9-year-old Malaysian Down Syndrome artist raises RM80,000 to help kids in need of surgery


Maryam is living proof that anyone, regardless of their disability, can do their part for charity. Photos: Sharifah Sarah Syed Mohamed Tahir

Maryam Khairul Anuar is only nine years old and has Down Syndrome, but she has successfully raised about RM80,000 for charity.

The talented artist has sold 95 pieces of her artwork through Maryam Saves A Heart (MSAH), her fundraising campaign to aid children needing surgery at Kuala Lumpur’s Institut Jantung Negara (IJN).

MSAH was created by Maryam’s mum, Sharifah Sarah Syed Mohamed Tahir, 39, a bank officer, and her husband, Dr Khairul Anuar Abdul Aziz, 39, a paediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at IJN, last year.

Funds raised from MSAH are channelled to the IJN Foundation as well as the Tiny Gold Hearts Project, a Kuala Lumpur-based social initiative that raises funds for refugee children in need of heart surgeries.

“Due to shortage of funds, some children die even before having a chance to be treated at IJN. We knew MSAH could be something that Maryam could champion in the long term. That’s our dream,” said Sharifah Sarah, adding that Maryam has also raised RM6,500 for her therapy centre, the Kiwanis Down Syndrome Centre in Petaling Jaya.

Maryam works with acrylic paint, using different techniques including finger painting, swab painting, brush painting and sponge painting.Maryam works with acrylic paint, using different techniques including finger painting, swab painting, brush painting and sponge painting.

Maryam started painting when she was six years old.

“When my husband and I first saw her paint, we knew she had talent that we could nurture.

“Soon, we had close to 30 of her artwork, and we lacked space to display them. My husband and I then decided to sell them for charity,” said Sharifah Sarah in an email interview.

“It is important for Maryam to know she’s contributing to society and making a difference despite her perceived limitations. We also want Maryam’s art buyers to feel they are making a difference to a larger cause.”

Maryam is living proof that anyone, regardless of their disability, can do their part for charity.

“My husband and I have always taught our three children to do what they can for others, even if it is just a smile. In whatever charity work they are involved in, we want them to ask themselves what impact they are making to others around them.

“Children should be raised to have empathy towards others and not be indifferent to other people’s sufferings. They must be taught about giving back to society so they have a purpose in life. Through volunteer work, children will always be thankful for what they have,” added Sharifah Sarah.

Institut Jantung Negara's Dr Marhisham Che Mood (right, seated) receiving Maryam's painting and donation to aid children in need of heart surgery.Institut Jantung Negara's Dr Marhisham Che Mood (right, seated) receiving Maryam's painting and donation to aid children in need of heart surgery.

A Family Affair

Maryam’s artwork is shared on Facebook and Instagram (#maryamsavesaheart). Each piece sells between RM100 and RM5,000. Currently, 20% of the proceeds are retained for her future use.

Sharifah Sarah hopes that someday her special needs daughter will be able to earn a living through painting.

“We also hope that this model will be sustained in the future so that other people recognise the effort Maryam puts in the paintings and that it can be a source of income for her to be independent in the future.”

Maryam works with acrylic paint, using different techniques including finger painting, swab painting (using cotton buds), brush painting and sponge painting. Her art teacher Nik Nur Izzati Nik Yazid, 31, has been honing her skills for three years.

Art teacher Nik Nur Izzati (right) brings out the best in Maryam's artistic skills.Art teacher Nik Nur Izzati (right) brings out the best in Maryam's artistic skills.

Maryam’s beautiful paintings feature different facets of nature, ranging from rainbow skies, oceans, flowers to trees. Sharifah Sarah is thankful Maryam has found solace in art, which is a powerful medium of communication.

“She makes the colour choices herself. When she’s happy, she toys around with beautiful hues of pink, blue and yellow. If she is really in a good mood, she can produce multiple pieces within two hours.

“We let her decide what she wants to do and where she wants to paint so she feels involved. There are times when we challenge her by giving her examples of other paintings she could do. She is always proud of her effort in producing these pieces,” shared the proud mum.

Managing MSAH has become a family affair where everyone lends a helping hand. Dr Khairul helps deliver the paintings while Maryam’s older brothers, Hamza, 15, and Faruq, 13, are tasked with managing her social media accounts and communications.

Painting provides Maryam with an avenue to express her creative thoughts.Painting provides Maryam with an avenue to express her creative thoughts.

“The teenagers are happy to upload Maryam’s promotional photos because they get additional screen time. It is important to find ways to turn what can be perceived as a bad thing to something positive.

“This is especially important when raising teenagers as you do not want to be in a position to turn them into rebellious teenagers by always saying no,” said Sharifah Sarah.

It always puts a smile on Maryam’s face whenever her videos appear online.

“Maryam loves being celebrated. She looks forward to being photographed with the paintings and telling us all about how she painted them.

“A huge part of Maryam’s development is about celebrating her little wins and acknowledging all the small acts of kindness she shows us. She gains confidence through the process and is motivated to do more and be better.”

Dr Khairul Anuar (right) and his wife Sharifah Sarah (second from right) are proud of their daughter Maryam's artistic talents.Dr Khairul Anuar (right) and his wife Sharifah Sarah (second from right) are proud of their daughter Maryam's artistic talents.

Sharifah Sarah hopes the lockdown will end soon.

“Before the movement control order, Maryam would follow her father to deliver the paintings and give away the funds. We wanted her to be involved and realise how much people appreciated her paintings. Unfortunately, the lockdown has deterred us from doing that.

“For now, we go through the comments people make about her on social media.

“Special needs children need the environment around them to be encouraging so they don’t feel bad about making mistakes or not understanding certain things.”

Once the current restrictions are relaxed, Sharifah Sarah also hopes to hold an art exhibition for Maryam.

“We hope to collaborate with leading galleries not just for Maryam and her artwork, but more importantly to create the awareness that having a disability is not a limitation.”

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