A Special Children's Sunday

I was invited for the Handicapped Children Centre’s Open Day and Concert a few days ago (Sunday morning) by Josephine.
She’s volunteering with the centre and told me that the children, all 63 of them, had put so much heart and soul into this open day.
I dragged Nic along that morning, knowing that yes, we could laze about on a weekend but we could also lend some support to these special children.

Prize-giving to outstanding students of the centre by Penang Governor's wife
Prize-giving to outstanding students of the centre by Penang Governor's wife

The Handicapped Children’s Centre is on Grove Road, just behind the State Mosque [The Handicapped Children Centre is on 24B, Grove Road, 11400 Penang]. I had been here before in my corporate comm days as my ex-company was also doing some CSR for this organisation. It is in this peaceful residential area and away from the main road. Started in 1964, the centre helps school children who are disabled, children with Down’s and children considered in need of special teaching and special teachers (such as those with autism).
You know we take things for granted? At this centre, you will be reminded that you DON’T take things for granted at all. Some of the children have difficulty concentrating, holding a colour pencil is really a challenge due to limited motor skills and limited coordination. Other children cannot communicate well and are painfully shy.
Being able to remember is a cognitive skill we always take for granted.
Not so here.
For many here, counting up to 20 or stringing 3 words in a sentence are accomplishments to be really supportive and proud of.
Besides classroom lessons, these special children are also taken out on field trips to the bank, post office and shopping malls so that they get used to people and learn how to carry out simple tasks like banking, taking a bus and shopping.
The classroom walls are decorated with paper cut-outs of birds which the children coloured and I am surprised to learn that some of these children are not children anymore (most are teens but they are just acquiring essential skills to help them adjust to society). In fact, one of the boys, Julian Au, came up to shake my hand as I was looking at their artwork. He was shy but courageous enough to extend his hand in friendship!
Indian dance Bollywood style
Indian dance Bollywood style

Having this Open Day then is a major challenge yet achievement for both teachers and students given that the students do not function like you and me. Repetition movements are difficult because they forget so easily. Being in front of a crowd of parents, well-wishers and VIP guests and making eye contact is not something these children are used to.
A Malay dance performance called Lodeh Mak Lodeh by 8 special children.
A Malay dance performance called Lodeh Mak Lodeh by 8 special children.

As I looked at the proud parents and teachers, I was deeply moved by their enthusiasm and cheers. They never gave up on their children, no matter what disability or problems they were born with.
Mohamad Yassin sung a tearjerker Mandarin song much to the crowd's pleasure
Mohamad Yassin sung a tearjerker Mandarin song much to the crowd's pleasure

One particularly moving performance was a Mandarin song sung by an Indian-Muslim teenager in a wheelchair. The crowd came to a hushed silence as Mohammad Yassin began singing in perfect Mandarin. He had memorised the whole song and sung with confidence! It was an emotional moment as many parents started wiping away tears.
Contemporary dance using hula hoops by Lim Tze Jin, Choong Poh Yun, Tung Jia Yu, Joleen Neoh, Lim Chin Wei and Mohd Amir Fikri
Contemporary dance using hula hoops by Lim Tze Jin, Choong Poh Yun, Tung Jia Yu, Joleen Neoh, Lim Chin Wei and Mohd Amir Fikri

Another girl (also in a wheelchair) came out to recite a poem “Aku Menjadi Lebih Berani”. She surprised everyone by reciting it without referring to any scribbled notes!
We sat through the 2 hours and saw the concert from start to finish. It was after all the least we could do after these children/teens had practised for 6 months to get their moves right. The dances and singing may not have been one hundred percent perfect but it was their spirit that gladdened many a heart!
A lively Chinese ribbon dance
A lively Chinese ribbon dance

When you know that memorizing a dance step or a line of a song takes so much effort and time, you begin to realize that perfection is in the motivation to accomplish for these beautiful children.
The concert was graced by the patron of the centre, the Penang Governer’s wife, Toh Puan Hajah Majimor who was accompanied by the wife of the Penang Chief Minister, Betty Chew.
Everyone sang "The Greatest Love of All', event the parents!
It was fitting that the concert ended on a high note where each child sang Whitney Houston’s ‘The Greatest Love of All’. The lyrics were especially thought-provoking in their context.
Amazing art ability of one of the autistic students
Amazing art ability of one of the autistic students

I spoke to one teacher as I was looking at a row of meticulously hand drawn and coloured pictures of wild birds by an autistic 18 year old boy who studied at this centre. She said that once they reach 18 years of age, the children would go to Joblink, a centre that adjoins this Handicapped Children’s Centre. They are then paid to do small and easy tasks to earn a living. Most of the tasks were given by factories – inserting or packing products.
I had a great Sunday outing! And three cheers to these children too for their heartfelt performances.

11 thoughts on “A Special Children's Sunday”

  1. I’m impressed at how you give recognition to the kids by remembering their names, goes to show that they’re just as important as any of us.
    Reminds me of a book I once read, by Mark Haddon, called The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-Time, a story written in an autistic boy’s point of view.

  2. Hi Vern: Everyone of us is as important and it nearly made me cry (I didn’t want to look like some sopping nut!) when Mohammad Yassin started singing in Mandarin. Singing a song means nothing to us – we’re so used to memorizing and singing right but once you watch these children and teenagers and think, oh gosh, what I used to take for granted! These children struggle to learn, to memorize, to count, to dance… every task we do in our everyday lives is incredibly tough for them. Colouring within lines is difficult. Speaking is difficult. And I salute the teachers even more. They have so much of love and patience for their students. If anyone wants a picture of real Malaysia, Truly Asia, this is the place to come and watch real Malaysian Muhibbah in action.

  3. Dear Maya,
    Thank you for writing this thoughtful article on your experience. You might like to watch Mozart and the Whale, which provides a good insight into the world of Aspergers Syndrome.
    I enjoy reading your blog.
    Regards,
    Grace

  4. you’re such a sweetie….shame on me for not doing the same thing. been meaning to find the time to do this kind of things too….but as usual, the same ole excuses will pop up, you know. too busy, no time, clients meeting, kids tuition, cooking…blah blah blah.
    this serves as a reminder to me that this ‘task’ or unfulfilled wish to give hope to these special children whenever I can.
    in a timely manner too that I will be moving to a place where it’s near to a school for down syndrome children. I will do something there with them when I can. and next year, both kids would be in school until 3.30pm, and the house would be like 1 min walk from school, so NO MORE EXCUSES. 🙂

  5. Hi Marsha: I am so not a sweetie lah. I do what I can when I can. I have such amazing friends who clue me in on what’s happening etc. And for me, being the idealist Piscean, I try my best to help. If it means attending the concert on a Sunday, so be it. Our lives can be so much richer if everyone stopped thinking of themselves but started really thinking of others, especially those who are not like us. Helping others means helping ourselves become better human beings. And this means more love and understanding all around. Great…I look forward to hearing your lovely stories about your time with the Down Syndrome children. 😉 You go be the sweetie too!

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