Thursday February 28, 2013
Deaf children hard to forget
By BELLA HO
There’s thunder in their footsteps as hearing impaired children leave an imprint in the hearts of people whose lives they have touched.
I HAD a rewarding teaching career which spanned almost five decades. Looking back, I felt that the three and a half years I spent at the Federation School for the Deaf in Penang, were the most interesting.
The school was set up in 1954, and was housed in a colonial building in Northam Road. It was the pioneer deaf school in the country, and also the first boarding school for deaf children. I was the residential teacher at the school in the 1960s, before it was relocated to a 12ha site at the Vale of Tempe Road (now Jalan Lembah Permai) in Tanjung Bungah in 1970.
During my stint at the school, there were 101 deaf children, 12 teachers, and several workers.
The principal was Miss Lee Kooi Jong. Attractive and dynamic, Miss Lee was the prop of the school. She was extremely capable and ran the school with clockwork precision.
As the school’s residential teacher, I was given a room next to the dormitory. Deaf children cannot hear themselves, so you can imagine my consternation when the building shook with the sound of pounding feet as the children raced down the corridors. Despite their hearing impairment, they were very much like regular kids in many ways. They were boisterous, mischievous, lovable and charmed us with their childlike innocence.
The school followed pretty much the normal school regime. Bahasa Malaysia was the medium of instruction for all subjects, except English, of course.
Hearing aids played a critical role in reaching out to the students. Candles, feathers and paper were used as teaching aids. A feather and piece of paper were placed in front of the children when we taught them the plosives “b” and “p”. We encouraged the children to enunciate so forcefully that the feather and paper fluttered, eventually blowing out the candle. Sometimes the piece of paper would be sent flying.
Sentences were written on strips of manila cardboard, and the kids would sort out the sentences and arranged them in sequence to form a short essay.
Sometimes when I sang, the kids were thrilled for they could hear the high notes.
“Eek, eek,” they squealed in excitement, indicating that they could hear some sounds.
We had our share of expatriate volunteers who came to the school to teach the children folk-dancing and sewing, on a regular basis.
Games took up the rest of the day. We played football, netball, table tennis, the whole works. We had a barrel of fun.
The children at the school were well taken care of. Miss Lee saw to it. They were fed a balanced diet, with brown rice as their staple. There were many occasions when Miss Lee actually rolled up her sleeves and went into the kitchen to cook some of the children’s favourite dishes. The children loved her prawn fritters which were a lovely golden brown, crispy on the outside with juicy prawns inside.
Discipline was instilled in the children from young. There was a specified time-slot for studying and doing homework every night. One of the teachers would be on duty to attend to any student who was struggling with his homework.
All the children looked forward to weekends. We took the kids to the beach for picnics. Back then, the pristine beaches of Tanjung Bungah were picture perfect. We packed lots of food and drinks, and the kids had much fun under the sun. They loved to comb the beach for pretty seashells. It was heartwarming to see the kids chasing one another on the powdery sand, and playing with the gentle waves that rolled in. Their smiles were brighter than the sun above.
We were often invited to the homes of a handful of wealthy Hokkien families. We would spend a day in their opulent houses, and be feted by the generous and gracious host. The children were surprisingly very well-behaved during such outings and easily endeared themselves to the host. Perhaps that explained why we received regular invites to attend these homes.
After three and a half years at the school, I left – albeit with a heavy heart – to further my studies. My stint at the school had reinforced my love for teaching and working with children. Children are special, and special needs kids will always have a place in my heart.
Bella Ho, 72, has survived three strokes, lost two toes to diabetes, and is half-blind but that does not deter her from pursuing her love for writing.