A camp organised by the Faith and Light community.

Faith and Light Singapore supports people with intellectual disabilities and their families

People with intellectual disabilities and their families say they are grateful for the much needed support a community has been providing them.

The Faith and Light Singapore community, established in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in 2001, serves about 20 people with intellectual disabilities and their families. The disabilities include Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism.

Mrs Tan (not her real name), says her 16-year-old son enjoys the community’s activities and experiences love and acceptance there, something difficult to experience elsewhere as people tend to view him differently.

At Faith and Light activities, the trained volunteers and friends are able to communicate with him, something even his own relatives find challenging at times, she said.

Ms Rose Mary Alexander said when her husband died a few years ago, the community helped her and her son, Max, through financial assistance, prayers and fellowship. Thanks to the community, Max, 34, now takes an interest in prayer and spiritual songs, she said. He would also volunteer to lead prayers by emulating the other adult prayer leaders.

Faith and Light International started in 1971 when founders Jean Vanier and Marie-Helene Mathieu learned of a family who was discouraged from joining a pilgrimage to Lourdes because of their two special-needs sons.

Mr Vanier and Ms Mathieu then decided to organise a mass pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1971 for more than 12,000 people with special needs. Communities were formed and there are now 1,648 such communities in 79 countries.

The Singapore community meets monthly “to celebrate the gift of one another” within their own districts. Sessions are kept small and attended by those with special needs, their families and people who accompany the family spiritually. The latter also keep in touch with the families regularly outside of these meetings.

Sessions are lively and focused on activities such as songs and performances. Spiritual input, in the form of prayer, mimes and skits, help connect the “special person” to God. The activities create a sense of belonging for the “special person”, said Faith and Light Singapore West District Coordinator Gerry Szeto.

These “special people” look forward to the meetings as they know are they going to a place where people are familiar to them, a place of welcome, said Ms Szeto. Whatever little contribution they give is affirmed, she added.

Members agree wholeheartedly. Max says he enjoys the community activities as he gets to make friends. Jessica, 21, says the activities are fun, plus she gets to meet all her friends and “learn a lot of new things”.

Parents receive support from one another as well.

“Many parents face a lot of rejection from [society] and many are trying to … come to terms with why they were given a ‘special person’,” said Ms Szeto.

One woman’s colleagues even asked why she had not aborted her child. Through the community, the parent knows she is supported in her decision not to do so, said Ms Szeto.

Apart from monthly meetings, the community also organises outdoor activities, excursions, Masses and camps.

By Darren Boon
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