Special children want to be counted in Merdeka joy

IT is often said that Merdeka is not just about speeches and parades. But when spastic children wear their hearts on their sleeves and openly display their nationalistic spirit, it leaves you speechless.

This was the scene at the National Day commemorative ceremony by the Johor Spastic Children's Association (JSCA) in Jalan Dato Menteri in Johor Baru last Monday.

There were no VIPs or elaborate preparations. Neither was there any giant banner or backdrop, with endless buntings lining the route to announce the event, as is often the case with most state-funded functions.

Indeed, the only conspicuous thing was the beautiful array of "Jalur Gemilang" adorning the fencing around the school.

But inside, scores of excited spastic children, aided by their teachers and parents, were getting ready to tell the world that "This is my country ... These are my colours" as they firmly clutched mini Malaysia flags.

On hand to help out were some 40 students from the Management Development Institute of Singapore, City Campus in Johor Baru, who had taken time off from class to be with these kids.

This was in line with the institute's goal of inspiring young hearts and minds by offering opportunities for students to develop holistic and fulfilling academic and community service experiences.

What really moved the relatively small audience at the JSCA Merdeka celebration was the singing of the Negaraku.

Bear in mind, spastic children suffer from cerebral palsy, a term used to describe a group of disorders affecting body movement and muscle co-ordination.
The medical definition of cerebral palsy is "a non-progressive but not unchanging disorder of movement and/or posture, due to an insult or anomaly of the developing brain".

It is a condition that affects the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination and movement. The damage to the motor area of the brain prevents the individual from maintaining adequate control of muscle movement and/or posture.

Hence, it was a herculean task for the spastic children to sing the national anthem together. They twitched and squirmed with great difficulty in a desperate attempt to coordinate their mouth movements to sing aloud.

But despite their physical limitations, they were undaunted and sang the Negaraku with great pride and gusto, encouraged by their teachers and parents.
They, again, manifested their great pride in being a part of the National Day festivities when taking the oath of allegiance to king and country.

With shaky right hands, they struggled to place it on their hearts, to partake in the oath taking with dignity and pride.

They, too, wanted to be counted, as all deserving citizens, in the open declaration that "This is My Land, My Home, My Pride and My Malaysia".

It was also heart-warming to see the children take part in the "parade" that followed, aided by MDIS students who pushed their wheelchairs, around the small school compound.

The children waved the mini flags excitedly. Despite their handicap, they clearly showed that Merdeka is all about togetherness and the need to care for one another.

As we strive to keep the Spirit of 57 alive, let us not forget to reach out and touch lives and learn to show through our thoughts and deeds, that love is unconditional.

Like the happy spastic children, who were ecstatic at being given the opportunity to celebrate Merdeka, let us open our hearts to embrace and make them a part of our lives, wherever possible.

This, after all, is what defines Merdeka – togetherness!

Roy, a long-time resident of Johor Baru, is a keen watcher of economic, political and social trends on both sides of the Johor Straits. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com