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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 17 JUNE 2000 / BACK
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postcard from leon fulcher

From Kuala Lumpur

Selamat Datang from KL, Malaysia’s bustling capital city where the temperature hovered in the mid-30s Centigrade throughout the month of May. I was invited to join the celebrations for Paralimpiad KE-X with hundreds of competitors from Malaysia’s thirteen states and five ASEAN or Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Indonesia, Singapore, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines; all competing for medals in the last regional paralympics before Sydney. Such was the buzz amongst participants and organizers that I just had to share some of it here.

Procession of Selangor team joining others at Closing Ceremony

I attended as a supporter of the Sarawak team, holders of the cup from the 1998 Malaysian Paralimpiad. During my stint as a Visiting Professor at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, I had the good fortune to meet several of the Sarawak team who had gathered at the Pusat Pemulihan Samarahan Rehabilitation Centre for their final preparations. There were competitors with every kind of ability, as well as disabilities; all determined to retain the cup. The plight of differently-abled Malaysians is still tough, owing to the same stigma that has to be overcome before people with genetic deformities, physical limitations or intellectual impairments are recognized for their capabilities not disabilities. Normalization still hasn’t been adopted here, in spite of the abilities shown by those participating in this Paralimpiad.

It was sad to learn that a high proportion of those with acquired disabilities, just like Superman Christopher Reeves, experienced an accidental moment of tragedy that changed their lives forever. For those living in ASEAN countries, it is the motorbike accident that contributes more than any other. Those who have visited these countries will have seen the hundreds and thousands of motorbikes, often with mother, father and children all riding on the same motorbike. The driver and adults wear helmets but not the children. Teenagers zoom in and out between cars and lorries as though they are invincible. Little comfort can be gained from knowing that accidents were likely to have been somebody else’s fault, whether because a car pulled out without looking or stopped without warning, or because in their hurry to reach destinations, drivers of cars, trucks or motorbikes took risks that should never have been contemplated.

Sarawak Team celebrations after winning the Cup

After a week of intense competition, the Sarawak team were successful in defending the Cup. As seen in the photo, competitors, trainers, delegation leaders and supporters were jubilant about their achievements. What is not shown is that every participant I met, from every team, was enthusiastic about their actually being there, taking part and engaging fully both on and off the field, or in and out of the swimming pool. The soccer matches played by team members with sight impairment were memorable for the way the referee kept calling for silence from the supporters so that players could hear the bell inside the ball that guided their attentions! Six participants qualified for the Sydney Paralympics, three of these – two swimmers and a power lifter – come from Sarawak and I wish each of them success!

We would all be winners if more emphasis was placed on capabilities, not disabilities.

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