As a young student at NUS just a couple of years ago, Xinyun Oh once helped to organise a camp that brings together children with and without intellectual disabilities.
The initiative called Camp Confidante was a platform for the children to play together and learn more about each other, but the experience also gave Oh a glimpse into the lives of children with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers.
Speaking to The Pride, Oh, 25, recalled: “I saw for myself that it’s really not easy. It was quite difficult for me to care for the children for just a few hours, so I couldn’t imagine how tough it is for their mothers to care for them every day.”
Although aware that some of these families don’t see themselves as unfortunate, Oh was empathetic towards the sacrifices that caregivers, typically mothers, may have to make.
She explained: “For some, it’s like your identity changes drastically overnight, having to devote yourself to your child more than other parents may need to, due to their conditions. They may also feel heartache that their children were born with special needs or have worries about the future.”
The experience was always at the back of her mind even after she graduated from university and took on the role of business development executive at Gim Tim Restaurant.
With the blessings of her father, who owns the restaurant, she decided to organise a special treat this Mother’s Day for these caregivers and other “extraordinary mums”.
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In a Facebook post last week, the restaurant extended a dinner invitation to “mums of extra strength”, such as those who have children with special needs, single mothers or those from low-income families.
The post encouraged them, saying: “Amidst all the breakdowns, tears and crying, you are doing a great job to bring up a wonderful human being… we would like to invite you down for a meal to thank you for all that you have given to your child, not that you need any appreciation but it’s our way of saying ‘we know’.”
Oh’s message struck a chord with Lim Wei Ping, in her 40s, who left her job 14 years ago to care for her son who has autism.
So when she was approached for help to spread the word of the dinner invitation, Lim decided to share it with an informal autism support group she runs that has almost 300 members on Whatsapp.
Lim told The Pride: “Initially, Xinyun spoke about trying to get some sponsors in before deciding whether to go ahead. Later on, however, she decided to proceed even though she wasn’t able to find any sponsors.”
“Gim Tim was only looking to invite 30 people from our group. But due to the good response, they increased it to 50 people without me asking.”
For Lim, whose 16-year-old son has moderate to severe autism that gives him the IQ and average ability of a four-year-old, the dinner is a meaningful way to acknowledge the efforts of mothers who are caregivers.
Speaking from her own experience, she explained: “Taking care of a person with autism spectrum disorder is hard beyond words. Most mothers are very strong outwardly. We don’t, and probably can’t, show that we’re having a hard time because life has to go on. Most soldier on with a smile, but I always say that behind their laughter and smiles is a life of tears, fears, sweat and even bloodshed (from their children turning aggressive to them).”
As such, Lim volunteered to help Gim Tim to organise the event, in the hopes that it would offer some welcome support and respite for these extraordinary mums.
“It gives them some time away from the kids, so they can gather with their friends and get to meet others in the same community who understand their circumstances, feelings and experiences.”
At the special dinner event held at Gim Tim’s Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 branch yesterday, some 80 extraordinary mums, including 30 others from various other backgrounds, were treated to a scrumptious spread of the restaurant’s signature Hokkien and Cantonese dishes, with ingredients graciously sponsored by its regular suppliers.
And in the company of others who could relate to their experiences, many of the mothers found a rare outlet to express their feelings.
Oh said: “Some mentioned that it has been some time since they could laugh so much with their friends. They could really relax, and it was a precious evening for them to take some time off from being a mum.”
“One particular mother’s heartfelt message really touched me. She wrote in Chinese that she was used to taking care of her special needs child without people asking her how she is doing. She also didn’t expect her child to do anything special for her.”
So although the restaurant had to close off almost half of its tables to paying customers for the evening, the fact that these extraordinary mothers could simply enjoy a special Mother’s Day, was surely priceless.