There’s a boy I know, from the school I was at in Johor. He was blind from birth. He’s in Kelantan right now. He is very good in reciting the Quran, lovely voice, can sing, can do reflexology. Our school is a vocational school so he got his SKM (Malaysian Skills Certificate) in reflexology and he went back to Kelantan. In Kelantan, he got married to one of our former students – who is also fully blind. A few years later we got to know that they opened their own kedai runcit (retail store). His first job was doing reflexology, but he noticed that when people come for their appointment, they also wanted to buy things. He felt sympathy for those in the village and wanted to provide that resource. From this story, it struck me: these people are capable despite their physical disability – regardless if they are blind, deaf, or having a learning disability.
My hope is that people can give a chance to those who are blind (and also those categorised as blind but they are able to see). There are many ways we can help them. I want people to know that despite their disability, they are actually very intelligent people who are capable of doing what others are doing.
I am the Principal for this special needs school (Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Pendidikan Khas Setapak) and we have students who even went on to Oxford Universty.
We have students who are now lawyers, working in IT. We also have two students who were recently offered to be part of the Paralympics team. Once, a fully blind student came to my office, bringing his laptop. He then started his presentation and was telling me about his product that he was selling. I was sold!
So my passion now is in empowering our students so that they are able to make something of themselves rather than waiting for others to hand them something. I would like them to be able to do something for themselves, and in turn, help others.
If they are unable to continue with studying, my wish is to be able to equip them with skills. That’s why we are now trying to get resources to better our school. I’m looking for people to help us upgrade our music room, which actually, fun fact: used to be a toilet!
The music room used to be located at the highest floor of our school. Can you imagine these students needing to climb up and down the stairs just to practice, carrying all their equipment as well? Currently, we were able to move downstairs. But we still need money for all the gadgets e.g for sound-proofing, other musical instruments.
Music plays an important role for those who are blind. The blind has two heightened senses: their hearing and their sense of smell. If you go near them without making a sound, they will be able to identify you by your smell. And your voice is like music to them. Through your voice, they can tell if you’re pretty or ugly. So I often wonder, “what voice do I have?.”
Our students recently performed John Lennon’s “Imagine” during the launch of the Special Education International Conference, and our Education Minister felt moved by their performance. On 16th October 2019, they performed for the Festa Muzik event, where our Raja Permaisuri Agong came. We have a pool of talent actually: those who are good in ukulele, those who can sing really well. We have a female student who sang for the Permaisuri during a different event on 9th October 2019.
Other than music, another initiative we have is Kafe Matahati. Our tagline is “seeing through the heart, reach for excellence”. We thankfully have a parent who has funded us, as the area was in dire need of repair. However, I would like to do something more in this café so that students who are not as skilled in academics, are able to gain some work experience. The funny thing about Kafe Matahari is that it’s also a convenience store. If you want to buy pampers, it’s there. Even clothes, are cheaper than outside. Even if you want a blender or rice cooker, you can get those too!
We also have a small spa that is being operated in this school where you can get reflexology services, as we have a number of students who are skilled in that. That’s what we want to do: equip these students with skills so they can go on to become musicians, work in reflexology, work in canteens, restaurants.
Our school is also working with UKM to change our classrooms to become IT-friendly. We have teachers who are teaching our students the basic IT knowledge, as we have many students who are skilled in this. We signed a Letter of Intent with UKM, so hopefully by next year 10 October 2020 we will be able to launch this facility!
When you’re blind, your chances are more limited. People are more focused on the things that you cannot do, rather than the things you can do. People think “oh when you come to work with us, we have to provide this and that.” Yes, that may be true. But regardless of their disability, they still need money to live – like all of us. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t like to beg for money. They too want to be able to earn it, but it’s harder when they are not provided the reasonable accommodation to do so.
I think sometimes they feel like they are a burden – and this is what I want to change. We want to empower our students, to feel good about themselves. If you look at those overseas, despite being blind or deaf, they are very confident and vocal unlike us here. I would like to empower our students to become more vocal, confident, maybe training them in public speaking. When they go out into the world, I don’t want people saying that they can’t take them in as an employee because of their disability.