Sunday, December 27, 2009

Awareness is KEY

In the course of our voluntary work helping the disabled, my lovely Sunshine ladies and I have always reckoned that to break down barriers of ignorance or lack of knowledge, there is one powerful tool that we can promote: AWARENESS.

With that uppermost in my mind, I set out to achieve a humble desire - with the support from my friends, family, residents and Council members of Selangor Cheshire Home. I published two children's picture books: My Best Friend and My Shop and My Best Friend. The Sunshine ladies and I committed ourselves primarily to reach out with our outreach programme,' Sunshine for the Disabled' - to speak, and create AWARENESS among primary school children.

For 9 months or so, I worked on my 2 books. My aim was to bring the stories to as many school children as possible. The residents of the Home were also to play a key role in lifting the stories out of the pages. And us, the Sunshine ladies linking everyone to achieve our AWARENESS message.

In my own way, I wanted to present 2 stories gleaned from all my years working beside my disabled friends. My Best Friend tells the daily sunshine that people bring with them to connect the disabled with the 'outside world'. We are all social creatures and the link, especially with the disadvantaged group fills a void in their lives.

In My Shop and My Best Friend, we the community have a huge part to play as we welcome the disabled who too can earn a meaningful existence, given the opportunities, like anyone of us. That inclusion in the mainstream of life is vital for the well-being of persons, more so for the disabled.

My thanks to the 2 illustrators, Zaharudin Sarbini and Nur Azmi Mokhtar who have done a wonderful job of helping me to reach out to our young readers. I wanted 2 different styles and found these talents after some search.

Life can be just another passage through time but not when a friend comes a-calling. A friend brings laughter, hope, companionship, caring and understanding. Please take time to share this book with a child or a group of children. Time spent with a disabled person helps us to see the person and not just the disability. (illustrator: Zaharudin Sarbini)

Becoming a part of society is one of the challenges of a disabled person. This story shows that with support from friends/community, a disabled person can live life just like everybody else: doing everyday tasks like anybody, for example looking after a shop. (illustrator: Nur Azmi Mokhtar)

'It was tough at first. For the first few days, it was a blur. I felt shy and scared. ' What happened to your legs?' people asked as they saw me in my wheelchair. All I wanted to do was to hide away from their stares. But then slowly, surely, I felt stronger and braver every time in the shop.'

With the residents of the Home as ambassadors for the disabled themselves, we visited 11 schools with the two books to spread the AWARENESS message and to raise funds for the Home. The residents did an excellent job of breaking down barriers by talking about themselves, their hobbies or their jobs and simply by answering questions posed to them.

As mothers ourselves, we believe in planting the seeds of caring, empathy and understanding for the less fortunate among the young ones. Learning these values will inculcate a sense of citizenship which is an integral part of community living.

Join us as I highlight some visits we did on our 'Sunshine for the Disabled' outreach programme.

1. The British Council - The two books were launched at the British Council to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It was made all the more special as one of the students who uses a wheelchair made a special apperance with her mother to be part of the launch. Bless the children - they were attentive and together with us, the 'big gang of mothers', they were receptive. A big thank you to the parents who bought the books to support the cause.

Launch of the 2 books at the British Council

Storytelling with the kids

2. Kindi Eduland, Sri Petaling and Tadika Diyana, Taman Tun Dr Ismail - The kids were excited to receive visitors and were eager to find out what was in store for them. I told the story 'My Best Friend'. We sang 'It's A Small World, I Love You and The More We Get Together.' The residents introduced themselves and talked about their hobbies - stamp collecting, doll-making and work as a telephone operator etc.

The soft, relaxed approach with the young ones worked and everyone had fun, not least the residents who enjoyed the charm of the kids.

Charming kids at Sri Petaling kindergarten

We wanted to optimize our contact time with the kids and we thought the idea of a drawing competition titled, 'My Best Friend' would help us drive home the message of helping friends and being a friend. We received many entries. Later in the week, my colleague, Helen and I returned to present prizes to the winners.

3. Sekolah Sri Cempaka, Cheras campus - the Chairman of the school, Datin Freida Pilus had a mammoth audience for us. The entire morning school assembly were gathered in the hall. I gave a brief talk about the Home and highlighted the activities and role of the volunteers. The residents recounted their own stories. Sportingly, the students of Sri Cempaka entertained us with guitar and piano playing. All of us sang a lovely song, 'Our Hearts Can Soar'.

4. Sekolah Sri KDU - following the story, the students interviewed the residents in an engaging and fun session. The residents were in the 'spotlight' as the eager beaver students asked questions to get a story of their own out about the residents. A week later the Sunshine ladies judged the students' essays, 'A Day in the Life of A Resident'. My colleague, Helen and I attended the school morning assembly and it was a wonderful experience to give away prizes for the students' efforts. I appreciate the gesture by the principal to highlight the prize-giving among the hundreds of school children. It also brought a different touch to caring, all round. Here's a snapshot of two of the essays:

'... that was the end of my interview with Nagamal. We shook hands and bid farewell. Nagamal pushed her own wheelchair to reunite with the other residents. I admire her spirit, her courage and her talent. I hope Nagamal will fulfill her dreams of becoming the best telephone operator in Malaysia and be able to travel to Hong Kong.'

