Having a hearing impairment is no hindrance to young activist Jane Justin as she champions healthy living and a meat-free diet

Jane Christine Justin does not let her special needs in life hold her back from making her voice heard. In fact, she has stepped up to a leadership role, championing the healthy benefits of veganism.

“When you feel like the world has no place for you, it is because that place does not exist yet. So, make one for yourself,” says the hearing-challenged activist, citing a favourite quote.

Jane, 18, has led a team of college students from the Keningau Vocational College to make “Vegan Nuggets” and presented the project paper at the Young Inventors Challenge (an international innovation contest hosted by a local association known as ASTI, or the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation).

The objectives were to raise awareness about cruelty to farm-raised animals and to encourage a healthier lifestyle by eating plant-based food.

“Veganism is a practice to not consume meat or include animal-based food and products in the diet,” Jane explained.

“Those who practise veganism are called vegans.”

The team effort won innovation medals at the Festival for Change hosted by Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, that was organised virtually by a UK-based charity organisation promoting economic pluralism and e-carnival research and innovation.

Jane also received the “World Changer Award” for using sign language in the project presentation.

The monthly award from the Special Education Network and Inclusion Association (Senia) is given to individuals who have made a positive impact on the special needs community.

But Jane laments that not everyone is receptive to a strict vegetarian diet that leaves out meat, eggs, dairy milk or any animal-based products with such ingredients.

“Some claim that vegan food is not filling, nor gives us sufficient nutrients but it is not true.’’

“Most people don’t really understand what it is and tend to have misconceptions about such a lifestyle,” she said.

But such reactions have not dampened Jane’s determination.

“My hope is for more people to consider changing their diet by consuming less meat-based food if they cannot commit entirely to veganism.”

When and how did you become a vegan?

When I was appointed head for Veganbond, a team project in my college in Sabah.

I was chosen because I gave the idea to create our own vegan products.

We invented “Vegan Nuggets” with tofu as a replacement for meat.

That was our first vegan food item, created by our team.

How did you feel when you won the “World Changer Award”?

I was happy that I won the award. It was my first time being the leader of a team.

I was so honoured when they chose me. During the presentation of our project, we used sign language.

In my team, two members could speak orally while I and another team member could not (differently-abled). I lost my hearing ability when I was three years old.

What are the challenges you face in daily life as a learner with special needs?

My biggest challenge, which I face daily as a special needs student, is the difficulty in communicating with my own team but it has not stopped me from becoming a leader.

What advice would you like to share with the younger generation, especially students with special needs?

My advice to students with special needs is not to give up in any situation, no matter what happens. Keep in mind, what you see as your limitation can be your greatest strength.

What is your future plan or goal?

To become a marine officer, astronaut or a chef. I have not decided.

Regardless of the future, it is my personal goal to break barriers for special needs individuals, especially those with hearing impairment. I want them to believe that nothing can stop them from achieving their ambitions.