The Straits Times: Acid attack left him with a speech impairment, but scholarship recipient wants to be a speech therapist

The Straits Times: Acid attack left him with a speech impairment, but scholarship recipient wants to be a speech therapist

SINGAPORE – Having once come close to losing his voice forever, Mr Samuel Lim, 20, now aspires to be a speech therapist.

When he was three months old, his upper airway and upper gastrointestinal tract were permanently damaged when a former maid poured sulphuric acid down his throat.

He now breathes and eats through two tubes – one in his windpipe and one in his stomach – and has a speech impairment as well.

When he was in primary school, he was frequently admitted to hospital for intestinal obstruction as a result of injuries sustained in the acid attack.

On Tuesday (Oct 8), Mr Lim was among four recipients of the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities. There were 24 applicants for the scholarship which the foundation awards annually in partnership with SPD, a local charity that helps those with disabilities.

Mr Lim is studying linguistics and multilingual studies as a second-year student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

He was spurred to take the course while struggling to regain his speech abilities after a complication during a minor nasal cavity surgery threatened to take away his voice. It happened in 2017.

“I became interested in phonetics, and how our vocal chords produce sounds, especially for people with speech disabilities like me,” said Mr Lim, adding that his junior college linguistics tutor had also inspired him by sharing how language can impact society.

For example, he learnt that language can reinforce discrimination against people with disabilities.

Mr Lim also enjoys music and performing, and has a Grade 8 in piano and Grade 9 in guzheng, both of which he picked up in primary school.

The award ceremony on Tuesday was held at SPD’s Peng Nguan Street headquarters. The scholarships are given to students with permanent physical, sensory or developmental disabilities enrolled in any of the six local universities.

To date, 46 recipients have received more than $1.6 million in scholarship monies in total.

The other recipients on Tuesday were Ms Foo Xu Hui, 23, a third-year student at NTU studying biological science; Mr Toh Wei Soong, 21, a first-year student at the National University of Singapore (NUS) studying philosophy, politics and economics; and Mr Daniel Liew, 21, a third-year statistics and business analytics student at NUS.

Mr Toh has transverse myelitis, a condition caused by the inflammation of the spinal cord, which affected his lower nervous system. He needs a wheelchair to move around.

Mr Liew has autism.

As for Ms Foo, she is paralysed from the waist down, after slipping and falling on her back when she was 17. She now uses a motorised wheelchair to get around.

Since August, she has been volunteering with a student organisation to promote integration and inclusion in her school community, such as helping to assimilate international students and taking part in the Purple Parade, an annual event in Singapore to promote awareness of the special needs community here.

A dancer and gymnast when she was younger, she hopes to be able to perform again despite being in a wheelchair. She now spends time watching dance videos to learn choreography, and is learning to sing.

“Through my voice, I can convey my emotions to others, and I can also write songs to encourage others with disabilities,” said Ms Foo.