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Published: Monday December 23, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday December 23, 2013 MYT 11:20:54 AM

A true champion of deaf students

Thank you, teacher: Former FSD students showing their appreciation for Saleena (front row, fourth from left) .

Thank you, teacher: Former FSD students showing their appreciation for Saleena (front row, fourth from left) .

GEORGE TOWN: The country’s first audiologist and specialist teacher to the deaf has spent the better part of her life — 59 years to be exact — working with the deaf and hearing impaired.

However, while time may have slowed down Datuk Saleena Tahaya Isa, 82, her spirit in defending the poor and disabled remains strong.

She was the person who initiated the building of the Federation School for the Deaf (FSD) in Tanjung Bungah, which was completed in 1969 to accommodate the growing number of deaf students in the country.

Saleena said it was the hardship she had to go through during her childhood that made her more sensitive to the plight of others.

“I was not rich. I had to walk to school and back. I have gone through hardship as a child and can understand the needs of people better,” said Saleena, who was also instrumental in advocating education for the deaf at the primary, secondary as well as tertiary levels.

She said she first became involved with the deaf community when her paediatrician, Prof Elaine Field, asked her to help out with her deaf students.

“I was teaching then in the Methodist Girls’ School but in the afternoon, I would volunteer and help the deaf students. At that time, deaf students were educated at a charity education centre.

“I then became a specialist teacher for the deaf and got an extended scholarship (Penang Settlement Scholarship) to study audiology at the University of Manchester in England.

“I graduated to become Malaysia’s first audiologist in 1959,” she said at the launch of the Deaf Community Telematch here on Saturday.

Saleena, who is also Perkim Kindergarten acting chairman and Penang Deaf Association adviser, added that she helped to set up the country’s first audiological clinic at FSD, where she carried out free hearing tests for babies and children from 1970 to 1987.

One of her former students, who wanted to be known only as Sri Dewi, 42, said through a sign language interpreter that she was sent to the school when she was seven after Saleena wrote to her parents in Sabah.

“I remember her as a dedicated teacher who taught me Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mathematics.

“She was always caring for our welfare and made sure that we knew how to read and write,” said Sri Dewi.

Tags / Keywords: Family & Community, saleena


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