Living with a rare genetic metabolic disorder has posed definite challenges to 16-year-old Sage Tan, who underwent two liver transplants before he was four years old.
But he remains undaunted, thriving on the circle of support provided by his family, school and the community, and seeks constantly to pay it forward. His latest gig? Cycling for charity.
The life of 16-year-old Sage Tan, a student at Spectra Secondary School, has been marked by uncertainty on multiple fronts since young.
A few weeks after Sage was born, he was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal genetic metabolic disorder, Maple Syrup Urine Disease. The condition, where the body is unable to process certain amino acids, led to years of surgery, blood tests and treatment – including two liver transplants before his fourth birthday.
It exacted a heavy toll on his health, leaving him to grapple with language and fine motor difficulties, but all these have in no way deterred Sage from living his life to the fullest.
Paving the way through parental support
From the beginning, Sage’s parents, Cindy and Thomas Tan, placed a strong importance on inculcating the right values in their two sons, Sage being the younger boy.
“It goes beyond how our child performs in school. He must have a good attitude, understand people, and to help as much as they can within their means”, says Cindy. Despite the inherent physical and social challenges, they hope for Sage to develop an empathetic worldview and look out for others.
To drive home the message, they role-model these values when spending time with their children, and are grateful for the opportunities provided by Sage’s school, Spectra Secondary School, for parent and child to do things together.
Sage’s parents are active members of Spectra’s Parent Support Group, which spearheads activities for the school and the students, rallying other parents to participate and support their kids.
“It is good for the child to see the parents in school participating in activities and giving back. It’s an opportunity for us to lead by example,” explains Cindy.
They visit the school’s rooftop Edible Learning Garden every week, helping to upkeep and maintain the garden. Sage’s grandparents sometimes join in the fun too, making it a three-generation affair.
The weekly activity is a welcome respite from the daily rigours of work, says Thomas. “We want to be part of their lives growing up, and spending time with them to do activities together is the best way to do so.”
Teaching the right values, beyond the classroom
Spectra’s Edible Learning Garden is a “living classroom”, where all Secondary One students participate in the Garden-Based Service Learning (GBSL) Programme.
The students are exposed to hands-on and values-driven experiential learning in the programme, conducted over the course of a school term, as they are taught how to grow and tend to a variety of edible produce.
The programme culminates in a school-run Farmers’ Market, where the students, parents and teachers sell the produce they cultivated over the term, and the proceeds are channelled to students in need of financial assistance.
Values education forms the cornerstone of Spectra Secondary School’s programmes and curriculum. Students graduate with dual certificates: GCE N-Level Certificate and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) Subject Skills Certificate.
“A significant proportion of our students are diagnosed with various Special Education Needs (SEN). We are thus constantly thinking how we can better address their needs, be it through stronger support structures or more engaging programmes,” says Ms Guo Xinhui, Assistant Vice Principal of Student Development.
Besides fulfilling the essential educational outcomes, the school aims to inculcate in every student core values at every opportunity possible.
“We let them taste the small successes along the way and reward them to recognise their efforts and allow them to discover their interests,” said Mrs Lyvenne Chong-Phoon, HOD of the Learning Support Unit. “Students will find it more exciting when learning is meaningful and closer to their heart”.
“We have seen Sage grow to be the respectful and confident boy that he is today, and we are very proud of him,” added Mrs Chong.
Sage and his family loved their work at the Edible Learning Garden so much, they continued to contribute to it after Secondary One. Sage has also become aware of the support he has received over the years, and wants to pass this on in gratitude, one kind deed at a time.
“I feel that by helping people, I can make people happy emotionally.”
Sage (centre) with his schoolmates Febian Tan (left) and Reymus Chew (right) at one of their favourite spots in school, the Edible Learning Garden back in Secondary One.
An ongoing pursuit of giving back
At the moment, Sage looks forward to participating in Ride for Rainbows, a fund-raising cycling event hosted by Club Rainbow, a non-profit organisation supporting children with chronic illnesses.
From a young age, he has taken part in various activities organised by Club Rainbow, giving back to the community through his passion for the arts.
An aspiring Lego designer and artist, Sage has been selected to produce commissioned artworks for fundraising initiatives under Club Rainbow’s Arts Development Programme. Sage fondly recalls how he met President Halimah Yacob in 2017; she had bought a tote bag with his artwork printed on it.
Sage with one of his artworks at Club Rainbow’s Dreamseeds Art Exhibition in 2017.
He is now embarking on a new challenge – long-distance cycling.
Sage had been cycling with training wheels for many years, but through sheer hard work and determination, his training wheels finally came off at the end of 2018. He is now comfortable with riding long distances of up to 20km, a laudable accomplishment by any standards.
Come October, he will be participating for the second time at Ride for Rainbows, alongside his father Thomas, who formed a team called “Supreme Riders”.
The public can support the participants through donations, where every 1km a participant rides raises $10 for the beneficiaries.
To date, Sage’s team has managed to raise over $1,500, and they have up to 31 October to complete their target distance. Sage encourages all to take part in the event, which is in its 10th year.
He remarks excitedly, “If possible, come and join in! It is good family bonding by riding together.”
Sage taking a break during one of his cycling sessions.
Find out more about Ride for Rainbows 2021 here.