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VOICES: Work@Home

Model For All

by Chong Sheau Ching

“She really has courage! All kids should read her book so we can follow her example – help ourselves when we have problems instead of complaining,’ concluded Big R, my  eleven year old who has just finished reading Yvonne Foong’s autobiography, “I’m Not Sick, Just A Bit Unwell”.


The book has changed my young daughter’s view about life. She now realizes how lucky she is to be healthy and able-bodied, and that there are many people, including young children, who have to struggle daily with illnesses and disabilities.


Yvonne Foong, whose book is sold at all the major bookstores, also has a website, http://www.yvonnefoong.com with her blogs and other writings.  She has detailed her struggle with neurofibromatosis, an autosomal dominant genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on the nerves in the body.


I first met her at a “Meet the authors’ session organized by MPH bookstore. Her friend Cordella Lee timidly asked me for my opinion about Yvonne self-publishing her book after she told me Yvonne’s condition. She couldn’t hear very well, so Cordella wrote down my queries for Yvonne.


“Have you written your book yet?” I asked.


Yvonne shook her head. “I am writing something now,” she whispered her answer to me.


After listening to my advice about the hard work involved in producing a quality book, Cordella sighed. “It is difficult. How are we going to do this?”


I told them about a cancer patient in the US whose website about her daily struggles was read by millions daily, “Use IT to tell your stories while you are writing your book so that you get into the mood to write and write. The more you write the better you are!” I suggested, just like what I had done to patients of other illnesses when they asked me what they could do for themselves. I believe in the power of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) in transforming people’s lives.


When I bid them farewell, I thought that Yvonne would be like many budding writers I had met – just day dreaming about writing their autobiographies or novels but never taking concrete action to start or finish their manuscripts properly. As for the website idea, no one had taken up my suggestion up to that point. Why would a young lady with neurofibromatosis do something like that? After all, baring your private matters to the public is still new in Malaysia.


A few months later, an email came from Yvonne. She asked my permission to include me in her mailing list. Since then, I have been reading news about her and the little steps she has taken to raise funds for the operation she needs in the US.  Cordella wrote about Yvonne’s plight in forums and email, asking for guidance and help. It was their perseverance, the never-take- ‘no’ for an answer attitude that softened me. Like many others who were on her mailing list, we forwarded her plight to our friends and the news that a young lady was trying to help herself instead of taking things passively spread throughout the Internet.


Yvonne has sold T-shirts and is now selling her self-published book. Her website has an update of how much money she has raised and how much more she needs. Clearly, she has achieved a lot despite her condition. When she won the 2005 Dream Malaysia Award, more people came forward to help her to raise funds. 


I met the two young ladies recently at MPH’s ‘Meet the authors session’ again. They had changed - they were no longer timid and shy. Cordella spoke confidently about the strides they have made to publish Yvonne’s book. They had learnt to network and market things for Yvonne through trial and error. They had learnt from mistakes and they were determined to keep going no matter how tough it is.


“God helps those who help themselves. This is why she is doing better than many others,” my young daughter observed. She has seen how some people whom a group of us tried to help refused to learn a skill or work. 


Our former PM, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, called on young Malaysians to be daring enough “to go beyond the horizon”. “You just might discover something new that can do the nation proud.” Malaysians’ success in the field of ICT would depend  on ‘the  cravings for challenges… we required entrepreneurs who not only had the educational qualifications  but were also imbued with a natural sense of  adventure, were innovative and creative and willing to face failures and setbacks. (The Star August 31 2002)


Yvonne has done what she can to go beyond the horizon, even harnessing the unlimited potential of IT by shattering ceilings of limitations to fulfill the purpose in her life – educating all of us about life with a genetic disorder. I hope someone with all the access to develop ICT and entrepreneurship will do something for people like her. They are not sick, they can be nurtured to break many norms if they have access to funds, training, mentoring, and the right networks.


They can make us very proud, just like what Yvonne has done.

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