The road to success is never easy for high-achieving persons with disabilities, but it always helps that they had someone to believe in them.
As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
In Stephanie Ow’s case, she had plenty of help to make the lemonade.
The 23-year-old is one of the first persons with disabilities in Singapore to pursue music professionally.
The love and support of her family and mentors has helped Stephanie become one of the first persons with disabilities in Singapore to pursue music professionally.
She currently plays the erhu (Chinese fiddle with two strings) with the Singapore National Youth Chinese Orchestra (SNYCO) and the Purple Symphony, and is the first recipient of the prestigious Deutsche Bank-SCO Music Scholarship.
But she couldn’t have done it without four people in her life who told her that as long as she put her mind to it, there was nothing she couldn’t do.
Two of them are her paternal Uncle, Mr Lee Leong Seng, and Aunt, Madam Ow Sau Fun, who raised her since she was five.
In fact, it was her Uncle who introduced her to the erhu.
Their love and support for Stephanie was evident from the outset – rain or shine, they ferried her to every lesson, and waited for her to finish so they could go home together. Later on, when she joined the SNYCO, they continued this practice for her rehearsals and performances.
“They have been a source of emotional and physical support. It’s like having ‘real’ parents by my side to encourage me, to lift me up whenever I’m at my lowest, and to always encourage me to be my best, to be myself,” she revealed in an interview with SG Enable.
Her Uncle and Aunt also imparted to her the value of giving back to the community.
“I come from a humble family, so they do know what it is like to need help. They always tell me, ‘If there is anybody in your school that needs help, do your best to help them. You are blind but there are still many things you can do’,” she explained.
Stephanie’s two other supporters have played a key role in shaping her music career.
It was Mr Quek Ling Kiong, conductor of Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) who gave Stephanie her first big break.
They met about six years ago at a SCO performance at Lighthouse, the special education school she was attending then.
Sometime later, he invited her to try out for an erhu solo for an upcoming concert.
At the audition, she impressed both Mr Quek and SCO principal erhu player Mr Ling Hock Siang.
Needless to say, she got the gig.
Mr Ling is now her teacher, and is full of praises for her talent and passion. Despite the challenges in teaching Stephanie, he is motivated to carry on because she is hardworking and he can see her improve.
“To any ordinary people, they would say (a blind person pursuing music) is ‘mission impossible’. But to Mr Quek and Mr Ling, they somehow see the potential in me and they are willing to play their part in nurturing me, and help me to improve my skills, my musicality. They are always giving me the opportunity to perform and get more exposure,” she shared.
Today, she regards them both as mentors and friends.
Stephanie’s achievements have earned her the distinction of being one of 13 people to be honoured at the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards in July, which recognises the achievements and potential of persons with disabilities. It was officially launched by Mediacorp and SG Enable earlier this year.
Three other award recipients also share how the support from family and friends have helped them soar to greater heights.
Women of Substance
Executive chef Muhammad Haikal Johari and illustrator Chen Ziyue have one thing in common - they can both count on the women in their life.
Haikal is the 42-year-old chef who helped European fine dining restaurant Alma by Juan Amador earn its Michelin star in 2016, an honour it kept till 2018.
He was involved in a vehicular accident in 2015 which left him paralysed and wheelchair-bound.
Haikal is grateful to his wife for her constant support by his side as he feels not everyone would have done the same for him.
His wife, Mdm Rafiqah Soh used to be a housewife who looked after their children, but now she follows him everywhere to see to his needs, sacrificing the once independent lifestyle she had.
In an interview with SPD, he called Mdm Soh “his bodyguard, private-hire driver and kitchen helper”. He is thankful for her dedication as he believes not everyone would have stuck by him.
Additionally, he told lifestyle portal Honeycombers that if he could cook a meal for anyone, it would “most definitely” be his wife as “she has stuck with me through thick and thin”.
Ziyue, 34, on the other hand, can thank the most important woman in her life – her late mother – for introducing her to art.
An illustrator of children’s books locally and internationally, she counts the Ministry of Education, Singapore publisher Epigram Books and global publishers Simon and Schuster, among her clients.
Ziyue recently paid tribute to her mother for playing a part in making her an internationally known illustrator.
The deaf artist recently paid tribute to her mother in an interview with TODAY: “I feel really grateful and blessed to receive the award, but feeling sad that my mum isn’t around to see it, because I know I wouldn’t be where I am without her."
Mrs Pedrinha Jacinta de Mornay, who nominated her for the Goh Chok Tong Enable Award, added: “Even though she lost her mother, she used those thoughts and memories in her creations. You will be able to see the translation and emotions in the work.”
Having to juggle the gruelling schedule of Secondary Three school work and swim training to participate in the Asia Youth Para Games 2017 could not have been easy.
Yet Wong Zhi Wei, who is blind in one eye, persevered, and managed to clinch Singapore’s first gold medal at the Games.
Care and support from school teachers and classmates have made a difference in helping Zhi Wei juggle school work and swim training.
The then Secondary Three student at Catholic High School had the backing of his school, which gave him the Catholic High School Gentleman Award in the same year.
“Despite been born blind in his right eye and having only 6/60 vision in his left, Zhi Wei has been a role model of resilience and fortitude, continuous improvement and excellence,” said the school when it congratulated Zhi Wei for winning the gold medal at the Games.
His teachers and schoolmates also played a big part in his success, often going the extra mile to help with his academic pursuits.
“Even though they (the teachers) may not fully understand the details of my commitments, they were very patient with me and offered assistance wherever needed. They gave me extra consultations and make-up lessons when I missed them because of training and competition,” Zhi Wei told SG Enable.
“My friends were also very encouraging and very communal. We shared moments of joy and stress. They helped me get through my studies in school. I had a friend who stayed up till 9pm at my house just to tutor me in additional mathematics. He helped me pass my weakest subject.”
Today, Zhi Wei, 17, is a student at Eunoia Junior College, and can look forward to having equally strong support from the institution as he prepares to participate in the Tokyo Paralympics 2020.
“The teachers at Eunoia have really gone above and beyond to make sure I am comfortable integrating into EJ. They take the time to make special arrangements for me in class such as printing A3-sized notes so that I am able to read more easily. My new friends in EJ are also very friendly and supportive, and I am getting to know them well,” he shared.