Climb to Change a Life

AS THE SUN RISES over Mount Kilimanjaro, a father shoulders his child on its peak while 30-odd men and women cheer them on. The smiles on their faces shine brighter than the gold-orange tint of dawn as Zy, the then 8 year old boy becomes the youngest disabled child to reach its summit. Stories like these become legend, and it’s the details that count. In this case, the details will tell you that the child reached the summit with two prosthetic legs a false right arm, and two dislocated hips.  Moreover, the details will tell you how the 30 volunteers took it upon themselves to shoulder the burden of carrying Zy as they trekked up the mountain, sharing equally in this incredible moment, together. Amazing as it may be, for this child and his father this is not a new experience: They have peeked beyond the edges of the world from mount Fiji, Kinabalu, and more.Zy, this unassuming half-Thai, half-Malaysian-Chinese boy born without legs, a right arm and a dislocated hip, would’ve spent the entirety of his life trapped in a wheelchair if not for the perseverance of his Penangite father.

Together with the great minds at the University of Heidelberg, their efforts have gifted Zy with something so basic it slips our minds, yet so important it changed his entire life: Movement.To be human is to move, whether to walk, run, dance, fight, love and be loved in turn. Everything starts and ends with movement, one way or another and for Zy and his father Walter Lee, this has been true in more ways than one. Walter’s hope for a better life for his son was rewarded and together with his wife, Nok, it birthed the Zy Movement Foundation, which aims to help those born with movement disabilities (such as Congenital Limb Deformity and Cerebral Palsy) in the less fortunate parts of the world. They do this by coordinating medical professionals from Germany with services in Thailand while seeking to expand to other countries. They also raise awareness for children with movement impairment… by climbing really big mountains.The image is striking, and uplifting (pardon the pun) at the same time. It is a statement of mankind’s drive to rise to the challenge, to spit in the face of adversity.

Over 200 movement- impaired children and 500 volunteers that continue to grow to this day, a clear-as-day statement of “we will not abandon you, you are not alone”. The takeaway from this is not the laundry list of their achievements, impressive as it may be. Simply put, this is as human a story as any. It is a call to action, and it begs the question: If not us, then who? One man managed to stir the hearts of a few, and a few grew to many, many more. One man’s vision allowed him to bend that peak to his will, and it is a vision that started small, with a hope that is as mundane and common as any: To give his child a better life.Perhaps we can do the same. Maybe we can even do more, and though Kilimanjaro is more than seven times greater than Santubong, perhaps with small steps, we may learn from the Zy Movement Foundation and find ways to help carry those who cannot do so, until they can stand on their own two feet.Perhaps, at the end of the day, we are only as human as how we treat another.

Derek Kho is a writer, dancer and performer who has adopted a style of intense, visual and vivid storytelling to bring life to his work. As a Kuchingite who’s been away and is rediscovering his home town, he aims to bring engaging and intelligent works that explores cultures both contemporary and traditional.

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