To the uninitiated, Lost Paradise Resort may look like any other sea-fronted resort that lines Batu Ferringhi beach in Penang. The resort, an accidental one, was and still is home to Dr. Chew Yu Gee and his family.
Within the grounds of the resort is a school, Lighthouse Academy, headed by Dr. Chew’s wife, Melody Yap Shu Hwa. The school, which was set up in 2012, has a 30% enrolment of children with special needs, while 70% are mainstream students.
Dr. Chew, the medical director of Hope Children Hospital and a consultant paediatrician, and Melody, have five children. Their two eldest children, Sky and Art, are doctors, while third child, Iise, 22, is a fourth year medical student at Monash University Malaysia.
It was Art, born with autism, who opened up the eyes of Dr. Chew and Melody that children born with a disability can lead somewhat normal lives and be achievers in their own right too. No doubt, as a paediatrician, Dr. Chew comes across many cases of children’s disabilities in the course of his work, while Melody had to give up her career as a teacher at an international school to provide full-time care for Art, but Art has proven that with faith, hope, love, and an individualised educational programme, he and other children like him can break away from their setbacks.
Art, 24, who graduated from Monash University as a doctor, is now a houseman in Penang General Hospital and is engaged to be married.
Lighthouse Academy, which adopts the American-based homeschooling programme where children are guided to learn at their own pace, now has about seventy students, growing from an initial enrolment of less than ten when it was first established.
Said Dr. Chew, “Our country’s education system is not conducive for children with learning disabilities, as only with integration with normal kids can they receive good learning exposure. Meanwhile, mainstream students build their character and learn to love at Lighthouse. Receiving a rounded education is also about caring and loving people who are in trouble. A person would be a better one if he or she is a genuine friend to someone with special needs.”
But the establishment of Lighthouse Academy was only one of the ways that Dr. Chew is paying it forward to the community. Born in Kulim to a deprived family and with a traumatic childhood no thanks to an alcoholic father, Dr. Chew was a brilliant student who scored straight As at school. However, mixing with the wrong crowd, he was on the brink of being expelled from school after vandalising and almost setting the school on fire. He was punished with public caning, instead.
An American missionary, Edward J. Heisler, who was attached to Penang Adventist Hospital, a Christian non-profit medical institution, got wind of the boy’s misdemeanours and took him under his wings.
Recalled Dr. Chew, “I was 15 at that time and here was this American who took me into his home, fed me well, and showed me there is love and hope in this world. I may be brilliant academically but I was angry at life, at my background, and at the seemingly vicious cycle that I was born into.
“With faith, hope and love, I was brought onto the right path, and in 1978, won myself a merit scholarship to study medicine at the National University of Singapore. It was during my third year there that I met Melody, a freshman.
“In 1989, I was informed that Penang Adventist Hospital was in need of a paediatrician and so, I returned as a mission doctor. I told myself that I’d only serve for three years but here we still are in Penang, after 25 years!”
Now at 55, and diagnosed with diabetes mellitus Type 1, Dr. Chew would like to maximise the utilisation of his time, by giving a chance to rejected children and young adults with social problems, like he once was given a chance when he was a troubled teenager.
Dr. Chew said, “I would like to help as many people as possible by letting them know, through words and action, that they are not alone in their situation, that there are many who are in the same boat, and that they do not have to face these life’s challenges by themselves. We are here to help, to love, to give them hope and restore their faith. Our responsibility as a society is to give them an easier path in life. We must not be cock-eyed to only look at the beautiful people.
“We decided to convert our home to Lost Paradise Resort so that revenue from it could be channelled to support Lighthouse Academy, should anything happen to me one day. Hope Children Hospital was supporting it all these while, but I had to cut down on my workload because of health reasons. I am glad to say that after a year and a half, Lost Paradise Resort is generating enough business to take over the expenses of the school.
“We are also able to provide more job opportunities to our Lighthouse graduates and other troubled youths either at the academy or resort.”
Lost Paradise Resort, with its exotic Balinese and Minangkabau architecture is indeed, in Dr. Chew’s own words, “a paradise for the lost”.
Note: An edited version of this article [Paradise For The Lost] was published on 14th February, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.
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