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Linette Heng
Saturday, Oct 4, 2014

Singapore

Hong Lim Park fracas: No anger, just disappointment, parents say

The New Paper | Linette Heng | Saturday, Oct 4, 2014

The Y-Stars, comprising people with special needs aged 13 to 40, had been preparing for their performance for a year.

It was supposed to be a fun day at the YMCA Proms @ the Park event at Hong Lim Park, also known as Speakers' Corner, for the performers and their families last Saturday.

But the Y-Stars are now in the spotlight after bloggers Han Hui Hui and Roy Ngerng led a group of protesters and disrupted their performance.

Ms Han, 22, and Mr Ngerng, 33, were there for a separate event, Return Our CPF, which was held on the same day at Hong Lim Park.

In a confrontation with an NParks officer and the police that was captured on video, Ms Han was visibly upset that her group's protest could not use the space occupied by the YMCA event.

Madam Regina Aun, 55, a parent volunteer of a Y-Stars participant, said the performers were taken aback when the protesters appeared.

"They felt intimidated and were disorientated by the noise and crowd," she told The New Paper on Tuesday.

Madam Aun declined to go into details of the incident as police investigations are ongoing.

But a 17-minute video posted on YouTube on Sunday shows the protesters approaching the stage where the Y-Stars, who are people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, were just about to start their performance.

Mr Ngerng and Ms Han, who had microphones, could be heard shouting slogans such as "Return our CPF!"

The protesters also heckled the Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Mr Teo Ser Luck, who was the guest of honour for the YMCA event.

They left after the Y-Stars started performing but returned later after another group of performers, the YMCA Deaf Generation, took to the stage.

Mr Johnson Chia, 22, co-leader of YMCA Youth Deaf Generation, said: "I felt so worried for our deaf members and the actual performance as the protest was so loud that it affected our tempo and beat. (But) we continued as we needed to deliver our best performance in front of the audience. We all did our best working and playing together."

Miss Rachel Koh, 23, the other co-leader, was angry at the "inconsideration and lack of manners" of the protesters.

She said: "There were people watching our performance and we could not allow other things to distract us for the sake of the audience to enjoy the music. Some rhythms were off because of the interruption."

Ms Lily Goh, director and founder of ExtraOrdinary Horizons (Deaf Singapore), was also concerned about the well-being of the performers.

"Luckily, they were not badly affected as they have good teamwork," she said.

"However, think of other people with disabilities, including children with special needs. They were indeed shocked and they needed a longer time to recover."

SADDENNED

Madam Aun, an active parent volunteer for over 20 years, said the parents were saddened by the turn of events.

"The performers have varying abilities and it took them between nine months and a year to learn the dance," she said.

"We are like a support group. The mothers and caregivers meet at our studio at Goodman Arts Centre as their children practise for about two hours every Saturday.

"We are not angry but it's definitely disappointing."

Madam Aun, 55, had previously told The Straits Times that the group and their parents would decline to meet Mr Ngerng after he wrote on his blog on Sunday that he hoped to meet them to apologise.

He wrote: "YMCA might have been retooled for a political purpose at the protest but there are good people at the YMCA, as we have (sic) seen among the volunteers and attendees at the event yesterday."

His supporters have also started a petition, accusing YMCA Singapore of "using children with special needs as human shields" for political reasons.

Madam Aun told TNP: "If he wants to apologise, it's fine, but we don't see the need to meet."

The Y-Stars performers will not be deterred by this episode, she added.

"There will be another chance to perform."

linheng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Oct 2, 2014.
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