One big family: Pau (first row standing, third from right) and Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey (in white) with volunteers and participants at the 12th Penang Cheshire Agoonoree at the Penang Water Sports Recreation Centre in Tanjung Bungah.
GEORGE TOWN: Scouts have to learn how to tie all kinds of knots, but the Special Scouts can go one better – these scouts with disabilities can do it using their feet.
It was their special abilities that motivated the scoutmaster of the 62nd George Town South Scout Troop, Veronica Pau Mei Ling, 50, to champion the Penang Cheshire Agoonoree, a yearly camp for scouts with disabilities, for the last 12 years.
The Special Scouts’ disabilities have not stopped them from learning camp craft, backwoods cooking or even canoeing, all done with the other ordinary scouts.
Pau, a retired teacher from St Xavier’s Institution, has been in the national scouts movement for almost 30 years.
Her determination to help disabled people join scouting began when she contacted the Penang Cheshire Home to announce the 25th Asia-Pacific Regional Scout Jamboree in 2005.
The home houses the 62nd George Town South Scout Troop.
“I gave them the participation form without expecting a reply.
“But they reverted with the names of two residents and a guardian named Lim Bee Lean, who was 80 years old then,” recounted Pau.
She had no reason to deny them from joining the jamboree.
But when the National Scouts Headquarters found out that two Special Scouts were to join them, they asked how she was going to manage them since none of them had experience with Special Scouts, Pau told them that she could manage the task.
“I told them I would take care of their guardian, and she (Lim) would then look after the two,” joked Pau.
As the Malaysian contingent’s assistant leader then, Pau had to look after a group of about 100 scouts, including those two Special Scouts, at the jamboree event in Sattahip, Thailand.
The trip went well but she did not realise the impact the jamboree had on the two Special Scouts – Loi Yew Eng and Chai Poh Hin –then in their 20s, until word spread in the home about how much fun they had.
“I had no idea how the others came to know, maybe through sign language or something.
“They couldn’t stop telling their friends about their experience.
“When people asked them about the jamboree, they gave big smiles. That was what really got to me.
“My heart melted,” said an elated Pau.
A year later, she attended a workshop on working with youths with special needs in Australia and found it to be a meaningful experience.
She became a committee member in the Penang Cheshire Home and has been organising chairman for their annual Agoonoree since 2006.
Pau said it was not an easy journey and after each camp, she worked hard to make the next one better.
She said the upcoming one – the 13th Penang Cheshire Agoonoree in March next year – would be her last because other commitments had come up.
When asked about the challenges, she said it was hard to convince the public to donate to a scouts’ camp which was deemed “purely for fun”.
“I told them the camp is a treat for disabled people who hardly have the chance to go out.
“They experience a kind of happiness which keeps them excited until the next camp comes around,” she added.
Those interested to support the Penang Cheshire Home scouts troop fund can contact 04-228 3319.