Written by NST journalist, Jessica Lim. Reproduced here for those who missed the opportunity to read a touching story in print
An incurable disease causes her legs to collapse if she stands for over 10 minutes but this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s youth award candidate tells JESSICA LIM her heart will take her where her limbs will not.
HER fingers are bent into an perpetual claw Ã¢â‚¬â€ just about the only visible sign that she is struck with a disease that is slowly withering her muscles.
Sia Ling Ling is the last in her family of nine, with six of them hit by the same disease.
Despite that, she has overcome the obstacles in her life and today is the first nominee for the Most Outstanding Youth of the Year award.
“Even if it hurts, I wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t use a wheelchair, not while I can still walk,” says the 26-year old administrator for Beautiful Gate, a home for the disabled in Petaling Jaya.
She was nominated by last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s winner of the AYA Dream Malaysia Award, Yvonne Foong, 20, who was intrigued by the girl in her college who walked in and out in her strange, swinging gait.
“She left home at 14 and made a living for herself despite her disability. What a story,” said Foong, who herself is facing a disease which makes tumours grow in her body.
Sia can manage the distance of three bus-lengths unsupported. Anything more and she has to lean on walls or chairs.
She can even stand for 10 minutes on her own Ã¢â‚¬â€ but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the limit.
At Beautiful Gate, where 40 disabled people stay and hundreds more come to learn skills, people stumble over each other to tell their own Ling Ling love story.
Though something of a mini-celebrity in her circles, the humble roots of her childhood grow deep.
Sia came from a little town in Malacca called Sungai Rambai. As a child, she watched her father, a tailor, struggling with muscular dystrophy. Like watching a horror movie in slow-motion, five of her seven siblings followed the same crippling path.
“I prayed hard that I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get it, but when I was eight I got it too.”
Within two years, she had to sit on the grass turf while her friends played lompat getah and “catching”.
Those were tough years.
“Kids would steal my things and throw them at me. One girl told the others that I was like this because we ate turtles. She said that because of that, everyone should keep away.”
Did she cry? “Of course-lah. What do you think? Every night.”
At 14, the pint-sized girl decided that Sungai Rambai was too small for her dreams.
With a little bag of belongings and her heart in her throat, she took a bus to Kuala Lumpur.
After getting her bearings, Sia politely turned down her sisterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s financial support and went it alone by selling handmade silver wire keychains at the night market three nights a week.
She took up a full-time position in the centre six years ago, where she continues to infect others with her hearty laughter, thoughtfulness and zest.
Her “pet brother”, Lee Yew Hoe, has a T-shirt given by her emblazoned with his favourite wrestler, The Rock, on display in his room.
“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve never worn it because I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to dirty it.
“I was so lonely. Then she met me and started bugging me to join their activities and everything. I used to wonder: Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhy is she bothering with me? WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wrong with her?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢” said Lee, who has used crutches since young.
Last year, Sia married the man of her dreams, Ng Chung Chiat, after nearly 10 years of courtship.
As she walked down the aisle Ã¢â‚¬â€ without support and without a wheelchair Ã¢â‚¬â€ the atmosphere was thick with emotion.
When the words rang out “For better or worse, for richer or poorer…” her ringbearer and close friend, Ivy Pua, felt the tears welling up.
“She didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have it easy, but look at her now. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m proud to call her my Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbig sisterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.”