Mr Malcolm Chen is 72, but continues to work towards his dream of creating a more inclusive society through the power of the bicycle.
The avid cyclist, who cycles in places such as Sarawak and Fiji, created non-profit organisation Ageless Bicyclists in 2015 to teach children with disabilities to cycle and do simple bicycle repairs.
Since last year, he has been conducting lessons at Grace Orchard School, which caters to students with mild intellectual disability or mild autism spectrum disorders.
Mr Chen’s aim is to teach the children to cycle and build their confidence in the process. He also wants to teach them the mechanics of the bicycle, equipping them with a skill that can help in future employment.
He was inspired to start after his mother, school teacher Liew Shew Fong, died in 2014. “My mother was an educator and loved children. She always reminded me of the importance of education and learning. I wanted to continue her work.”
Mr Chen, who worked in tourism before he retired, went for a cycling instructor course for about 10 months so he could be a registered coach and teach children. He also volunteered with the children at Grace Orchard, to understand their needs and to learn to handle them.
In July last year, Mr Chen, who has two children and one grandchild, began his Pedal Enable sessions for 10 weeks, with about 12 to 15 children per lesson. Each child paired up with a volunteer on a bicycle donated by him.
“The results were fantastic,” he said. “By the end of the year, most of the children had learnt to cycle, and those who couldn’t were rolled over into the next year’s programme.”
Grace Orchard’s senior art psychotherapist, Ms Jassica Chen, said the programme has given students a chance not only to experience the joy of cycling but also to build friendships. “They have also built self-confidence and courage, especially for those who were fearful in the beginning,” she added.
The children gave Mr Chen “the best birthday gift” on his 71st birthday in August last year. It was not a material present, but the fact that on his birthday, five or six of the children could ride their bicycles.
He said: “It reminded me that I’m not going to give up on this. I cried seeing the kids being able to ride after all their struggles. They are so determined.”
Student Mabel Koh, 14, said cycling makes her happy. “I enjoy myself a lot. I also made new friends.”
The sessions also teach children to look out for one another and build friendships with the volunteers. Said Mr Chen: “Cycling is never just about yourself. You have to look out for pedestrians and for your friends. It’s holistic education.”
In February, Mr Chen started a mechanics programme at Grace Orchard, conducting two 10-week sessions this year with about nine children aged 12 to 15 per session .
He hopes to get corporate sponsors and reach out to more people, including the elderly and maybe even other children in the region.
Next year, he hopes to bring in tandem bicycles so children can ride with their parents. There can be “so many different types of bonding”, he said, including pairing a child with special needs with one without.
• More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/AgelessBicyclists/