Former CHIJ classmates with disabilities share how their friendship helped them for O levels

Leah Tee (left), who is visually impaired, and Laura Lee, who has hearing loss, have been classmates since Primary 1.

One is visually impaired while the other suffers from hearing loss.

However, through each other’s support and encouragement, Leah Tee and Laura Lee scored six and five distinctions respectively for their O-level examinations.

Having been classmates since Primary 1, the former CHIJ Secondary students have always had each other’s back in school.

“We spend a lot of time studying together,” said Laura, who was born with moderate hearing loss in both ears.

Leah concurred, “We’re pretty close. She’s my eyes, and I’m her ears.”

Leah, who is colour-blind, has cone dystrophy – a term used to describe a group of rare eye disorders that affect the retina. It can cause a variety of symptoms including decreased visual clarity, a reduced ability to see colours and an increased sensitivity to light.

She told CatholicNews that she sometimes found it difficult to make out the words on the whiteboard despite sitting in front of her class. And because of her colour blindness, she had trouble doing Chemistry practical tests which often requires students to distinguish chemical solutions based on colour.

“If I couldn’t see the words very well, Laura would help by lending me her notes or telling me what they were,” shared Leah.

For Laura, “Sometimes I would miss out on certain words if the teacher was speaking really fast, so Leah would repeat them for me.”

They both shared that their fellow classmates and teachers would assist them with their work if they had any difficulty.

Their form teachers, Mrs Wendy Lee and Mr Tristan Fernandez, commended the two students for their “determination and maturity.”

“Although they had challenges, they took the onus upon themselves to study hard and at the same time, look out for one another,” said Mrs Lee.

Mr Fernandez called their special friendship an “instinctive connection”.

The girls “were always participative and their synergy was really inspiring.” he said.

The two girls’ friendship went beyond their school life.

Both Catholics, they shared how their faith grew through journeying with one another.

During the final few days before the O-level results were released, the two girls went for confession and attended weekday Masses for three days straight.

“We both felt super worried about our results. Going to church in a way helped calm our nerves,” said Leah, who is part of the choir ministry in the Church of the Risen Christ and also in school.

Laura, a parishioner at the Church of the Holy Spirit, recalled an occasion when she received spiritual encouragement from Leah.

“I had trouble sleeping a few days before the results came out. I remember talking to Leah and she reminded me about my faith and to trust in God’s plan,” said Laura.

She also credited the school for “organising retreats and Masses which helped to expand my faith”.

Their advice to others going through a similar situation: “It’s important to surround yourself with a healthy, supportive network of friends and know that you’re not alone,” said Laura.

Leah said, “It really is down to effort and how hard you want to work for your goals.”

Without consulting one another, the two girls applied for St Joseph’s Institution as their top choice and are “hopeful” they can be schoolmates again.

Now during their free time, they watch movies and share meals together in one another’s home.

“Leah would always introduce new movies for us to watch!” Laura said with a laugh. 

By Jared Ng
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