In the hands of masters and men­tors

The Borneo Post - - THOUGHTS & OPINIONS - mail@pe­ter­tan.com

I HAVE be­come very for­get­ful. And many times when I get dis­tracted, I have dif­fi­culty re­call­ing what was in my mind just sec­onds ear­lier. Be­cause of that, I try to note down my thoughts when­ever pos­si­ble. When I have pen and pa­per handy, I use them. Oth­er­wise, I type them out on my lap­top or smart­phone.

While sift­ing through the notes in my lap­top ear­lier to­day, I came across this verse: “Be pli­able in the hands of masters and men­tors for they can shape you into won­der­ful things.” If I re­call cor­rectly, I wrote that in a mo­ment of deep cre­ative con­tem­pla­tion while I was re­flect­ing on my cur­rent phase of life.

As I reread the verse, I was re­minded of how much I have grown and how far I have come as a dis­abil­ity- rights ac­tivist. I started with zero knowl­edge about how to go about it when I first got in­volved. All I knew was that I had to be hands- on some­how. It was not right for me to sit back and ex­pect other peo­ple to cam­paign on my be­half.

At that point in time, I was be­gin­ning to emerge from my co­coon and went out more of­ten. The paral­y­sis grounded me for a good 20 years be­fore that. The more I went out, the more I wanted to be out. There was so much wait­ing for me out there. There was so much I could do if I could move around more con­ve­niently.

I wanted to change so­ci­ety to be more in­clu­sive of peo­ple like me but I didn’t know how. One day, out of the blue, I was in­vited by Tan Kuan Aw, a renowned dis­abil­ity ac­tivist and artist in Pe­nang, for a meal with some of his dis­abled friends. We met, we talked and gen­er­ally had a good time. Most im­por­tantly, that marked the first step of my jour­ney into dis­abil­ity ac­tivism.

We would joke af­ter­wards of how Kuan Aw de­ceived me into be­com­ing an ac­tivist with just one plate of won­ton noo­dles, which he treated me to at that meet­ing. Per­haps I was, but I was a will­ing vic­tim none­the­less. We would talk and dis­cuss about is­sues for hours. I was like a dry sponge, ab­sorb­ing all the knowl­edge he un­re­servedly shared.

At that same first meet­ing, he in­tro­duced me to his long­time friend Chris­tine Lee, who was in­stru­men­tal in push­ing for ac­ces­si­ble pub­lic trans­port in the Klang Val­ley. She ini­ti­ated me into rad­i­cal ac­tivism. We were in­volved in sev­eral high pro­file pub­lic protests de­mand­ing for ac­ces­si­ble pub­lic trans­port and an end to dis­crim­i­na­tory air­line poli­cies.

I also got to know Dr Kenji Kuno through Kuan Aw and Chris­tine. Kenji was the chief ad­vi­sor on dis­abil­ity from the Ja­pan In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Agency. The many learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties he gave me put me on solid foot­ing to be­come a re­source per­son on In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing and a trainer of fa­cil­i­ta­tors for Dis­abil­ity Equal­ity Train­ing.

Kenji de­serves all the credit for my trans­for­ma­tion into a dis­abil­ity ed­u­ca­tion­ist. I spent 10 years learn­ing from him the finer points of train­ing, fa­cil­i­tat­ing, and run­ning work­shops ef­fec­tively. He sup­ported my par­tic­i­pa­tion in many do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences where I honed my skills. This in turn el­e­vated my pub­lic pro­file.

At a later stage, he en­cour­aged me to take the train­ing ses­sions I con­ducted one level higher by run­ning it as a busi­ness, not so much for the profit but to make it pro­fes­sional and en­sure sus­tain­abil­ity. I am proud to say that the com­pany I es­tab­lished in 2013 re­mains the only one in Malaysia spe­cial­is­ing in Dis­abil­ity Equal­ity Train­ing.

What­ever profit I earn from the com­pany is used to sup­port my non- pay­ing ad­vo­cacy ac­tiv­i­ties. This al­lows me to do what I am do­ing with­out putting too much strain on my per­sonal fi­nances. I don’t make much. Some­times, I have to fork out money from my own pocket to cover trav­el­ling and other ex­penses for ac­tiv­i­ties when there are no train­ing jobs.

I met Shoji Nakan­ishi when I went to Ja­pan for fur­ther train­ing on In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing. That was 11 years ago. Shoji is the founder of the first In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Cen­tre in Ja­pan and is a well- re­spected dis­abil­ity rights ac­tivist at the global level.

I still re­mem­ber the words he said to me on my last day of train­ing in Tokyo. He told me I could count on him when­ever I needed sup­port to de­velop In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Cen­tres in Malaysia. He has never al­lowed the dis­tance be­tween us be a bar­rier. He has never stopped pro­vid­ing re­sources and even fund­ing for me to run projects here. I am priv­i­leged to have him as a men­tor and a friend I could al­ways de­pend on.

Col­lec­tively, they have all moulded my world­view on dis­abil­ity. They al­lowed me to grow at my own pace, gave me room to be a think­ing, dis­cern­ing and crit­i­cal learner while ac­cept­ing my idio­syn­cra­sies and dis­sent­ing views. They are masters in their own right and I am hum­bled by their mag­na­nim­ity in tak­ing me un­der their wings.

I was a lump of clay they painstak­ingly shaped. They worked on my strengths and were for­giv­ing of my flaws. They pushed me to my lim­its. I ad­mit I still have rough edges that need to be smoothed out. De­spite that, in their ex­pert hands, I be­lieve I have been turned into some­thing won­der­ful. For that, I am for­ever grate­ful to them.

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