AN AMAZING STORY OF TRIALS & FAITHFULNESS Hwang Meillian has had cerebral palsy since birth. Against all odds she’s achieved more than what the average person could possibly dream of. This is the story of an outstanding painter and teacher, her remarkable journey – one filled with surprises – and her perseverance in handling whatever came her way.Story & pics by James TC Wong

Miri – August 25, 2010

IT WAS AROUND 9:00 am when I called Magdalene Huang, the Chairperson of the Social Concerns Ministry of the Miri Methodist Churches. I had intended to seek for Magdalene’s help to interview Hwang Meillian before the latter’s en route to Taipei via Kota Kinabalu. You’ve got it – James, said Magdalene happily when she called back ten minutes later. We’ll meet for an early lunch.

I arrived at the restaurant early. Magdalene was already there. Strangely my mind went blank, unsure of what to expect. You can communicate with her in English or Mandarin, Magdalene advised with a smile. Dr. Hwang is fluent in both languages.

SHE WALKED IN CONFIDENTLY, with only a slight limp, and smiled to everyone in our private dining room. We were introduced. Pleasantries were exchanged. When Meillian sat down, she whipped out her pad and wrote, “Hi, how are you?” Her spunky personality caught me off-guard. I thanked her for the interview despite such short notice. I was then introduced to her personal assistant, Miss Chu Ching-Hua. Lunch was served and the topic of discussion was on generalities. “I’m beginning to feel tired today,” Meillian wrote again in the middle of the lunch. I knew she and her PA had been in Kuching, Sibu and Bintulu for the past week giving motivational talks at schools, churches and children with special needs. Miri was her last stop.

Facing formidable challenges from birth

HER PARENTS WERE HEARTBROKEN when they learned of their child’s cerebral palsy at birth. Whether or not the disability was the result of medical malpractice, it was nevertheless devastating to know that their child’s life would be difficult in the future. But one thing they were certain of – their child was a precious gift from God and they would do anything to bring her up to live the best life she deserves. As a child, Meillian could only lie flat because her neurological disorder affected her body movement and posture. Her parents refused to give up and loved her even more. They tried every medical cure they know of. Time spent with her was ample. Meillian’s dad, a Pastor, often read bible stories to her. Whenever visitors came to the house, Meillian’s parents would always introduce her by saying, “This is our daughter. God loves her and we love her too.”

“THIS IS OUR DAUGHTER. GOD LOVES HER AND WE LOVE HER TOO.”

This manifestation of unconditional love deeply influenced this special child and she thrived in the caring environment of her home.

Unlike other children, Meillian’s childhood days in Tainan, Taiwan were far from cherished moments. Neighbours disdained them and often hurled sarcasm at the Hwangs. She’s a freak and only the circus would accept her, they mocked. Grandmother was often verbally abused as she was the one who spent much time caring for Meillian. Countless incidents of outbursts and tears of frustrations were part of her growing-up years.

Don’t give the child fish, teach him how to fish

MEILLIAN’S PARENTS decided to send her to school. But not until Meillian could pronounce and read like a normal child could. Her mother was determined to teach her how to write. This is easier said than done because Meillian didn’t have the motor skill to control her hand movements at will. To overcome this inadequacy, Meillian’s mother would hold her hand to guide her every stroke. Meillian painstakingly practised for a whole year and finally was able to write and paint by Primary Two.

In the process of learning to write, Meillian’s mother had hoped that her daughter would learn to be independent and responsible. On hindsight this course of action proved to be instrumental in helping Meillian overcome many obstacles in her later years.

“IF I WEREN’T A CHRISTIAN, I WOULD BE WEAK AND HAVE NO STRONG OPINIONS.”

Dare to dream


MEILLIAN’S TEACHER Ma Yi-Chiang spotted her gift in painting when she was in Primary Two. Deeply encouraged by her teacher, Meillian aimed to be a good artist. But the road to success is always a bumpy one. Though one must not tar all people with the same brush, it was often her own peers who bullied her verbally and physically. Human patience has its limits and it was inevitable that one day, Meillian refused to don her uniform to go to school. Her teacher Wu Sui-Wei prodded Meillian not to give up. “Meillian, you love to read. Do not give up studying what you like because of what people say about you. If you like writing, you should read more to enrich yourself. This is your responsibility to make others respect you. God helps those who help themselves,” advised her caring teacher. This incident turned out to be the turning point in Meillian’s life.

Meillian’s primary school days might have been fraught with frustrated hopes but she rightly did not allow other people’s criticisms to prevent her from achieving her dreams. As I write now, I am still bewildered how Meillian could have endured so much hardship as a child and still possess so much zest for life today.

“RELIGION HAS MADE ME STRONGER. I’VE LEARNED TO ACCEPT MYSELF. AS SUCH, NASTY COMMENTS CANNOT HURT ME.”

Off to the USA


AT THE AGE OF FOURTEEN, Meillian’s family migrated to the USA. In spite of the difficulty of adjusting to the culture and language, Meillian graduated from high school in 1983 and chose to major in arts and minor in psychology. Her first college was Eastern Los Angeles College, and subsequently California State University. Receiving stares was a norm as Meillian attended a mainstream university, unlike her previous high school that catered to special students. She studied hard. But because of her slow motor skill, Meillian spent more time typing rather than studying her assignments. No pain no gain, as the saying goes. Meillian’s hard work paid dividends when she was awarded a full scholarship, freeing her parents from financial burden. After her graduation, Meillian grabbed an opportunity to showcase her paintings through exhibitions for YMCA in Taiwan to promote cerebral palsy awareness. After the exhibitions, Meillian returned to Los Angeles to pursue her Ph.D.

They say you see the clearest skies after the torrential rain.

After obtaining her doctorate in 1993, Meillian decided to return to Taiwan to pursue her passion. It wasn’t an easy decision as she had to leave her parents and live independently. Her uncanny wisdom born out of simply coping with her disability shows the strength of the human spirit. When asked what she would do if she were born normal, she replied, “I’m already a normal person now. Why should I need to be indifferent?”

“I ONLY SEE WHAT I HAVE, NOT WHAT I DON’T HAVE.”

Just last May, Mellian was one of the honoured recipients of the prestigious Taiwan international “Love of Lives” award. She received a medal from President Ma Ying-Jeou who praised her for demonstrating hope and love, and obtaining a doctorate despite of her severe disability.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to meet Meillian. It was a humbling experience. All too often we complain too much and fail to recognize that there are so many people out there who struggle with their lives. Life doesn’t have to be perfect.

There is perfection in imperfection as I see in Meillian.

(The title of this story was taken from the song of the same title written by Dr. Hwang Meillian. This post was first published in the writer’s blog last year).

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