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Equal Ground

Published: Sunday August 24, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday August 24, 2014 MYT 7:09:52 AM

Touched by a special child

A young polio-stricken boy’s dream – to be able to walk independently for a mere 10 metres – left the writer humbled and overcome with emotion.

ON Friday, I was with a class of special children and their teachers who were having a Hari Raya do at their school.

It is a regular school in Puchong but with a unit dedicated to the education of children with special needs.

I enjoyed seeing their camaraderie and nonchalance to each other’s different cultural and religious roots.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for special people, as some of them are part of my extensive clan, including a grandson inflicted with Williams Syndrome, a ­developmental disorder that gives rise to cardio problems, learning deficiency and difficulties in hand-held tasks, such as drawing, writing and assembling puzzles.

Those afflicted with Williams Syndrome have an outgoing and engaging personality and tend to lean towards rock music and computer games besides having an extreme interest in people.

It is not surprising then that one of my sisters had given Armand the moniker “Yang Berhormat” to imply his uncontrolled tendency to greet and get to know people, even strangers.

Before he was two, Armand had to go for an operation to patch a hole in his heart and, thankfully, that helped a lot to hasten his growth over the past 13 years.

When I was asked to give a speech at the Friday party, I gave a recollection of an encounter with some special children many years ago at the Bethany Home in Teluk Intan.

I had sat down with the children and we talked about what the future holds for them.

They were marvellous kids, aged nine to 16, who chatted about becoming policemen and firemen, about parachuting from a plane, swimming with the fishes in the ocean and working with a dad who is a trawler fisherman, among other dreams.

As I looked into their twinkling eyes, I sensed the love, appreciation and respect that they poured out for each other.

The Bethany Home is a training and educational centre for children and adults with all types of disabilities, such as epilepsy, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and intellectual disabilities.

These people undergo living skills training and educational programmes to enable them to become as independent as possible to be involved in community life.

At that time, I was working with a company that produces intimate apparel for women and, more than just doing ad hoc corporate social responsibility events, the company employed special people as packers and production workers.

The session I had with the children was part of the company’s CSR collaboration with the home.

The kids never ceased to amaze me. Of course, they had their depression moods. But, generally, when they were in a group, they were cheerful, enthusiastic and mischievous.

While their stories were deeply touching, the one that truly bled my heart came from a young polio-stricken boy.

He had remained quiet while his friends chattered and spoke only when I asked about his dream. Pointing to a spot about 10m away from where we sat, he told me: “If I can walk from here to there, without any crutches or anyone propping me up, that would be my dream come true.”

My heart dropped and I felt guilty to have lived his dream a million times a day and even complaining sometimes about walking too much.

And he only wanted one chance.

Overcome with emotion, I reached out to hug his small frame. His friends stopped chatting and they all came crowding together for a mob hug.

Instances such as this will be among the souvenirs of life I shall cherish right through my last step in this world.

Having said this, do I have any bright IDEA for these children, no matter what their deficiency, to be given appropriate resources and encouragement for their own lifelong learning?

There is in the United States an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – that’s the IDEA that Malaysia can emulate.

The law, among others, outlines rights and regulations for students and people with disabilities who require special education.

Above all, the IDEA contains safeguards to keep children with special needs from being victimised by community and school disciplinary measures.

> Associate editor Shah A. Dadameah believes that some people are handicapped because they just pace the streets without any idea of where they are heading or from where they are coming.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Columnists, equal ground

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