For many in Singapore, getting a built-to-order (BTO) flat is a milestone in one's personal journey of independence.
Once you've gotten your keys, it's time to move out from under the wings of your parents and graduate to a new plateau of self-sufficiency.
For Aaron Wong, the move carries greater significance than most.
That's because the 40-year-old suffers from a rare form of muscular dystrophy that has left him needing a wheelchair to get around.
Yet despite his circumstances, Wong is determined to live independently and has managed to crowdfund over S$130,000 to purchase his first home — a two-room BTO with renovations to make it wheelchair accessible with some built-in smart, assistive technology.
"The ability to live out your dreams"
Wong was first diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth when he was 12 years old.
The rare disease saw his arm and leg muscles weaken to the point that as a 30-year-old, he could no longer stand up from a sitting position on his own.
However, Wong was set on living a life comparable to his peers, which included graduating with a Masters of Science and eventually moving out from his parents' home in Canada.
"As a person identified with a disability, I define independence as the ability to live out your life to fullest, barrier-free," he said to local fashion social enterprise Will & Well.
"The ability to live out your dreams."
According to his fundraising page, the then-37-year-old wanted a life of independence for himself but also to lessen the burden on his aging parents.
Arriving back in Singapore at the end of 2018, Wong initially couch surfed at his friend's homes before finding temporary accommodation at a residential facility for the physically disabled.
He also managed to get a part-time job with a multinational corporation.
Wong's fundraiser wrote that the Covid-19 pandemic had made life at the facility challenging, limiting Wong's ability to integrate with society and the workforce.
"We were all subjected to lockdown in the home, so we weren't able to go out of the compound," said Wong in a video on the fundraising page.
"It was a pretty stressful time... the longest period we were in this lockdown was nine months."
The page wrote: "Owning his first home (with live-in help) is the next milestone for Aaron to truly live a fulfilling life without barriers."
Raising funds in 30 days
With the two-room flat and renovations costing about S$180,000, Wong aimed to raise about S$120,000, with the remaining costs paid for through his personal savings, Central Provident Fund, government grants, and a bank loan.
Remarkably, the 40-year-old managed to raise that amount 30 days after starting his campaign and has since received more donations.
An update on the page said the additional donations would allow Wong the option of taking out a smaller housing loan and be used to cover any unexpected ancillary fees that come with the housing purchase.
"I want to thank each one of you who has generously supported my campaign," he said in a video update.
Wong's next step will be to actually purchase his flat; he asked his supporters to continue praying for "the availability and the location of the flat".
Find out more about Wong's fundraising campaign here.
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Top image from A Home for Aaron's fundraising page