Disabled people with staff of ABLE, a Catholic charity changing lives in Singapore. (Photo: ABLE)
In 2015, Mohmmad Syafiq’s world turned upside down when he suffered a massive stroke that left the lower half of his body paralyzed. He thought it was an end to his happy, spirited and independent life forever.
Six years on, the 29-year-old Muslim from Singapore has defied all the challenges and regained the strength to become independent again despite limited movement.
Though he needs to use a wheelchair, Syafiq has a full-time job five days a week as a customer service agent with Silver Spring Pathfinder, an outsourced customer services provider.
He goes to the office every morning and works side by side with colleagues. He enjoys the banter of office life and returns home with happiness each day.
Syafiq’s joyful recovery would not have been possible without support from ABLE (Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations), a Catholic charity linked with Caritas Singapore, the social service agency of Singapore Archdiocese.
Syafiq was introduced to ABLE in 2016 when he was still in distress over his unexpected physical disability.
The staff at ABLE are very passionate and caring, and they know what they are doing
The therapists at ABLE gave him love that restored his confidence. Its rehabilitation center provided him with transport and respite services when he returned to his family.
For several months, Syafiq attended coaching and counseling sessions as part of ABLE’s Return-To-Work program. Thanks to hard work, perseverance and an enormous amount of encouragement and support, Syafiq was able to find a job in 2018.
As the young man looks back on his life since his stroke, including his challenges and struggles, he bows his head to acknowledge the support he has received from ABLE.
“The staff at ABLE are very passionate and caring, and they know what they are doing,” he said.
Dozens of similar stories of inspiration and hope in Singapore are credited to ABLE, which came into being in 2009.
That year, the Catholic Social and Community Council approached Raymundo Yu, a Philippines-born Singaporean banker, to help establish Caritas Singapore to serve people with physical disabilities.
Yu, a well-known philanthropist, gathered a group of like-minded individuals to raise funds and run the charity. In October 2010, ABLE was incorporated with the National Council of Social Services and began operating as a member of Caritas Singapore.
“The destitute should not be treated like handouts,” Yu, the founding chairman of ABLE, said during an interview.
Prior to its incorporation, ABLE carried out research to assess the needs of people with physical challenges in the community and a series of talks were held with like-minded organizations over possible collaboration.
ABLE implemented the first project with the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore (MDAS) to run the Centre for the Physically Challenged from December 2010 to May 2015. The project served 326 people with over 500 rehabilitation sessions, 160 courses and 182 job placements.
In March 2013, again collaborating with MDAS, ABLE set up Agape Respite to provide opportunities for caregivers to energize and refresh themselves. At the center, caregivers get respite through organized activities and their care recipients are involved in relaxing activities. It has served over 200 family caregivers and 140 patients through the center and home-based programs.
Serving people with disabilities is a form of giving back to society
The same year, ABLE launched the Return-To-Work project to train and coach physically challenged beneficiaries in accounting and to place them in gainful employment. Services include accounting, payroll and GST applications and filings.
Since 2015, the initiative has been registered with the government with the mission to provide opportunities for the disabled to be gainfully employed.
In October 2015, ABLE relocated to Agape Village in Toa Payoh, a residential area in central Singapore. Agape Village houses three centers — ABLE Rehabilitation and Training Center, ABLE Respite Center and ABLE Transport, which provides wheelchair-accessible vans to disabled persons.
During the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, ABLE has adopted new ways to help people through telecommunications and video-conferencing.
“Serving people with disabilities is a form of giving back to society,” said ABLE executive director Gene Lee.
Singapore has about 250,000 people with disabilities out its population of 5.8 million, according to government data.
Social activists say that despite state-run and non-government services, many disabled persons face social stigma in the city-state largely due to a lack of community awareness and a robust family-based caregiver support system.