From the Diocese of Singapore website
With bated breaths we have waited for six years and finally, the St Andrew’s Autism Centre was officially opened by His Excellency, Mr S R Nathan, President of Singapore. In his message, President Nathan notes, “Even as Singapore progresses, we have to be mindful to leave no one behind.”
The Opening Ceremony brought together 400 guests from the Government Ministries, the Community and Welfare Services, the Christian community and beneficiaries of SAAC. As they arrived the St Andrew’s Secondary School Military Band welcomed them. Yeoman service was provided by the Boys’ Brigade 7th Company. The guests were treated to a hip-hop dance by the children from the autism school and serenaded by the St Margaret’s Primary School Choir. Along the corridors of the Centre, there were panels exhibiting large colourful oil paintings by the centre’s clients. It was indeed a celebration of the colours of life, love and hope.
The $23.7 million centre is the first integrated comprehensive facility in this region to serve people with autism; children, youth and adults, and their families and caregivers. It focuses on those whose disabilities range from moderate to severe. Located at Elliot Road, the historic site of the original St Andrew’s Community Hospital (SACH), the Centre is carrying on the legacy left behind by the early pioneers like Dr Charlotte E Ferguson-Davie who started a clinic for women and children in 1913. Hence setting up this Centre of hope for the nation was a mammoth task.
The redevelopment of the Elliot Road site in the eastern part of Singapore was made possible with the help of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Health. The Government contributed $17 million and the Centre has raised 90% of the remaining $6.7 million. Spread out over 2.2 ha, the Centre houses a School and a Day Activity Centre (DAC). The School caters to children and youth from 7 - 18 years of age, whilst the DAC help adults receive therapy, education and pre-employment training.
Currently there are now 95 children registered with the St Andrew’s Autism School and 29 adults on the Day Activity Centre. Clients pay $350 monthly because the programme is heavily subsidised by the Government. The Centre will help further subsidise those who find this amount too steep.
On the sprawling campus, there are 15 blocks painted the whole spectrum of the rainbow. Art, music therapy and dance rooms, a clinic, mock-up flats to teach living skills, a sheltered outdoor hydro-therapy pool, a pet enclosure, a playground and a chapel, the Chapel of Christ Our Hope, represent a holistic and integrated approach to community services. (For more information on the Centre and Autism, log on to www.saac.org.sg).
In his opening prayer, Dennis Ang, Chair of the SAAC Board, said, “We remember the commission given to us the Anglican Church to be a Christian community serving people in Singapore with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We are humbled by your Grace in providing these premises which are to be dedicated for the service of our clients. Keep us faithful to our calling and strengthen us in our service.” It is with this strong sense of calling and a desire to serve the nation of Singapore, that St Andrew’s Mission Hospital Board began to plan for the Centre.
The first seeds were sown in 2005 when the National Council of Social Services initiated a dialogue. By 2006, the first shoots emerged with the DAC welcoming a few clients using the premises of SACH in Simei. The Speaker of Parliament, Mr Abdullah Tarmugi officiated at the Ground Breaking Ceremony for SAAC in 2009. John Ang, CEO of SAAC, points out that the complexities of offering multi-layered services and the desire to create a centre to provide almost lifelong support not only to people with autism but also their families and caregivers. This requires much time and careful planning. Hence the Centre could only open after a six year journey. For him, the Opening is like organising the wedding of a beloved daughter; full of joy and filled with details.
Peter Hsu, COO of the Singapore Anglican Community Services felt, “There is no true word of hope without action. The opening of the SAAC signifies our resolve as a community of faith to enter into solidarity with the people of autism and our willingness to enter into the situation of the caregivers where there is no quick fix. By trusting in the Holy Spirit to sustain and empower us along the long journey ahead, we desire to make our society less ugly, more beautiful, less discriminatory and more inclusive, less dehumanising and more humane.”
The next stage of the journey has just begun. The Centre has the capacity to serve 400; it is currently serving 124. SAAC is also intentionally and actively providing support and counselling services to caregivers. It has research and training facilities, as well as a medical centre. Research on autism will help Centre staff continually improve its standard of autism care. It is actively seeking partnerships to enhance and extend its scope. By building up social capital, the Centre is also seeking to educate, nurture and grow its pool of volunteers; thus helping the wider community to understand the needs of people with autism.
Anita Fam, SAAC Management Committee member, shares her observation at the official opening, "Whilst strolling round the elliptical green, I caught a glimpse of our students hard at 'play' in a classroom. Others I spied were exercising to the rhythmic beat of music and for the older ones, they had the privilege of demonstrating their potting skills and serving President Nathan with Milo. How wonderful…for SAAC is a place to learn, to have fun, to feel safe and to be of value. I was deeply overcome by how dearly God loves each one of us, including those that we serve at the Centre, and how faithful He has been in our journey to reach this place. To God be the glory.”
Download the April 2011 Issue of Diocesan Digest in PDF here