President Halimah Flags Off YMCA Special Needs Climbers for their second Mt Fuji Expedition

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Together with YMCA Special Needs Ambassadors, President Halimah Yacob launched the YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge 2021 at the Istana’s Inclusive Garden on 27 February 2021. She interacted with the YMCA ambassadors in person and flagged off their journey at the Inclusive Garden. The ambassadors then headed to Fort Canning, where they completed their first hike together.

In a video message, President Halimah said “I am encouraged by the confidence and courage shown by YMCA and their Special Needs Ambassadors. It proves that those with special needs also have special talents!”

The YMCA Special Needs Inclusive Challenge 2021 will see eight YMCA Special Needs Ambassadors attempt to virtually conquer Mt Fuji by accumulating 3,776m of elevation gain by climbing hills and stairs around Singapore. Members of the public can participate as individuals or in teams to accumulate 3,776m of elevation gain, Mt Fuji’s height or a distance of 125km, the perimeter of Mt Fuji.

Among the ambassadors is Oh Siew May, who has cerebral palsy, a condition that resulted in physical and speech impairments. She faced social isolation and bullying growing up, with people shunning her for her “alien”-like looks and manner of speaking. Her life was further complicated by the onset of a mental disability for her sister, family problems, and the eventual passing of her parents. She overcame all odds finding employment, acceptance and even climbed Mt Kinabalu. In 2019, she was among 10 special needs climbers to scale Mount Fuji in the first-ever YMCA Inclusive Climb. This year, she returns to complete the challenge.

Over 120 Singaporeans will embark on the YMCA Inclusive Challenge 2021, where they will try to conquer the height of Mount Fuji through tracked hikes and climbs in Singapore. The challenge is led by eight YMCA Ambassadors with special needs including cerebral palsy, visual impairments, autism, Down syndrome, and Global Development Delay. The three-month event hopes to raise awareness for special needs inclusivity and raise $250,000 for YMCA programmes that strengthen youth with special needs. Instead of hiking, participants may also choose to walk, run, or cycle around the perimeter of Japan’s tallest mountain. The challenge is open to all members of the public from now until 29 May.

The challenge is a continuation of the inaugural YMCA Inclusive Climb 2019, which saw 10 persons with special needs undergo intensive physical training before attempting to summit Mount Fuji. Due to harsh weather conditions, they were forced to descend less than 500 metres away from the peak. Even so, the participants and volunteers underwent an extraordinary journey of self-discovery. The climb also served as a platform to advocate for the capabilities of persons with special needs.

New recruits to the YMCA special needs ambassador team include winner of Project Superstar 2005, local singer Kelvin Tan Wei Lian, Para-athlete Siau Ek Jin, and Para-athlete and inspirational speaker Darren Chua, among others. Spartan Racer Harun Rahamad and author and motivational speaker Oh Siew May also return to continue their adventure from the first-ever climb two years ago.

Using the Strava phone application, participants will earn elevation metres at parks or buildings of their choice in Singapore. While public participants have the option of joining individually or in teams that accumulate elevation collectively, YMCA’s special needs ambassadors will be taking on the full height of the mountain individually.

In addition to raising funds and awareness for YMCA programmes that strengthen persons with special needs, the YMCA Inclusive Challenge also serves to build confidence, independence, and resilience of the special needs participants. It also provides a platform for them to form meaningful friendships with one another.

“Disabled does not mean being unable. For those with special needs and those going through hard times due to COVID-19, I want to stir up our spirits and show that we can get by with determination no matter how difficult things may be,” said Oh Siew May, YMCA Strong Ambassador.

“It is all the more meaningful that this challenge is not a race but a collaborative effort. It is heartening that many Singaporeans will be joining in the challenge to show their support and solidarity for persons with special needs. I hope to see more coming on board to support our friends with special needs in their journey as independent contributors in an inclusive society,” said President Halimah in her video message.

“The YMCA Inclusive Climb 2019 was unforgettable and greatly empowering to our special needs climbers and volunteers alike. Even though COVID-19 has prevented us from travelling, we are excited to be able to involve members of the public in joining us on this adventure from our sunny island. It will be a collaborative statement of solidarity with those with special needs while showing everyone that persons with special needs can achieve unimaginable heights,” said Steve Loh, General Secretary & CEO, YMCA of Singapore.

Members of the public who wish to join the movement may continue to sign up at any time before 29 April. For more information, please visit http://fuji.ymca.org.sg/.

Mdm President’s video message: https://fb.watch/4g3F0kTzSt/