PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 50th Anniversary of SPD

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 27 November 2014

Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 50th Anniversary of SPD on 27 November 2014.


Ms Chia Yong Yong

President of SPD

Ladies and Gentlemen

First, may I congratulate SPD on your 50th birthday.

Last year, as a nation, we embarked on a New Way Forward, shifting our approach to give more social support. While individuals need to continue to work hard, the community and the Government will be doing more to support individuals. We are developing new policies – more social support for elderly, and the low income and disadvantaged groups; more risk sharing, for example, with Medishield Life, with universal healthcare coverage for all.  The net result: the state is playing a bigger role.

But even as the Government steps up to do more, community groups like SPD continue to play a critical role, mobilising passionate volunteers, raising funds from the community, tackling actual problems of specific groups and individuals in need, strengthening the bonds among our people.  And for that, we are grateful.

Every society will have its problems and people who are disadvantaged, disabled or need help.  What matters is not whether there are such people, but how we as a society take care of them, embrace them, and how they can contribute to and participate in the society – as Yong Yong said, be a part of the society.  Long ago, Mr S Rajaratnam put this in his usual vivid way, and he said, are we a democracy of deeds, or a democracy of words?  We have to be a democracy of deeds, by what we do, by how we value individuals, as a society.  Are people with special needs just there to be helped, or should they not be people who matter in our society, who are enabled to contribute to our society in full measure?  Our society should value every person, no matter who he is, or what he was born with or without, because every person matters to us.  These are the basic principles that should guide us as we build a fair and just society.

Therefore, I am glad that SPD and organisations like you have done so much.  SPD itself is providing help to 4,700 beneficiaries in different life stages every year, from educating children with developmental delays and special needs; to helping youths with disabilities pursue academic studies, arts, sports or community service; to supporting adults in day care and rehabilitation services; and training people for jobs, and supporting their employment.  SPD also provides opportunities for volunteers to serve, like Mr Kenneth Li, who has volunteered for more than 10 years and mentors a pair of twins who were born with a form of dwarfism.  When the twins’ parents’ marriage broke up, Kenneth became the pillar of emotional support for the twins.  When the mother passed away two years ago, Kenneth helped the boys map out a long term plan for themselves.  To help the boys gain practical work experience, he employed them in his own company during their school holidays.  Today, the boys have grown up.  They are young men, aged 20, both working, and remain close to Kenneth, who is here with us this evening. Thank you, Kenneth, for being a role model to all of us.

Beyond tangible contributions, organisations like SPD remind us of what we aspire to be as a society: Where every Singaporean counts, no matter who he or she is; where the disabled or the less privileged amongst us inspire us with their grit, determination and passion.  Take for example one of your client, 31-year-old Yuet Jun Kai, who was diagnosed with Hypoxic Brain Damage back in 2005.  It weakened his left hand, and his speech and cognitive abilities.  The following year, Jun Kai enrolled in SPD’s Day Activity Centre, and with rehabilitation and training, he progressed and last November, secured an open job performing administrative duties at a Laundromat.  Jun Kai is proud and happy to be working and he continues to give back – on his off-days, he visits SPD’s Centre at Tiong Bahru to catch up with his friends.  Another person with disability is Jovin Tan.  You know of him, because he is a Paralympian.  He is now 28.  Born with cerebral palsy, he picked up sailing in his teens.  He has a day job in a consulting group, and he trains, a world-class athlete.  He has been a three-time Paralympian.  At this year’s ASEAN Para Games last month, with his partner Yap Qian Yin, they won Singapore’s first ever Gold medals at the ASEAN Para Games.  His motto is, “There is no ‘can’ or ‘cannot’, only how much you want something”, which should be a motto for all of us.

Together with organisations like you, the Government is building a more inclusive society.  That is why we are pursuing the Enabling Masterplan, a shared blueprint on policies and programmes for persons with disabilities – because everyone deserves to lead a dignified and confident life.  That is why we have extended Medishield to children born with congenital and neonatal conditions – because every child is precious to us.  That is why we are giving more support to early intervention services for pre-schoolers and continue to improve the programmes at our SPED schools – because education matters and we believe in opportunities for all.  That is why we are introducing transport subsidies and improving physical access for persons with disabilities – because Singapore is home to all of us.

I am also very happy that your President, Ms Chia Yong Yong, has become a Nominated Member of Parliament.  She is an inspiration to us all, in the Chamber and out.  Before she became an NMP, she played an active role on the committee of Our Singapore Conversation (OSC), leading many discussions and contributing to shaping our shared future.  I am looking forward to her contributions in Parliament.  I am listening to her speeches carefully, because she makes sense, as you have heard just now.  Naturally she will speak on behalf of persons with disabilities, but I am quite sure she will also speak on behalf of others, and on many other issues, as she did in the OSC.  Her example will show Singaporeans how persons with disabilities can and should contribute to our society, and I am sure, inspire many other persons in a position like her to follow in her path.

On this happy occasion, I wish SPD well.  Thank you, to the volunteers, the leaders and the donors who have contributed time, expertise and money and done so much to support SPD.  SPD was formed 50 years ago today, in response to a moving speech by Ms Paulette Leaning, who herself had cerebral palsy.  Ms Leaning said, “We are all fellow travellers on the road of life, and we have to learn to accept each other no matter what we may be – coloured, blind or palsied.”  In 50 years, language has changed, and nowadays we would have expressed it maybe a little differently.  But all of you – leaders, staff, partners, volunteers and supporters of SPD, you have embodied this spirit and the substance of that message; that drive and that mission have not changed.  So congratulations again on many years of good work, and Happy Birthday to all of you.  Thank you very much. 

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