Conquering a lofty dream

I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed: And the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying.

—  Tom Hopkins, writer

I’ve met many heroes in my lifetime — soldiers, sportsmen and politicians — but one of the most unique is a blind Kayan from Ulu Baram.

Born in 1977, the youngest of seven children of farmer Ngau Imang and Do’ Jok from Long Sepeiling, he was unable to sit for his secondary three examinations when he lost his sight.

He told me: “I had a happy childhood at our village and being the youngest, I was the apple of the eye of my doting parents.

“But when I turned 15, I found that I was losing my eyesight. Since I was unable to sit for my exams, I spent a year at home wondering what the future held for me.”

After a year, he was sent to Gurney Training Centre for the Blind in Kuala Lumpur where he became an accomplished masseur and reflexologist under the guidance of its director Nazar Othman.

Within a few years, Isak rose to become the chief instructor of the Institute for massage and reflexology at the Gurney Training Centre.

However, another great accomplishment was waiting for him round the corner.

When he was 21, Isak was selected as one of 42 blind students from Gurney Training Centre to climb Gunung Kinabalu, the nation’s highest mountain.

In 2014, Isak became the first and only blind Sarawakian to reach the peak of the 3,435ft Mt Kinabalu, a rare feat for any disabled person.

The same year, another feather in his cap was when, together with four other blind Sarawakians, they reached Low’s Peak.

The others were Ranggong Unggang, Sa Senabong, Marcos Jewel and Jenang Chali. With this success, Isak could very well be the first blind person to climb Gunung Kinabalu thrice and reach Low’s Peak twice.

In 2013, Isak formed his own “Kinabalu Quest” project involving a blind group of 41 and guides bidding to reach the peak of Mt Kinabalu on Sept 16, the 50th anniversary of Malaysia Day.

Among his group were 13 girls, eight of whom were blind, while the remaining six became guides and helpers.

However, the attempt was aborted half-way through the ascent at Laban Rata because of bad weather.

He said: “I told them not to give up and if they try and try again, they would finally make it.”

Isak said that even with their guides, there was no guarantee that every climb would be safe.

On June 4, 2015, six students and a teacher from Singapore’s Tanjong Katong Primary School and an adventure guide perished in an earthquake on Kinabalu.

Six years ago in 2015, Isak set up the first privately-owned blind massage centre in Kuching with long-time compatriots.

ISKA Blind Massage Services — ISKA being the initials for the words ‘Isak Kayan’ — is on the 1st floor of Joo Seng coffee shop, Jalan Batu Lintang-Wisma Saberkas traffic light junction.

His five partners in the massage centre are Sarimah Kadri, Andrew Lasan Berayong, Sitiu Ipit, Edward Jelani and Osman Abdullah.

But the Covid-19 pandemic took a toll on Sarawak’s 100 blind masseurs who were unemployed until recently.

Following the end of the recent MCO, Isak has re-opened ISKA but business is still very slow.

However, there is a glimmer of hope as Sarawakians will be able to move freely instead of being cooped up at home and wait for alms and food packages.

Isak said: “We all understand that the Covid-19 virus is still a threat and our massage centre will put safety first before self-interest.

“But it will take a long time before we can make up for our losses over a long year.”

When asked whether or not he was going to make another attempt to reach Kinabalu’s Low’s Peak, he said: “Hampir tua lah, tak mungkin tapi siapa tau? (I’m getting older, but who knows?)”.

Indeed, now that Isak, 44, is married and a proud father, family interests are more important than personal goals.

The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.