SHEROES Bios: Koh Soek Ying, MustardTree.com.sg

Koh Soek Ying

SHEROES Bios is a collection of 12 selected stories taken from “ULTRAordinary SHEROES”, a collaborative project by The HEART Enterprise, Up Your Game Community, and Our Unique Stories to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019.

When Soek Ying’s autistic son, Ryan, aged out of school at 18, she set out to explore different opportunities to unearth the hidden talents and dormant abilities in him. Although she was told to send him to a day activity centre (DAC), she did not follow that advice.

Soek Ying believed that Ryan has a long runway and that being in a DAC would not be a suitable environment for his growth and development. She soon discovered that Ryan possessed a knack for making crafts and was determined to nurture that interest and aptitude into a well-developed set of skills.

During her search for people to teach her son craft-making skills, Soek Ying started sharing his handicrafts on the Internet and on Facebook, where it was met with positive reception. Buyers snapped up the handicrafts made by Ryan, and Mustard Tree was thus born. Organisations started collaborating with Soek Ying to develop new classes for people with special needs, with the intent of instilling useful life skills in them.

Ryan enrolled in the programme under Soek Ying’s close observation and was able to grasp the instructions and follow along. Seeing this, Soek Ying decided that more individuals could benefit from such a helpful intervention. She approached Ryan’s school and offered to conduct this programme at the school. After two successful runs, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital reached out to her and offered a retail space for her to conduct the programme.

Running a physical retail store is not easy but Soek Ying forges on because the open environment of the store encourages interaction between the special needs crafters and the public. It also helps to eliminate any doubt in the minds of the public and reassures buyers that the handicrafts are genuinely made by individuals with special needs and not a marketing ploy.

Mustard Tree is today home to a community of individuals with special needs. The work they do gives them the confidence to embrace their strengths and differences. Soek Ying continues to work on Mustard Tree, with the hopes of broadening its reach and deepening the impact of its work.

Soek Ying’s story first appeared at the ULTRAordinary SHEROES event organised by The HEART Enterprise and DISTRii Singapore on 8 March 2019.