Half thinking it was a prank by his friends, paraplegic farmer Dr Billy Tang took a moment before he realised that he really had been included in Britishpedia’s Successful People In Malaysia (3rd Edition) 2021.
The founder of social enterprise PWD Smart FarmAbility felt humbled to be featured alongside prominent figures the likes of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
“Having such an honour and given equal opportunity to shine and contribute to nation-building with dignity is something I am indeed endlessly grateful for,” said Tang, 55, an agriculturist and researcher.
“Up till now, I do not know who nominated me but it surely lifted my spirits. It made me feel that I am not alone in this battle as a paraplegic farmer, and reminds me not to give up my dreams, hope and life work.
“This surprise means the world to me, my family and of course the entire disabled community,” he said.
Britishpedia’s Successful People In Malaysia is a biographical encyclopaedia that highlights Malaysians who have contributed to nation-building and society in general. The book will be distributed to all state libraries in Malaysia.
Following this acknowledgement was another accolade for Tang and his social enterprise.
Earlier this month, PWD Smart Farmability was selected as the winner of the National Scroll of Honour for Human Settlements Award 2021 under the Housing and Local Government Ministry, held in conjunction with World Habitat Day. The theme of the award was “Accelerating Urban Action For A Carbon-Free World”.
In July, Tang and Samantha Mok, PWD Smart FarmAbility’s co-founder, were also presented with the Inspiring Humanitarian Award by the Britain-based World Humanitarian Drive (WHD) organisation for “serving and inspiring humanity with their good deeds”.
A car accident in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, left Tang paralysed from the waist down six years ago.
Not one to dwell on his misfortune, he threw his focus and energy into urban farming, developing a model to help poor and marginalised communities get access to fresh, nutritious food sustainably.
Last year, he introduced the Hope Box Project, which offers organic vegetable terrariums for adoption or sale in aid of various beneficiaries.
The terrariums, which can self-regenerate for at least three months and up to a year without fertilisers, act as a form of fresh food bank conveniently located where the recipients live.
By the end of this year, they hope to deploy a total of 3,000 terrariums to the homes of the poor.
For their work, the social enterprise was recognised as one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2020, an annual award that celebrates Malaysian unsung heroes. PWD Smart FarmAbility was also one of the two Gamuda Inspiration Award winners.
“As a paraplegic, I am unable to function without the assistance of a trained helper. My daily routine includes a diaper change and self-catheterisation to release urine from my bladder every four hours.
“As such, this can be disruptive when I have to attend meetings or be in a location which does not have OKU-friendly toilets.
“The wheelchair has become a core part of my identity after being a paraplegic. I understand now why so many people, after being rendered OKU after an accident, refuse to come out to society, because any single experience that reminds them of their (lack of) accessibility to facilities in their new body will hamper their spirit and discourage them from feeling like a part of society,” shared Tang, who also needs the help of suppositories every alternate day for his bowel movements.
“I suffer from chronic pain 24/7 but I refuse to rely on medication as it will interrupt my thoughts and speech. Hence, I turn to my passion in humanitarian and agricultural work to distract myself from the pain.
“I’ve been working on decentralising food production as close to people’s homes as possible, and at the same time, be able to strengthen my disabled peers with nutrition security as we are among the most marginalised groups in the world,” he said.
“Our aim is to make nutritious food available to people across all economic backgrounds as we believe that nutritious food should not be a luxury, but a basic human right.”
Tang also hopes to encourage other people with disabilities.
“To my disabled peers, do not hide away from society. Engage with society, do not give up your hopes and dreams because of physical limitations.
“Look within for your God-given gift and talents and serve to transform lives. Everything we experience, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey towards the full realisation of our humanity.
“Real success means the willingness to help each other in making our brokenness into a gateway to joy,” he said.