Left hotel mid-morning in beautiful tropical downpour- rain drumming furiously on roof of car, heading across 13-kilometre bridge causeway joining Island of Penang to mainland.
Met up with Julian Winter, CEO for SCB in Malaysia at Sek Peen didikan KhasAlma specialist school for blind primary age school-children. Some 70 expectant children waiting in school hall; Richard an I escorted onto stage with Julian; welcome address from headmaster, then Julian outlining Seeing Is Believing programme. Me next- children very quiet, well-mannered- thought I would start by teaching them my family war-cry, involving, whenever he mood strikes me or my brother Geoff, or, more correctly I guess, whenever we achieve something significant in our lives… we shout "T-I-G-E-R!!! as loud as we can.Got children shouting their lungs out third time around- great fun! Then told them a bit about me going blind, Geoff sailing solo to Australia, etc, then some questions and another "TIGER!" for good measure, before a photo shoot with media outside, dripping with sweat, surrounded by children, before press conference in nearby lounge, followed by excellent lunch; children incredibly well-mannered, saying grace together etc; hard to think surrounded by some 70 children also eating around us!
Had great, fascinating talk to Professor Muhaya, one of Malaysia's foremost eye surgeons, who is spearheading the Seeing Is Believing work for the Bank in Malaysia. She is the Senior Consultant Ophthalmologist at their national university, responsible for the standards and training of all the up and coming eye surgeons in the country.She spoke of the dangers of Diabetes for sight loss during the earlier press conference, and again at our evening corporate dinner- a passionate, highly-qualified woman, committed to make a difference in her country for blind people.
I spoke at length with her an Julian Winter afterwards concerning the need for additional services and expertise to be available in Malaysia to improve the rehabilitation opportunities for blind people here.
No students using long canes here; probably because in familiar surroundings.
Had a hart-rending time talking to lad of 15 years called Harith, who lost his sight suddenly almost overnight two years ago; been out of school since then, staying with his parents and brothers; very, very down and depressed; no independent living skills I could detect; family home far, far away up in north of country; apparently alone, not made any friends there yet; just come; most children younger; difficulty relating to them; alone, blind, far from home, parents and loved ones; tried to encourage him that this was the worst time; would get better… got him to stand up and gave him big hug, heart going out to him; Harith bent over, head bowed, absolutely no confidence, body posture of defeated, broken child, staring at floor; finally somebody led him off; headmaster very concerned; brought him to me.
He needs a laptop with speech output; computing skills key if these lads and girls are going to get jobs in digital age; left me wondering about rehab services in region and needs; suggested to Julian Winter that perhaps bank project could extend to blind people who will never see again as well… him and Professor Muhaya following up… God bless and care for young Harith…
After lunch found entire school lining the corridor to shake my hand; very few spoke much English, but deeply touched by the quiet reverence and respect shown me; all girls in line first, youngest first; most of them took my hand between theirs, adopted prayer position of hands with mine between theirs, then kissed my hand gently with great respect; left me feeling very humbled by their quiet yet deeply felt and expressed thanks for me coming; older girls a little more talkative, giving me their names Richard leading me, and Julian Winter coming after me, also greeting each child.
I kept on asking the children what they must shout whenever they are happy, and many squeaked a timid little "tiger" back to me, but others said it with more confidence, and one lovely little girl told me quite firmly "elephant") which got her a tickling from me, but she kept on insisting it was elephant, and NOT tiger! Another young lad then educated me, explaining the correct war cry to shout, in Malay, was of course "Harima!", which I guess is Tiger in their language, with lots around also taking up the cry!I then got them all to say a final loud shout together, this time, correctly at last "H-A-R-I-M-A!!!" as we finally said cheerio to the last of them and headed for our waiting cars; left me exhilarated from the meeting, my heart pumping, with a huge silly grin on my face, but with my thoughts and heart finally going back to young, lonely, depressed Harith…
Julian Winter, newly appointed CEO here, told me afterwards he had to walk away when I was speaking to Harith, as he was so deeply moved by the lad's situation, and Julian's own children and wife were heading back the next day to England, where they are currently at school.
I guess it will take the headmaster and all his staff a week or two before they get their lovely children so delightfully well-mannered again..!
I guess none of the statistics we talk about for seeing Is Believing are statistics at all- they are somebody's brother, sister, father, mother, son, daughter, and when a life is touched, an entire extended family is touched.
Please give generously to the SIB programme; you can donate via the SIB website linked to my site here.
That evening spoke at client dinner at hotel for Bank clients, hosted by Julian, and Professor Muhaya also speaking again; great evening had by all I think, and hopefully more funds for our Seeing Is \Believing project.
Into bed very tired, but somehow feeling we may have made a tiny difference to other people's lives because we got out of bed today. Sleep is a gift from God, and I think we all received it gratefully within minutes of heads hitting pillows!