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How one Y12 Student at GIS Is Opening Our Eyes to the World of the Deaf

Serena Lee, one of our Year 12 students, has worked on an inspiring project: to create a video of the national anthem of Malaysia in sign language.

Her video, which involves a number of other students, is now played at all school assemblies. As well as enabling students and staff with hearing impairments to feel fully included in the tradition, her powerful video also raises greater awareness for disabilities in our school community.

Serena is an inspirational student and has won two awards for her work, winning the Global Citizen award from EARCOS and the Everyday Young Hero award from Youth Service America. As well as partnering with UNICEF Malaysia to help deliver a series of online sign language workshops.

Serena explains her inspiration, her own personal experience of hearing loss, and her passion for charity work linked to the Malaysian deaf community.

What inspired you to make this powerful video, Serena?

As part of my research into what I could do to support the deaf community, I attended a  deaf seminar last September and was very touched to see an entire hall of deaf Malaysians proudly signing the Negaraku. I immediately knew that sharing this with the GIS student community would be a meaningful first step in increasing awareness and developing empathy for the deaf community.

With the gracious help of the Ms Shilton, the Student Leadership Coordinator, as well as the  school’s Marketing team, I set about creating a GIS version of the signed Negaraku. By involving members of our own school community, I hope to inspire everyone to engage fully with the Malaysian sign language.

What has been your own experience of living with a hearing impairment?

Two years ago, I experienced partial hearing loss in my left ear as a result of a viral infection that permanently damaged part of my inner-ear structure. The nature of this hearing loss meant it was all very sudden, confusing and frustrating. I would wake up feeling as though half of my head had been submerged underwater.

It was very difficult for me to accept this new reality. I was too embarrassed to tell any of my classmates and only informed my teachers when I needed to sit closer to the front so that I could better participate in class discussions.

How has GIS supported your disability at school?

The GIS community has really helped me become more confident in acknowledging my partial deafness. Initially, I felt ashamed of this hearing loss: I saw it as a simply insurmountable adversity that made me different in the worst possible way. I thought that I would be laughed at if I told anyone. But instead, I found that my peers and teachers were incredibly supportive and genuinely keen to find out how they could help. This made me realise that there was no reason for me to be embarrassed at all.

I now feel immensely grateful that I am in a school where differences are embraced. Viewing my hearing loss from this new angle is what inspired me to shift my focus onto the wider deaf community in Malaysia and to help those students who don’t have access to the same educational opportunity or support network.

What changes would you like to see made for people living with hearing impairments?

Whilst volunteering at the Pusat Majudiri ‘Y’ (PMY) after-school programmes for deaf students enrolled in primary schools, it became clear that the educational opportunities for the deaf are very limited compared to those for hearing students.

I strongly believe part of the issue lies in the fact that most students are taught in Manually Coded Malay (KTBM), as opposed to their native sign, Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM). This can make learning far more challenging than it needs to be. In my view, this mandates a call for educational reform to ensure that the deaf have equal opportunities and equal accessibility to education – as promised by the Persons With Disabilities Act 2008.

Can you share more about the charity work that you take part in for other students living with hearing loss?

Since last summer, I have been working with a local deaf community, Pusat Majudiri ‘Y’ (PMY), to further my efforts in deaf advocacy and outreach. With the help of the community service team at GIS, I was able to invite them to our annual charity fundraising event, Mufti Day. Our goal was to raise enough money to sponsor a deaf Malaysian youth’s participation in the upcoming Asia-Pacific ‘Hard of Hearing’ Camp.

During Mufti, I found that many Primary students struggled to comprehend why the deaf could not communicate in the same way as the hearing; why someone who looked just like themselves was actually different in so many ways. Others simply did not understand what it meant to be ‘deaf’ at all. From this experience, I realised that to cultivate a generation of empathetic leaders in GIS, it is crucial we shed more light on the disabled community of Malaysia – in this case, the deaf.

Watch the video and learn the Negaraku in sign language with Serena’s step-by-step guide below –

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