Circus outreach gives man confidence
Total Defence Day is on Monday. The five pillars of Total Defence are Military Defence, Civil Defence, Psychological Defence, Social Defence and Economic Defence. In the fourth of a five-part series, TNP speaks to a circus arts company that embodies the social aspect of Total Defence
When he was 14, he hardly spoke to his peers.
The reason: He was teased mercilessly because of his high-pitched voice.
His self-esteem hit rock bottom.
"A lot of people used to think that I sound like a girl. They still do, actually. Everywhere I go and the students I teach, they always point it out," said Mr Ethan Lee, 25.
"Secondary school is a time where most people make a lot of friends, but it was so overwhelming for me. I just couldn't bring myself to speak to someone because I was afraid they would hear my voice and judge me for something I can't change."
But things turned around when he was introduced to a circus outreach programme as a Secondary 2 student at East Spring Secondary School in 2006.
The programme was first set up by local contemporary circus arts company Circus In Motion in conjunction with another company that is now defunct. It imparts life skills to young people through the process of learning circus arts.
Mr Lee spent a few weeks practicing how to use and play with circus props along with other students.
He picked up poi, a performing art that originated from the Maoris of New Zealand.
It involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns.
Mr Lee said: "After going through the programme, I realised that I could do something to show people what I have worked hard at without having to open my mouth.
"People would know me for what I do rather than how I sound. This slowly started to build up my confidence. Slowly, I began to realise that if I can perform in front of 500 people, what's the big deal in talking to just five people?"
The programme has made such a significant impact on Mr Lee's life that, after completing his national service, he joined Circus In Motion as an instructor.
"When we go over to these schools or children's homes, we always remind the young people, 'So what if people judge you?' At the end of the day, there are others who accept you for you," he said.
The founder of the company, Mr Jay Che, 38, has worked as a social worker and counsellor for youth prior to setting up the company.
"As a counsellor, I realised that children and the youth are often not given the opportunities to express themselves through alternative means," he said.
Thus, Circus In Motion was set up as an independent company in 2007.
By the end of 2014, it had worked with more than 7,220 children and youth - 6,800 of them vulnerable young people and the rest, intellectually-challenged students. It has also conducted over 7,000 workshops.
Colonel Tan Boon Kiat, the director of Nexus, which is behind this year's Total Defence campaign, said: "Jay's efforts in reaching out to those in need is indeed inspiring.
"Such efforts go a long way in making Singapore a more gracious and compassionate society. This will keep us strong and united as one people."