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July 15, 2004

Caring and capable lass

From: The Star, Malaysia - Jul 15, 2004

IT HAS been some time since I last updated readers on the many goings-on in the silent world of the deaf.

Jessica Mak Wei-E, who is Programme Coordinator of the YMCA Kuala Lumpurs Pusat Majudiri Y that was set up to help the deaf and no stranger to this column wrote to me last week to share what she and other deaf youths were up to recently.

Instead of using the traditional mode of communication for the deaf sign language 26-yearold Jessica, who was born deaf, decided to e-mail me instead. And it was such a relief to get her electronic message instead of having to meet up with her for a chat as I do for most of my interviews for Wheel Power.

The reason (and Im most embarrassed to admit it) that I didnt meet up with Jessica is because I have yet to learn to communicate in sign language an ambition that is still in the top 10 of my 2004 resolutions.

Jessica starts her e-mail by pointing out the exigency of including people with disabilities, especially youths and women in programmes that are structured to bring out the best in them.

Many leadership courses or events that involve young people and women rarely include participants with disabilities, she laments, then poignantly asks: How often do we come across such professional courses that look out for deaf participation as well?

The deaf, be they women or youths, inevitably get left out as a result because theyre ignored or simply forgotten. To event organisers and coordinators, I would like to emphasise: remember that we are youth and women first and our disabilities come second!

Jessica who has a younger brother who is also deaf and currently enrolled as a trainee teacher at a special training institute in Cheras, KL, says she actively organises deaf youth programmes at the YMCA for their members who always seem to have a great yearning for leadership opportunities.

And, according to the young deaf activist who has wide-ranging experience in deaf programmes both in Malaysia and abroad, there is no real mystery to their insatiable thirst.

Just like young people without disabilities in the hearing world, the deaf also want to feel like they belong, she explains.

We are proud to be Malaysians and want to be in a position where we are a contributing member to society just like a non-deaf person. To our leaders and those in authority we say: please think of the deaf as well when you talk about nationbuilding because we, the deaf, are also an asset to our beloved Malaysia.

Jessica can boast about the deafs ability to contribute like their hearing counterparts because she has been in several golden situations quite recently where she got to demonstrate to others what the deaf are able to do for themselves.

Jessica, who last month successfully concluded a special programme to empower a number of Malaysian deaf women in the Klang Valley and its vicinity, was invited to represent the YMCA at a strategic dialogue session with our Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman.

At the meeting which took place at the PWTC on April 5, Jessica had the chance to raise several pertinent points on how the deaf could best be involved in the Ministrys programmes and outreach.

She also suggested the setting up of a special unit to work with the various non-governmental bodies (NGOs) serving youths with disabilities. This, she said, would enable the relevant bodies to consult young people with disabilities in order to help the authorities draw up programmes best-suited to the handicapped.

She also asked if the Ministry could put up a special website with the various youth programmes in Malaysia so that people with disabilities could have easy access to the information.

A month later in May, Jessica had the opportunity to attend a two-day Youth Convention as part of the Youth Day occasion at a local hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

I was delighted to be with two other deaf youths at the event and sharing the moment with them, learning and sharing with others about issues close to young people it was all simply wonderful as we were the only disabled participants in the entire seminar!

The exuberance was once again present when this time Jessica was joined by fellow deaf member Anthony Chong, the vice-chairperson of the YMCA Deaf Club at the 4th Malacca International Youth Dialogue organised by World Assembly Youth (WAY) at the end of last month.

WAY, which meets every four years, was founded in Belgium in 1949 but since last year is based in Malacca.

The deafs presence set another record: Jessica and Anthony became the first youths with disabilities to participate in the all-important dialogue.

Not only that, Jessica says that they were fortunate to have been able to engage the services of a volunteer sign language interpreter who faithfully translated for them in the three-day live-in event.

Jessica says though, that it was unfortunate that WAY hadnt thought of including the services of a sign language interpreter in their original plans. Thus, the interpreter wasnt able to receive remuneration for his services.

Not only were we grateful for the interpreters presence, I think that all in all, the WAY organisers had also immensely benefited from our participation as deaf persons, Jessica notes.

The two-way experience for the deaf and the WAY organisers made both sides richer through their encounter with each other: we came away with a more informed point of view about youths as a whole and the challenges they face each day and the seminar appreciated our unique insights as deaf persons as well, she adds.

So much so, that both Jessica and Anthony are quite sure that the deaf will certainly figure often from now on in their future conferences.

Jessica Mak may be reached at: Programme Coordinator (Deaf Work) Pusat Majudiri Y for the Deaf, 95 Jalan Padang Belia, Off Jalan Tun Sambanthan, 50470 Kuala Lumpur 013-390 2300 (Working hours and SMS only)/ 603-2274 1439 Fax: 603-2274 0559/ E-mail: Url:

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