Everything Is Illuminated

These youths shine, even in their darkest hour

By Clara Lock, photos courtesy of National Youth Council (NYC)

Ms Alvina Neo, a spina bifida patient, is no stranger to being part of the minority. She once helped a visually impaired man find his way, only to be jeered at by a group of older women. Ms Neo overheard them say in dialect: “Is it the blind helping the cripple, or the cripple helping the blind?”

But the plucky 23-year-old is not content to let her physical disability define her. Ms Neo is part of Dreamcatchers, an adolescent chronic illness peer group that uses art and crafts to express their aspirations, and wants to spread the word that chronic illness is not a debilitating condition.

Spina bifida, a congenital disorder that can cause difficulty in walking, is a condition that Mr Bernard Teo also suffers from. Led by social workers, he has crafted a sculpture from wooden jenga blocks, which represents who he is.

“Even when you take pieces out, the structure still stands. We might not be popular, and might form the minority, but at the end of the day we are full of heart and full of drive,” said the 24-year-old, who is a psychology and communication studies undergraduate at Murdoch University.

His art piece, along with those of his peers, will be presented in an exhibition called Project Dreamcatchers. The exhibition, which will feature art pieces made of medical equipment, will be on display at the Goodman Arts centre from the 27th to the 29th of July.

The exhibition is one of the gold awardees of this year’s Pitch to Shine, a new element of the Shine Youth Festival which aims to recognize youth projects that promote worthy causes in the community. 16 projects were selected early this year, and will be supported with grants totaling up to $180,000.

“It’s a ground up approach,” said Mr Martin Tan, who is the chairman of the Shine Youth Festival Steering Committee. “We believe young people have great ideas they can implement to benefit society.”

The festival runs from 30th June to 29th July, and features a series of free events taking place island wide. For Ms Neo, Shine is a chance to show people that youths like her just want to have fun.

“I want to speak up for people with chronic illnesses, and let the public know that we’re not always negative and sad,” she said. “We’re still young, and we just want to have fun with life.”

For more information about the Shine Youth Festival 2012 and a full list of events, visit http://shine.nyc.sg