Inspiration comes in all shapes and forms. Last year, we spoke with Stella, founder of Dogs and Diabetes Singapore about diabetes service dogs or diabetes alert dogs. Little did Stella know that her work became inspiration for literacy coach and author, Wei Teng Chen. Wei Teng’s book “Murphy, See How You Shine!” reminds us all that we more than our disabilities or health conditions and that we each have something special to contribute to our society.
I am a literacy coach at a vocational school in Singapore which takes in students who failed the national exams (an exam all Singaporean children take at the age of 12 years old). Failing a national exam at such a young age takes a great toll on their self-esteem. The students I provide educational therapy to, have amazing stories to share. Very often, they have learning difficulties such as dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and some come from challenging and disadvantaged family backgrounds. Their stories of resilience are inspiring. These are youths who have been dealt difficult cards in lives, such as growing up in single-parent, dysfunctional, financially-strapped or abusive families.
The children’s picture book “Murphy, See How You Shine!” I self-published recently, was in part, inspired by my students. I often ask myself if I can rise from the ashes like my students do if I were to grow up under such challenging and adverse circumstances. I am not sure. It made me think of getting their stories out to as many people out there who are interested. Being a children’s picture book lover, I wanted to write a story that can reach out to children and youths who have always felt different from their peers. It could be due to physical disabilities, learning difficulties they have or simply because they come from family backgrounds not quite like their peers. I wanted more people to understand the struggles experienced by children who have fallen out of the mainstream and the emotional baggage they tend to carry around. Many times, these children suffer from very low self-esteem and experience a degree of alienation few understand.
Along the way, I was very lucky to chance upon the story of Ms Stella Chew in our local newspaper last year. I learned how she tapped into the strengths of her dog, Butter, training it to be diabetes alert dog to help her overcome her health difficulties (she has Type 1 diabetes). I was totally intrigued. Most of all, I was very touched by how she went one step further by helping other dog owners with diabetes to train their dogs to be a diabetes alert dog, and encouraging them to pass on their knowledge.
Even though I don’t have diabetes, nor do I have family members and friends who have diabetes, various ideas in my mind connected and the story of Murphy was born! Once the lightbulb moment happened, I started to develop an interest in the area of diabetes and the concept of diabetes alert dogs, saving every single article I chanced upon in the newspapers about diabetes. I was amazed at how diabetes alert dogs are so common in the United States but there are only 4 diabetes alert dogs in Singapore! During that time, it so happened that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore was facing a national crisis with a large number of Singaporeans diagnosed with diabetes yearly. It made me wonder then if my picture book could go beyond my initial objectives and also helped to raise awareness of diabetes, specifically Type 1 diabetes which is rarer, amongst our children and youths. It was not without its challenges of course, one of which is trying my very best to work on explaining Type 1 diabetes in a very simple and easy-to-understand manner for children.
“Murphy, See How You Shine!” therefore is a story of a blind dog, Murphy, who has low self-esteem but who has a very unusual gift. He is trained as a diabetes alert dog who often comes to the rescue of his owner who has Type 1 diabetes. His subsequent encounter with a young boy with Type 1 diabetes made him realise how he can be a gift to others around him in his own special way, despite his physical disability.
The messages in my book are very simple. I hope to remind readers (both young and old) that they have precious gifts within them, just like the character in the book – Murphy. And especially for those who have met setbacks in their life to know that when they are able to embrace themselves, warts and all, they can shine and help make this world a brighter and better place to be in. And regardless of one’s disability or health condition, one can still shine and contribute to their community, in their own unique ways.
For me, publishing this book has led me to exciting journeys as I get to know more people and learn about their adventures in their lives. For instance, learning more about Dogs for Diabetes set up by Stella, as well as the work done by Pei Yan and her friends in Beta Change. Being able to, in my small way, makes a difference in the diabetes community, makes me happy as the ripple effect can never be underestimated.