Eugene Soh remembers being an energetic and jovial child. He showed a deep interest in art from a young age and did well academically.
When he was about 9 years old, he began experiencing a limp. The discomfort did not go away and as the years passed, the limp in his step became more and more acute. “It started with numbness in my lower limbs,” Soh shares. “And I gradually lost the strength to walk on my two feet.”
When he was 15, his doctors conveyed the devastating news to him -- they had found a growth sitting on delicate nerves in his spinal cord, which had to be removed.
While his classmates in Chinese High enjoyed care-free lives, Soh found himself battling a condition called Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), caused by an abnormal blood vessel growing at the artery of his spine.
Soh went ahead with the perilous removal of this abnormal growth after he completed secondary three. He stopped school for a year, and went under the knife again at the end of secondary four. He had to halt school for another year after the second surgery before starting his junior college education.
“Going from being able-bodied to suddenly not being able to move around freely, was very tough for me,” Soh reveals. “Thankfully, my family and classmates were very supportive and helped me with my tasks. That helped me feel a lot better,” he divulges of his long road to physical and emotional recovery.
Soh dug deep to find the inner strength to overcome his seemingly insurmountable challenges. With the support of his friends and family, he sat for his ‘O’ Levels and made it to National Junior College. He went on to major in Mathematics in the National University of Singapore and found a job in IT afterwards.
Expressing himself through art
All this while, his passion for painting has served as a conduit for his emotions, through which he finds peace and serenity. He is a big fan of impressionist painters like Blanche-Augustine Camus and he has produced many striking works in this style. “I like impressionist and abstract art and love examining how various artists interpret light differently,” he discloses.
Today, Soh is 57 and travels weekly from his home in Bishan to the Handicaps Welfare Association in Whampoa Drive to paint. He is part of ARTiculate @ North East, which is a campaign organised by North East CDC that showcases the works of artists who are differently-abled or have faced extraordinary challenges. Paintings by Soh exhibited at ARTiculate @ North East include impressionist portraits of an eagle, horses and scenery.
Teaching & relating with his students
Soh has left the IT industry and now shares his love for mathematics with ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level students. The full-time tutor shares that his poignant teenage experiences help him empathise with his students.
“I can understand them better and relate to how they feel. I get why some of them become rebellious. Finding tranquillity and inner strength in spite of the storm happening around you, is a learning process,” he remarks.
“Art lets me share my positivity with others, so that the encouragement in my heart touches others’ hearts. If viewers of my art are feeling gloomy, I hope my art can help them see the bright side of things, no matter what they are going through,” says Eugene, who met his would-be wife, Agnes, while working in IT. They got married in 1992.
Positive outlook on life
Even though he cannot move his legs, Soh drives a hand-controlled car and still indulges in sports like table tennis. He encourages persons with similar physical setbacks to pick themselves up and stay strong. Soh recently fell off his wheelchair but he continues to brim with positivity as he recuperates.
He wants others to know: “When things are looking down, don’t wallow. Always look on the bright side and pray for strength to overcome your difficulties. Seek help if necessary and don’t keep to yourself.”
Soh and artists from 12 different Social Service Agencies, non-profit organisations and social enterprises have come together for ARTiculate @ North East, an event aimed at providing an inclusive and empowering space for these artists, their talents and their works. You can view and purchase more than 120 unique pieces of art here, happening from 20th November to 20th December 2020.
This sponsored article in collaboration with North East CDC makes this Mothership.sg writer feel all nice and warm and positive.