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Young Achievers/AYA:
Mak makes it up with her determination


Jessica Mak Wei-E says deaf people should aim for the sky.
Jessica Mak Wei-E says deaf people should aim for the sky.

Her parents refused to believe she was deaf. In school, she became the target of bullies. This young woman fought the odds and won, writes DAVID YEOW.

"HI, my name is Jessica," says Jessica Mak Wei-E in sign language. The smiling and bubbly 30-year-old brims with confidence, showing not a trace of a difficult childhood.

Mak had grown up in a traditional family. Her parents refused to accept that she was born deaf.

"My parents kept sending me to the hospital, seeking second opinions and hoping for a cure," she said through the aid of sign language instructor Lucy Lim. "They were hoping that one day I would become normal."

Instead of visits to parks or playing "tea party" with friends, Mak’s childhood was filled with visits to faith healers, acupuncturists and speech therapists.
"I only learned to sign at 11. Before that I had to draw and write on paper to communicate with my family.

"It was a difficult time for me. I resented my parents so much then."

A breakdown in communications and lack of parental support were not the only issues Mak had to deal with.

"Before my parents accepted me as a deaf person, they made me wear this huge hearing aid to school. I would get teased and sometimes punched for being different."

Then her brother was born. He was also born deaf, awakening her parents to the fact that deafness was in the family genes.

Upon that realisation, her parents enrolled her into a school for the deaf at YMCA Kuala Lumpur.

"For the first time, I met other deaf people. I was so happy finally knowing that I was not alone in my struggles."

Through interacting with others like her and learning of their difficult past, Mak better understood her parents, acknowledging that they were just misinformed and confused at the time.

Leaving her emotional baggage behind, Mak pressed forward, equipping herself with skills that were not dependent upon hearing.

She picked up graphic design, illustration and office administration to help build up her career.

"My friends would call me the Jill of all trades," Mak remembers.

But it was her one-year stint as an intern at Duskin Ainowa Foundation, a leadership institute for disabled people based in Japan, that inspired her to serve the deaf community in Malaysia full time.

Today, she is the senior administrator at YMCA’s Deaf Work which provides different learning programmes for the deaf and their family.

"I just want to do everything I can to make it easier for deaf people to achieve their fullest potential."

But besides providing support and learning for people with hearing disabilities, Mak is also a champion for their safety.

"Sexual abuse is a big problem for the deaf community," says Mak.

"Many people take advantage of them and because of their inability to speak, and sometimes society’s disability to understand them, no action is taken against the perpetrators."

It drove Mak to conduct workshops and seminars to raise awareness on sexual abuse of the deaf.

However, according to Mak, her biggest struggle is still fighting the lack of confidence faced by the deaf.

"Sometimes, I get so disappointed when young deaf people look down on themselves. I tell them that things are much better now and they should just go for it and aim for the sky.

"But their own refusal to look past their disability keeps holding them back. That is the saddest thing."

However, Mak, with a sparkle of optimism in her eyes, says she has not given up on them yet.

Jessica Mak Wei-E is the eighth nominee for the 2007 AYA Dream Malaysia Most Outstanding Youth of the Year Award. The award, a project by Asian Youth Ambassadors, seeks to recognise ordinary youth with extraordinary spirit, irregardless of race or creed.

18 Aug 2007
Taken from "The New Straits Times" newspaper

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