Deaf Sabah student wins first prize at global festival

Poetic performer: Dymphna wants to prove that poetry can be delivered effectively through sign language.

HAD it not been for her teachers’ encouragement, Dymphna Simon may not have taken an interest in performing poetry.

The 18-year-old deaf student from Keningau Vocational College in Sabah recently bagged the first prize in the sign language poetry category at the “American Charm” International Festival Online Competition.

An avid badminton player, she is no stranger to winning medals, having garnered a string of them at state-level competitions.

However, her success at the poetry competition has a special place in her heart as it was her first attempt at delivering such a performance.

The third child in a family of 10 from Kampung Nuluhon, Dymphna was among four special needs students whom co-curricular teacher Sirhajwan Idek signed up for the competition.Sirhajwan was looking to register his other students for the dancing and singing categories of the competition organised by Spain-based Monolit Festivals when he chanced upon the poetry category.

Keen to have his special needs students deliver their poems in sign language, he registered their names and guided the students together with the school’s special education teacher Avyasvina Istiniza Anak Unong.

“I owe this success to my teachers who constantly mentored me, as well as my friends and family who supported me throughout the process,” said Dymphna, whose poem entitled Ngakak was written by Sirhajwan.

The poem tells the tale of a mythical creature called Ngakak, which was feared by the Sabah natives due to its hideous appearance and spine-tingling screams, she shared.

“Though we are now in the modern age, it is still considered a big part of our culture and is a story told by parents to their children to teach them valuable lessons,” she added.

Her main challenge, she said, was having to use various expressions to depict the creature’s feelings such as sadness, anger and fear.

Coupled with that was the need to find alternatives to certain gestures that provided similar meanings as there were several words and terms that were tricky to present in sign language, she added.

Echoing her sentiments, Sirhajwan said the initial process was difficult as it was their first attempt at performing sign language poetry.

He recalled turning to YouTube videos to look for ideas on how best to present gestures for a word or an entire sentence.

“Dymphna and the other students had difficulty grasping the goal of the performance initially but once they gained momentum, they were able to create their own interpretation and improvise when presenting,” he said.

Spurred by her win, Dymphna aspires to take part in other poetry competitions and make her school proud.

She said through such achievements, she wants to prove to society that an art form such as poetry can be delivered effectively through sign language.

She also hopes to inspire others like her to take part in various competitions.

Sirhajwan said through her win, Dymphna has proven that there is no barrier for special needs individuals to excel in any type of performing arts.

He hopes other students will gain confidence by honing their skills in fields such as the arts which, he said, are often considered less prestigious than sports and oratory contests.

“There are many events today that can serve as an avenue for our special needs students to showcase their talents.

“Our mission is to explore as many types of arts as possible, particularly in the aspects of performance, literature and visual arts.

“We also plan to revive old traditions such as the wayang kulit and introduce lesser-known types of arts such as radio drama,” he said.

To watch Dymphna’s performance, go to

Sadhna, 20, a student in Kuala Lumpur, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. Throughout the year-long programme, participants aged between 14 and 22 from all across the country experience life as journalists, contributing ideas, conducting interviews, and completing writing assignments. They get to earn bylines, attend workshops, and extend their social networks. To join Star-NiE’s online youth community, go to

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