Their autistic son paved the way

Loving care: Dr Chew conducting a class while his wife Melody looks on.

Loving care: Dr Chew conducting a class while his wife Melody looks on.

GEORGE TOWN: Dr Chew Yu Gee may be a paediatrician but he could do little for his son.

The boy was diagnosed with autism some 25 years ago.

It was a struggle back then for Dr Chew and his wife Melody.

Due to their son’s condition, Melody deci­ded to quit her teaching job to look after and guide him on her own.

“It was really tough and we realised then how a child with special needs can make or break a family.

But our personal experiences show that every child is an achiever if they are given the chance and space to learn at their own pace,” Dr Chew said in an interview.

So in 2012, the couple started Lighthouse Academy, a learning centre for kids with special needs, learning disabilities and from un­­der­privileged families.

The centre now has some 120 students, aged between three and 21.

They are divided into three categories – achievers, intermediate and mainstream.

“These categories are based on their needs. Some of them may require special attention but others are able to cope well in a big group.

“It was a calling for us to start this centre as we know the struggles of raising a child with special needs.

Students of Lighthouse Academy joining is a sport activity.Pix by Gary Chen/ The Star/ 2 July 2018.
Students of Lighthouse Academy learning to play a ball game during a physical education session.

“Many families are embarrassed dealing with the situation or could not cope,” said Melody.

Initially, Dr Chew wanted to build the first beachfront child clinic in Penang before the idea to start the centre came to mind.

“We bought this prime land in Tanjung Bungah to build a nice home for my family and a child clinic.

“Later, we realised that the clinic will merely be another business but a special school, which my wife always wanted, will benefit so many kids and their families,” he said, adding that they then decided to convert the building into a school for children with special needs.

Four years ago, Dr Chew had some difficulties and needed extra income to support the school.

So, the couple gave up their home to be turned into a holiday resort called Lost Paradise Resort.

“Melody and I realised that we don’t need such a huge place as all our five children are away.

“So, we decided to just move into one room and open the place for visitors.

“Now, I don’t have to worry much as the resort will be able to support the school,” he said.

Besides the school and resort, the 0.8ha of land also has a community children’s clinic where underprivileged children from the surrounding area can come for consultations.

It also accommodates a lifestyle centre.

“We look forward to the day when students inform us of pursuing higher education, invite us to their wedding or share with us their plans to start a family.

“That is our biggest reward and achievement,” added Dr Chew.