Story by Anthony Chong and Shane Gilchrist

For many years, in spite of many Deaf associations established to promote Deaf well-being, Malaysian Deaf culture was not much promoted and nurtured. The slow progress in the Deaf community’s pride and confidence as a linguistic minority is due to a scarcity of resources, such as knowledge and technical skills i.e. Malaysian Deaf culture and Malaysian Sign Language (BIM) literature. There is no-one in Malaysia’s Deaf community who was experienced with BIM poems and collaborators Anthony Chong and Shane Gilchrist wanted to do something about it.

The project aims to empower Malaysian women Deaf community through poetry with the mentorship of well-known Northern Ireland-BSL poet, Paula Clarke, via Zoom meetings. This BIM poetry learning project participants were only made up of Deaf women and facilitated by women to promote women empowerment and provide a safe space for women to freely express themselves.

The remote online learning benefitted the Deaf participants, as it allowed a longer duration, i.e. 5 months to learn and practice in sign poetry and enabled them to keep in touch with Paula who is based in Belfast.

The project conducted a total of 21 sessions, each lasting 2 hours. The participants attended one or two sessions per week, based on the facilitators’ availability. They were guided by Paula to build their poetry signing skills with the support of two hearing poet-educators, Elaine Foster and Sheena Baharudin. Elaine taught the concept of poetry and faciliated the participants' experience of translating thoughts and feelings into the BIM language. Sheena shared with the participants how to convey Haiku using images through multimedia use.

As participants were briefed to design and develop poems of their own based on themes related to women’s issues, it was important to expose participants to signed poetry by Deaf women from other countries.Three UK guests were also invited to share their knowledge and experience with the participants. They were; Nadia Nadarajah, a famous poet & actress, Zoe McWhinney, a VV poet and Holly Lane, a diversity & inclusion manager. They were invited to discuss their work and the issues regarding women’s identities and language, amongst others. The former two guests spoke about techniques they used in their poem and visual vernacular work respectively, and Holly shared about Deaf women’s rights.

The participants' learning process were also guided by mentors and BIM experts Jessica Mak and Ho Koon Wei. Both were also instrumental in the participants' BIM poetry development. The mentors provided a supportive role throughout the programme, especially when participants struggled with their confidence as Deaf Malaysian women.

After 5 months of exchanges and development, the programme culminated with a showcase event on 26 February 2022. At the event, the participants proudly presented 6 new BIM poetry works, introducing melodiousness to the beautiful language of BIM, and becoming pioner BIM poets, inspiring future generations of Deaf Malaysians.

Watch the full BIM Poetry showcase.

The Emotions” by Qistina and Geja

Solo Female Traveller” by Carmeela and Minori

Neglected Women” by Jasmin and Aira

Deaf Motherhood” by  Geraldine and Annie 

Do Not Rape” by Ek Bin and Sey Gin

Empower Women” by Loula, Annie and Haslita

Discover more Connections Through Culture collaborations here.

Check out the opportunities from British Council here.