*Aishah is a pseudonym name to protect the identity of the girl under GG's Child Protection Policy. Her age has also be changed.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning at the beach. The sun is shining brightly and cute toddlers are squealing in excitement, enjoying their very first time playing by the beach, building sand castles, jumping into the waves much to the amusement of the adults supervising. In the classic Malaysian heat, there’s nothing better than jumping into the cool sea waves; children and adults alike gladly oblige. It couldn’t be a more perfect day.
Amidst the joy and laugher I felt something amiss. At the corner of my eye sits Aishah, a 12 year old girl. Unlike the other children, however, she doesn’t get up and run about in the sand or jump into the waves. She sits quietly, watching. Because unlike other children she’s been paralyzed from waist down since birth.
I’m from the children services team and part of the work that we do involves bringing the children that we serve at a children's institution out for exposure visits and outings – to the zoo, to KidZania, to museums – so that they can experience life outside their community, learn new things, build valuable memories. This time, it’s at the beach in Port Dickson. I love my job, being with the children, making sure that they’re safe playing in the water.
When I looked at Aishah, I wanted her to feel the cool beach waves and share the same joy and excitement that every child at the beach was experiencing that morning. I’ve gotten to know Aishah a little better now after 2 years and I figured that I’d ask her to join me.
I sat down next to her and asked in Bahasa: “Aishah, would you like to swim? Why don’t you join me?”
For a brief moment her face lit up, but it quickly faded, followed by the response: “no, it’s alright, I don’t want to”.
I knew deep down she had a strong desire to swim with her friends but her concern was about her mobility. It took me a good 10 minutes to talk her into the idea and she finally relented. I jumped at the opportunity, got her quickly into her float, and lifted her out of her wheelchair and carried her into the water.
What I didn’t expect was for the waves to be unusually strong. We both fought painful waves slapping into our faces and bodies. It was harder than expected and regret crept into my mind; what if I ruined Aishah’s first ever swimming experience in the sea?
I thought to myself that I’d made a mistake and feeling concerned I asked: “Aishah, do you want to continue?” Much to my surprise, she said yes.
Immediately, I had an idea. I changed my strategy, faced my entire back and body against the waves to use it as a shield to block off most of the waves. I walked backwards while carrying her further into the sea. Initially afraid and clinging on to me for dear life, Aishah eventually gained the confidence to let go and float in the water.
Together with me, Aishah ended up swimming further out than the rest. Her friends in the water joyfully cheered her on: “Aishah, you’re swimming! You’re in the water with us! Great job!” Our 5 minute dip turned into a half hour swim – by far the most life changing one both Aishah and I ever had.
I learnt a profound lesson which took nothing more than a simple invitation and availing myself to journey with a young girl to overcome her fear. She surprised everyone that day with her courage and tenacity.
Aishah showed me courage when she decided to join me in the water, perseverance and strength when I felt the urge to give up and find excuses to quit. Above all, she showed me to have faith in those we trust. No matter how fearful the situation we are in, or how fearful change can look like, when we are surrounded by good friends who encourage and affirm us, we can rise above our circumstances, be more confident and know ourselves as overcomers.
Now when I encounter challenges and am tempted to quit, I think about Aishah, I think about those cheering her on and I am inspired to give it one more try. I remind myself that these are but doors to life’s most profound & beautiful lessons.