Linda Prebhash started out as a mainstream school teacher for a few years before further pursuing her studies in Special Education. Upon returning to Singapore, she started teaching in the Association For Persons With Special Needs before moved to Rainbow Centre Singapore. She has been in the Special Education sector now for more than 30 years in various capacities. She has also served as a volunteer with Special Olympics Singapore for more than 30 years and is currently the Honorary Secretary and Sports Director.
KrASIA (Kr): How did you get involved with Special Olympics Singapore (SOSG)?
Linda Prebhash (LP): It’s been more than 30 years since I’ve been involved in Special Olympics. I’m a sports-minded person, and I see the benefits of engaging in sports. I also have a passion to serve the community with special needs. It was a natural process to bring the two passions together.
Kr: What have been the highlights for SOSG since you started?
LP: We’ve been growing the number of sports included. We have been strengthening the skill sets of our coaches and volunteers. We have also moved into a unified platform, which means that we are trying to match our athletes with partners. They play and compete together. That’s one of the newer initiatives of SOSG.
Additionally, the Ministry of Education (MOE), Singapore and SOSG have partnered up for an initiative called Play Inclusive for four years now. Our special athletes are attached to mainstream schools, and they train together across four different sports. In their training, there must be a minimum of eight sessions, with an eventual platform to compete. This has taken off very well. With the covid-19 lockdown measures last year, we had to switch to virtual sessions. This year, we’re hoping for a blend of virtual and face-to-face sessions.
Kr: What have been some of your challenges so far?
LP: With the covid-19 situation, you can only have eight people in a group. Compared to when bigger groups were allowed, we now need a lot more time slots for the same number of people. A lot of people are looking for venues: us, other organizations, public coaches, and more. We’re trying to figure out how we can all effectively work together.
Volunteers are also a group we are always mindful of. We have many athletes waiting to join us. Whenever we start a program, we need a few key volunteers who will take the initiative to be the coordinator and monitor the program. We have many ad-hoc volunteers, but we need consistent volunteers to help out.
Kr: How is it like for children with intellectual disabilities once they’re outside of the SOSG environment?
LP: We have a whole range. There are some athletes who come in and just need a little bit of guidance, and then we try to get them to join mainstream teams of sports. However, there are also some athletes who need a little bit more guidance. It may be too overwhelming for them to go out there and join other people. We try to have a range of models for different groups of people, and then we see which model fits an athlete best.
Kr: Is there anything Singapore can do to make opportunities for children with intellectual disabilities more accessible?
LP: One would be the provision of venues. There’s a dire lack of space for sports, especially with Covid-19 restrictions. Another would be for more volunteers to come on board. It would be good to have sports-minded volunteers who can bring SOSG athletes along with them for their workout routine.
Kr: One issue for people with intellectual disabilities is that the level of support they receive drops once they hit adulthood. Is this an issue in Singapore and how does SOSG help?
LP: This happens in countries that are fast-paced and work-oriented. Even for the general population in Singapore, once people start working, sports take a backseat. For our athletes, we engineer a schedule for them to engage in sports. We need to do this to cater to their special needs. It’s tough to match schedules because many of our persons with disabilities work in sectors relying on shift work, like F&B or hospitality.
Moreover, athletes already have the interests. They have the space to play recreationally, but we want to provide them with opportunities for competitions. This is so that they can work towards goals and see themselves grow. The challenge is in providing opportunities for progress.
Kr: How will increased media visibility help SOSG grow?
LP: The Special Olympics athlete’s oath is, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” This is a powerful message, and it’s not out in the media enough. If more people just heard and understood our work, they would buy into it.
Kr: Why do you think there’s a gap in the media coverage between Paralympics and Special Olympics?
LP: It’s simple. Paralympics caters to the elite. It showcases the best of the best. Their philosophy has its own place. On the other hand, the Special Olympics is about trying your best. It has a different purpose. You may not be the best, but you try. Naturally, people would gravitate towards the former. We don’t see the training to qualify to become the best.
Kr: What are some new initiatives SOSG will be bringing in for 2021?
LP: This year, our focus is reaching athletes who are outside the school system. The system has a hand in shaping athletes in schools, but we are trying to reach those that have no supervision. We need to bring them back into sports. SOSG is trying to create smaller pockets of training sessions around the island. For example, a small running group in their own neighborhood that athletes don’t have to travel too far to join.
Kr: What impact do you want to leave behind with SOSG?
LP: I want to see a vibrant, inclusive sports environment. I want to introduce our athletes to mainstream groups that are already out there, so that they are included in the various sports available. Even with volunteers, inclusion is important. We need different types of volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds.