Leah Choy first became known to the public when she was merely four years old. In 2015, Leah clinched the Tuanku Bainun Young Changemakers Award for her efforts to raise funds for her sister, Adele’s medical treatment.
The little girl learnt to bake cupcakes from YouTube, sold them on her Facebook page (Chef Leah With A Big Heart) and raised a whopping RM24,000 for her sister, who requires half-yearly visits to the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, United States, for treatment. It costs RM50,000 per trip.
Adele was diagnosed with brain injury when she was barely two months old, and has a brain abnormality, microcephaly and cerebral palsy.
Leah was about three years old when she told her about Adele’s condition.
“I still remember how she placed both her tiny hands on my cheeks, clearing off my tears, telling me not to cry. She assured me Adele would be okay and that we needed to bring her to the doctor. I will never forget that minute of my life, where my life was a total darkness, God sent me this light that kept me going till today,” recalls Adele and Leah’s mother Tay Mei Yean, 39.
Leah’s steely determination to raise funds for her sister demonstrates that age (and size) are no barriers in supporting the people we love.
The ten-year-old Leah is mature beyond her age. Unlike most of her peers who prefer to spend their free time watching TV or on social media, she is constantly thinking of ways to raise funds for Adele, or methods to improve Adele’s medical condition.
“Age is just a number. We are never too young to dream big and achieve our dreams. With hard work, determination and faith, anyone can achieve their dreams. Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble,” says the young cupcake queen from Alor Gajah, Melaka.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Leah recently chalked another milestone with her first cookbook, Chef Leah With A Big Heart.
The children’s cookbook features recipes and methods to bake cupcakes. It is divided into seven chapters, with different themes including animals, festive themes, and nature.
“None of us are born to know to bake or do the things that we are good at doing. Practice makes perfect. My motto in life is to never ever give up. If the cake comes out wrong, just keep on trying over and over again. That’s how I got my first ever recipe right,” says Leah, who co-created the recipes with her mother.
In her cookbook, Leah shares anecdotes of her baking journey, which includes rubbing shoulders with American baker Buddy Valastro of reality TV show Cake Boss, raising funds for the Rohingya boat people and Food Aid Foundation, as well as fond memories with Adele.
The book, which took 18 months to conceptualise, was made possible with the help of baker Michelle Chan, writer Michelle Yoon, photographer Sammie Tan and WOMEN: girls. It is published by MPH Group Publishing. Leah hopes to channel 50% of book sales towards Adele’s medical bills.
My sister rocks
Adele, seven, is currently wheelchair-bound and can crawl. Although her speech is limited, she has shown positive development in her cognitive development, especially in sight and sound. She is able to speed read.
“I like to read with Adele but she is just too fast in reading. She is a speed reader. By the time she finishes one book, I would have barely even read halfway through the book,” says Leah.
Given her family’s situation, Leah had had to shoulder a fair bit of responsibility from a young age. Though young, she is a pillar of strength.
Tay turns to her eldest daughter whenever she needs support or a shoulder to cry on.
“Leah has a strong personality. She is selfless, caring and responsible. She started to learn to help out in the kitchen when she was barely three years old.”
Tay adds Adele’s progress is promising and each day, Leah prays for her progress. She dreams of the day when Adele can finally stand on her two feet and play catch or ride a bicycle.
“Maybe the way Leah and I play is different from what adults deem as ‘normal siblings'. But Adele and I do play in our own unique way and we are truly happy playing in our own world. Happiness is how you define it and we don’t have to be like others to be happy,” says Leah, who is homeschooled.
The sisters are looked after by their stay-at-home father Choy Chan Mun, 39. Their mother, the sole breadwinner in the family, works at a recruitment services company in KL. She commutes between Alor Gajah and KL weekly.
Leah is fully aware of her father’s challenges in looking after her sister. To lighten his burden, she helps to tidy up the house and steps in to feed and bathe Adele. She assists Adele with her muscle strengthening exercises too.
“I love to sing to Adele and push her in her stroller around our garden. I think I’m better at feeding her snacks because I use lesser tissue paper than Dad.”
Given Adele’s medical condition, Tay and her husband focus most of their attention on her. Tay is grateful Leah hasn’t shown signs of jealousy, resentment or anger towards Adele.
“I was initially worried that Leah would feel left out, especially with Adele’s treatment and routines. Thankfully, she is the one who constantly reminds us that Adele needs more focus than her.
To make it up to her, my husband and I take turns to spend quality time with Leah. We take her out for movies, fishing and any outdoor activities that she loves,” says Tay, adding Leah is able to juggle between her studies and caring for Adele.
Leah says family members should love their special needs sibling wholeheartedly. Individuals with a special needs sibling should never look down on their sibling. We should never under any circumstances give up on them. My dream is help Adele be better than yesterday.”