Special internships at a special place for students with special needs
Mohamed Naufal Rahid Mohamed Mukthnah, 16, has selective mutism, a childhood anxiety disorder in which a child cannot speak in certain settings.
But when he saw the plants and trees in the gardens of the Istana on his first day, he got so excited and kept tapping those around him and pointing at the plants.
Naufal is one of seven students from the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Katong School interning at the Istana as part of their Work Experience Programme.
On Sept 15, President Halimah Yacob visited the Centre for Adults of APSN in her first event as president.
That visit gave her the idea for a collaboration between APSN and the Istana.
Speaking at the Istana yesterday, Madam Halimah said: "I visited APSN and they shared with me that they do face some challenges in getting internships for their students.
"So I went back and discussed with my colleagues at the Istana and said, 'Can we take the lead because we must set a good example', to provide internships for students from APSN."
At the same time, Mr Han Xuan Chou, a culinary trainer at APSN who had worked at the Istana for six years, contacted his previous reporting officer, Mr Sunny Seah, the head of Istana programmes and household, with the idea of internships for APSN students.
Mr Han told The New Paper: "I always try my luck and contact employers such as hotels (for internships). Most of my attempts get rejected because their staff are not trained or may not know how to handle students with special needs.
"But Mr Seah and his colleagues were keen and they came down the day after Madam Halimah's visit to meet us."
The Work Experience Programme started on Oct 10 and consists of 32 hours across 10 sessions.
The students learn horticulture skills such as weeding, seeding and re-potting, working alongside National Parks Board curators for five sessions.
They also have five food and beverage sessions with chefs in the Istana kitchen to learn basic knife skills and how to handle basic equipment and ingredients.
APSN student Neo Boon Fan, 16, who hopes to be a chef, did her fifth culinary session at the Istana yesterday.
She, along with three other students, baked a kueh lapis which was presented at the tea reception with Madam Halimah yesterday.
Boon Fan told TNP she was nervous at first but felt happy and excited when Madam Halimah tasted the food she prepared.
Said Madam Halimah: "It does not take a lot for us to provide that kind of experience, knowledge or skills to them.
"You may need to modify a little bit here and there for the work processes or designs but those are not insurmountable obstacles.
"I hope that more employers will open their doors and open their hearts to provide more opportunities to the students (with special needs) so we truly mean what we say when we talk about being an inclusive society."