By KEVIN TAN
Over the past five years, Banu Aboo Haniffa has followed her son Mohd Hafiz, 26, to every single class he’s attended at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.
Banu not only drives him there; she also stays through all his classes, studies all his subjects and even helps him take notes.
But Hafiz is no slacker. Far from it.
In fact, he has become an inspiration to many of his coursemates after scoring a perfect 4.0 grade point average in his final semester and graduating two weeks ago with a degree in software engineering – despite being born deaf and with cerebral palsy.
“We never thought he would even get into college to experience life like his peers,” said Banu, 49, who also has three younger daughters.
After graduating from secondary school, which in itself was a challenge, Hafiz became determined to complete a degree and find a job.
“Most of my (deaf) friends have already graduated, and even have their own jobs now. I wanted to do the same,” said Hafiz, using sign language.
But having multiple physical disabilities posed some rather unique challenges for Hafiz, whose condition means he cannot walk, or even use a pen for more than half an hour.
And that’s why Banu has devoted her entire life to caring for Hafiz and helping him obtain his degree. She would use sign language to translate everything the lecturers were saying. If she had applied for the course as well, she could probably have graduated with the degree too!
“I had to first understand what the lecturers and books were saying before I interpreted them to my son, so you could say I took the course as well!” said Banu with a laugh.
Beating the odds
Since Hafiz was young, finding schools that could cater to his needs was not easy. He was home-schooled until the age of four, at which point he went to a kindergarten run by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and later on the Selangor School for the Deaf in Petaling Jaya.
“We could have arranged home-schooling for Hafiz if we wanted, but he wanted to go to school so he can see his friends,” said Banu.
Finding a university for him would prove even harder. It took the family an entire year before they found the right place.
It happened after Banu met Yogeswari Chanjer, a deaf teacher at Limkokwing who runs a special English sign language class and acts as an “interpreter” for deaf students at the university, where they also have facilities to cater to those with physical disabilities.
But even with all those facilities, completing his degree was no easy feat.
“There were times where I just wanted to give up studying. It can get frustrating when communicating with lecturers who don’t understand what I’m trying to say,” Hafiz admitted.
The university had to make certain exceptions to help him. They gave him flexible time tables, longer class-breaks and allowed him to complete the course in five years instead of three.
Still, there were many other struggles. Not being able to drive himself to class – something many of us would take for granted – was also a big blow for Hafiz. He had signed up with a driving school, but, because of his condition, was not allowed to sit for the lessons.
Inspiration to all
Despite all the difficulties, Hafiz proved to be an excellent student, completing his course with an impressive cumulative GPA of 3.23 and inspiring many classmates along the way.
According to one of Hafiz’s classmates, Abdul Pandor from Botswana, Hafiz took a lot of initiative when working on group assignments, and he often acted as a group leader.
“He never failed to bring joy to the classroom. There was never a moment where we felt he was different from the rest of us in any way. Sometimes I even felt jealous when I didn’t get to be in the same group as him!”
Abdul added that Hafiz always paid full attention in class, and was very hardworking.
“I think he pays way more attention to the lecturer than any of us!” he said with a laugh. “He never allows himself to be distracted and I think that’s something we can all learn from.”
One of his lecturers, Anand Ramachandran, who taught him two mathematics subjects, said: “Mathematics is like a walk in the park for Hafiz. He is a very intelligent student who understands things very quickly.
“I often use Hafiz as an example to tell my students that they can do better. If Hafiz can do it, why can’t they?”
Hafiz’s story even inspired the founder and president of the university, Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing.
“I am very proud of what Hafiz has achieved,” said Lim. “He exemplifies my personal belief that there is potential in every individual, and everyone must be given the opportunity to bring out their best.
“To have empowered a student like Hafiz helps us to motivate other students to excel in what they do. Hafiz has become a role model that we want other students to emulate.”
Now that he has graduated, Hafiz hopes to find a job as a web designer or software programmer.
Perhaps the only thing more inspiring than Hafiz’s efforts is the sacrifice hismother has made to help him realise his dreams.
But for Banu, going with Hafiz to school every day was really no big deal.
“I never thought of it as a struggle,” she said. “If I don’t do this for him, who else will?”