'She has curly jet black hair. She is Indian and is adept in Tamil, Cantonese, English and Bahasa Malaysia. Her favourite colour is red . She has two brothers and seven sisters who were all born in Kuala Selangor.'

Thousands of children passed through our hands and it definitely was not an opportunity to miss to stamp the AWARENESS message well. Everywhere we went, it was like starting a spark to ignite minds and we believe with young minds, it's about the guiding and showing and experiencing.

Interactors of Kolej Tuanku Jaafar as big brothers and sisters to the school children of SRK Sambanthan, Pajam (a stone's throw away from each other), distributing the books they funded. The Interactors lived up to their motto as they made new friends that morning.

Can promoting AWARENESS for the disabled win the day? YES! Knocking down barriers is getting rid of ignorance. The warmth and positive response we received from all the heads of schools and the teachers was a resounding way of saying 'yes, we can work together!'

The two books, My Best Friend and My Shop and My Best Friend (all 4,400 copies were sold and all proceeds went to the Home) were tools in our hands to utilize in the best possible way. They helped tremendously. Thank you, everyone for joining our AWARENESS bandwagon. Still, the work is not yet over. There's more to do...

School children singing their hearts out - from 11 schools on a Saturday afternoon


  1. Congratulations on your two wonderful books! You are giving the greatest gift to the disable, and that is hope, and respect.

    God bless!

  2. Congrats on the books, Keats!!

    What a blessing you are to those around you!!

  3. Congratz Keats and the Sunshine Ladies for showing the youngs, truly leadership by example. Thumbs up.

  4. What a wonderful thing you and the Sunshine Ladies have done with these two books! Excellent!

  5. Excellent work! Activity for a good cause like this should get recognised.

  6. Hi there, Keats! Are the books still in print? Would be great to get a few copies for all the children I work with, too! You're so good in art, why didn't you illustrate them yourself? "My Shop and My Best Friend" -- that's you, Keats. You're the best friend. You've been an absolute brick to all your friends at Rumah Cheshire.

  7. Great work, big hearts and warmest sunshine you've got em all. Kudos!

  8. Keats, your are truly an angel who brings so much sunshine and happiness to the less previledged. Congratulations on your success with the 2 books! May you have many many more sweet successes. Educating young adults and children on awareness on the needs of the disabled is indeed a brilliant idea. Do continue with the good work. I salute you and I certainly have a lot to learn from you. As always, I'll be voting for you, a perfect 10. Lastly, may you have a Wonderful New Year 2010! Do take time to rest and relax too.

  9. Hi
    Icy BC, thanks very much for your ncouraging words.

    Veronica Lee, thaks so much. I enjoyed doing the 2 books very much. it means a lot to me, the sunshine ladies and for all the disabled.

    CheaHS@n, thanks so much. there's always something we can try . Ideas are our thoughts that come into action. To make them come true , we have to act upon them:))

    Gran, thanks! hope you're keeping well.

    Zue Murphy, thanks! it's great to have done this project. truly, the reward lies achieving my desire., to be part of the bigger picture of things - helping others.

  10. Fantastic post :-)
    I love the drawings ...

    Have a very happy New Year
    and a wonderful and happy 2010 :-)


  11. Hi Keats! Excellent work!!
    Enter 2010 in great shape! Wish you all the best for the New Year!!!

  12. Hi
    ~covert_Operations'78~, thanks very much for your support. the books are not in print any more. All the books have been used for the visits to the schools and the Home took some too. There are no plans to do more with them for now. I've been thinking about them though.

    Bananaz, the work with the disabled is among us ladies and we chip in to do our bit. teamwork is important.

    Autumn Belle, you're a gem among my blogger friends; always supporting my posts. I 've been doing my bit in the community like so many others. the enjoyment we get from the successes we reap is heartening. so we do:)))

    Anya, glad you like the post and the drawings. enjoy the New Year !

    GMG, thanks very much !

  13. Congrats on the books, my dear Keats! I wish you a lot of blessings and all the best for the upcoming year. Hopefully you keep your warm heart and inspiring everyone around you. I really think that you do a wonderful job :). I'm still on vacation mode here. I hope you enjoy the holidays, too. xoxoxo

  14. This is a very touching story, Keats. Your heart is in the right place.
    Happy New Year.

  15. Hi ROSIDAH, thanks so much for all the good wishes. I certainly want to be around and share my experiences. Thanks for being a kind and great blogger friend. Happy New year and God bless you!

    Pam, Happy New Year to you too! Shall try my best to keep in touch with you.

  16. As a mother of special needs child I appreciate your work a lot... keep the bright sun shining always.

  17. Hi Farila, thanks! Am more than happy to reach out and do my bit to create the awareness. it is so important to integrate the disabled into society. all the best to you and your family.


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