said she felt it should be more accessible.

"I really hope that making the Istana grounds more accessible to Singaporeans will also develop their sense of pride, identity and sense of belonging as a Singaporean," she said.

Besides the Picnic@Istana series, which will see four picnics held a year, there are plans for other activities, she said. These are still being formalised.

Dyslexia Association of Singapore head of publicity and publications Deborah Hewes said of Madam Halimah: "She has been going out there, reaching out to a range of groups. And while she is interacting with special needs students, those with dyslexia have not been discounted - which they sometimes are, because their disability is seen as invisible or hidden.

"I am grateful she has made some time for us, to tell us she is paying attention to us too, and invited us to the Istana."

Halimah Yacob