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100 people in wheelchairs visit Pulau Ubin

Wheelchair users tour island as part of SG50 event

FUN OUTING: (Above) Members of the Republic of Singapore Navy helping participants board the fast craft utility boats that took them to Pulau Ubin.
(Above) Muhd Danial, 10, and his parents, Mr Sohaimi Wari and Madam Rosidah Omar.
GREEN ROUTE: Participants went on a tour of Pulau Ubin, with the help of volunteers.

Yesterday, 10-year-old Muhd Danial Sohaimi went to Pulau Ubin for the first time in his life.

The Primary 4 pupil at Canberra Primary School was one of 100 wheelchair users invited to Pulau Ubin as part of an SG50 event, Wheels @ Ubin.

Organised by Mr Dennis Quek, director at Republic Polytechnic's Centre of Innovation for Supply Chain Management, the event was to raise awareness about the inaccessibility of certain places in Singapore, such as nature reserves, to people with disabilities.

It is supported by the SG50 Celebration Fund.

Danial, who suffers from a genetic disorder known as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, told The New Paper that he enjoyed his day out.

He said: "I really love the sea and it is my favourite thing here."

Participants were picked up from their homes in SMRT taxis.

They were ferried to Pulau Ubin from Changi Sailing Club on five fast craft utility boats (FCUs) provided by the Republic of Singapore Navy.

Bum boats, which are normally used for travel to Pulau Ubin, could not be used as they pose a safety hazard for wheelchair users because of space constraints.

VOLUNTEERS

At Pulau Ubin, most of the participants, who are beneficiaries of the Asian Women's Welfare Association and the Society for the Physically Disabled, went on a tour around the island with the help of volunteers.

Another 22 participants from the Hand-cycling Association of Singapore toured the bicycle routes on their handcycles.

For most of the participants, it was the first time they had been to Pulau Ubin.

It was also Danial's first visit to a park or nature reserve since he started using a wheelchair two years ago.

Danial's mother, Madam Rosidah Omar, said she was thankful her son got to take part in the event, especially since areas like Pulau Ubin are usually not accessible to people using wheelchairs.

Her son lost the ability to walk when he was eight due to the debilitating muscle wasting condition that affects one in 3,500 boys worldwide.

Said the 37-year-old childcare teacher: "I am really happy that my son is able to experience this. My two older brothers had (the same condition) and they both passed away at 14 and 16 years old.

"There is no cure for this and it will only get worse as Danial grows older."

Participants were also treated to cultural performances, such as Malay dikir barat and Chinese wushu, by students from Republic Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Mr Quek said: "Having just come back from Sweden, I noticed that (the) majority of their nature trails are made accessible to (those) who are wheelchair bound."

"(We wanted) to show how much (wheelchair users) require in terms of accessibility."

Volunteer Alex Lim, 48, a senior executive, said: "It is truly fulfilling to help people experience new things and to help kids like Danial enjoy life as much as they can."

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A heart for pro-bono causes

Lawyer takes 30 per cent pay cut to join year-long Criminal Aid Legal Scheme Fellowship

BUSY: Ms Sujatha Selvakumar handles between 25 and 30 active cases at any one time.

Keeping a mentally ill man with an underwear fetish out of prison is one of the highlights of her time at the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) Fellowship.

For CLAS Fellow Sujatha Selvakumar, 30, it is the ability to fight for marginalised segments of society that drew her to the programme.

She is in the inaugural batch of lawyers in the year-long Fellowship that has five lawyers doing criminal legal aid work full-time. They are hired by the Law Society.

"I do a lot of voluntary work in the community and I did a lot of pro bono work (professionally), so I thought this would be a natural fit," said Ms Sujatha, who volunteers for the Singapore Indian Development Association and also helps out in grassroots work.

A lawyer for four years with Straits Law Practice, she took a 30 per cent pay cut when she joined the Fellowship.

She said she now handles a load of between 25 and 30 active cases at any one time, but the luxury of not having to keep an eye on the clock is liberating.

"In a law firm, pro bono work is a side project because there are clients who are paying you and KPIs (key performance indexes) and work hours to meet," she said.

"(At the Pro Bono Services Office), you get to spend as long as you need with an accused person.

"Often, you meet people who have mental illnesses or social problems, so you need to have the time to sit down, hear them out and work with them through their issues."

A proponent of rehabilitative justice, Ms Sujatha believes that having a programme like the Fellowship is the closest thing Singapore has to a public defender's office, and also shows us moving towards a more compassionate society.

"There's understanding that people commit crimes when they fall through the social safety nets, or as a result of psychiatric issues not merely because they are recalcitrant," she said.

REHABILITATION

She added that she would like to see more done in the area of rehabilitative justice and community-based sentences.

In community-based sentences, instead of being sent to prison for long periods, criminals can be ordered to seek treatment for their issues, do community service, or to report to a centre daily for counselling and rehabilitation.

And for those on the defence, a win can be as simple as keeping a client out of prison.

One of the first cases Ms Sujatha took on in January was the man with the underwear fetish. He had cross-dressed and was caught exposing himself in public.

The man had a long history of being in and out of jail for similar offences, with his last incarceration in 2011.

Prison was not a solution and the man needed help, Ms Sujatha said, and she requested for him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

It turned out that he had fetishism after having been sexually abused as a child. His father had similar issues and his mother was a gambler with alcohol problems.

"We highlighted his psychiatric illness (to the court) and he worked well with us in seeking voluntary treatment.

"In the end, he was fined $2,000 instead of getting jail time," she said with a proud smile.

It is this dedication to her clients that sets Ms Sujatha apart, said criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, who is a mentor in the Fellowship programme.

"She has the heart for the pro bono cause, which is something that we look for in Fellows," he added.

Mr Tan was the lead counsel in a recent case where they defended Robiah Lia Caniago, an Indonesian who was fined $3,000 last month for running a curry puff operation in her flat.

She served a five-day jail sentence in default when she was unable to pay the fine.

They represented her under CLAS' ad hoc scheme because her offence did not fall under the area covered by the regular scheme.

Mr Tan said: "When someone feels so strongly for the (pro bono) cause, there's sustainability. Hopefully, at the end of the Fellowship, she (Ms Sujatha) can bring this passion back to her peers."

I do a lot of voluntary work in the community and I did a lot of pro bono work (professionally), so I thought this would be a natural fit.

- Ms Sujatha Selvakumar

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