A Colourful Surprise

For the longest time, befrienders Ee Ming and Ludi struggled to communicate with Keith, 18, who has autism and is minimally verbal. 

They first met Keith while working on a community theatre arts project on the hopes and dreams of Rainbow Centre’s graduating students. They didn’t know what he was feeling or if he even understood them.

Nearly three months into rehearsals, Keith suddenly uttered the words written on his dream board. He spoke haltingly, stumbling over the words but they could hear him clearly for the first time. “When I grow up, I want to be an artist,” he said. They exchanged looks with each other, hardly daring to believe it and secretly screaming inside.

Their soft spot for Keith cemented the start of an unlikely friendship. Ee Ming is a freelance journalist with a passion for social issues while Ludi is a second-year medical student at Nanyang Technological University. They decided to join as befrienders to build on their friendship with Keith and each other and simply have fun.

(from left to right) Ee Ming, Keith and Ludi exploring the shophouses at Katong.

Over the last year, the trio have gone kite-flying at Marina Barrage, done a photo-walk around the Joo Chiat and Katong heritage district and an art jam session at Labrador Nature Reserve. For each session, they prepare visual schedules and communicate with an iPad.

Their best memory was getting to explore the colourful shophouses at Katong. It was full of unplanned surprises – they took a detour to an old-school ice cream distributor, stumbled on the pretty Tumbleweed boutique store, climbed the vertical playground and taught Keith how to use the Nomo camera app to recreate the analog film camera effect.

To them, Keith is like a younger brother they look out for. “It’s the same as getting to know a new person,” says Ludi. “Only that the surprise element is amplified but that’s part of what makes it so special!”