“You’re trying to escape from your difficulties, and there never is any escape from difficulties, never. They have to be faced and fought.” Enid Blyton
Jasmin Thien does not consider herself to be courageous. She simply knows that when she gets up every day she must remain emotionally stable in order to overcome her limitations. From a very young age Jasmin was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer that affects children. By the age of eight she was completely blind. Jasmin recalled the endless hours spent in hospitals in Singapore and Canada with her mother reading Enid Blyton stories to her; the kindness and care of the doctors and medical staff; and of course, the unwavering love and support of her family.
As the young Jasmin grew up, she somehow had to find the mental and physical strength to come to terms with her loss of vision, so that she could learn to competently navigate the sighted world. At St Margaret’s School in Seria, Jasmin found teachers who played a critical role in motivating her academically and supporting her emotionally. She formed very close bonds with a few of her teachers and fondly remembers Mrs. Mohan her Physics teacher who was like a mother figure, firm but very caring; and Mr. Ramesh her English teacher who she could communicate with openly and who also nurtured her deep love for Victorian Literature because as she admitted, she really disliked Maths (laughs!) While at St Margaret’s Jasmin was also involved in many oratory and debating competitions and always managed to win top places.
It’s evident that her solid academic foundation was set at St Margaret’s. But as Jasmin explained, although she studied hard and achieved outstanding exam results, those were very challenging years for her socially, as her peers did not know how to relate to her disability. There were many times when she felt completely alone. But she used every ounce of mental fortitude to overcome that darkness and to bravely go forward. Her next move would be to Jerudong International School, where with the help of the teachers there and new friends she would continue to blossom.
“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” (Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility)
Mrs. Cook, Jasmin’s A Level Literature teacher described her as a “thinker, reader of situations and communicator”. She explained that since starting JIS, Jasmin always puts herself forward and is not afraid to challenge herself. She added, “Jasmin puts a great deal of pressure on herself to get 100%.” Last year Jasmine achieved straight A’s in her AS-level examinations and is currently working diligently towards getting outstanding results in the upcoming exams. Mr. Cook who is Jasmin’s House Master and knows her well, described her as being “inspirational, resilient and complex.” And it is perhaps these and other positive personal traits which have enabled Jasmin to redefine herself – she’s no longer labelled that “visually impaired girl”, she can be herself – at times, quick tempered and self-critical but also very friendly, curious, humorous and honest.
“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.” (Louisa May Alcott, Little Women)
Now 18 years old, Jasmin has huge hopes, dreams and plans. After finishing her A Levels she will be taking a gap year, during which time she will spend six months at the Louisiana Centre for the Blind in the USA. This centre specialises in helping blind people to lead normal productive lives and focuses on selfsufficiency and independence. Jasmin honestly admitted that she is anxious about going, but knows that it is a great opportunity and one that will help her to live independently in the future. And this is what she really aspires to achieve. After completing this programme she aims to pursue a double degree in Psychology and Creative Writing in the UK and then maybe even continue to do a Masters and PhD. She hopes that maybe someday in the future she will be able to open her own school to educate blind children and those with “special needs” in Brunei.
Jasmin also dreams of one day being a world famous writer. She explained that she has always been passionate about reading and loves books written by Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Louisa May Alcott and other authors. Books have played a crucial role in her life, they’ve fired her imagination and have introduced her to amazing new worlds with interesting characters and intriguing plots. Besides having all of these career goals, like any other 18 year old Jasmin would love to one day find Mr. Right and to have a family of her own – one that she could nurture and cherish.
“You are honest enough by nature to be able to see and judge your own self clearly – and that is a great thing. Never lose that honesty.” (Enid Blyton, Summer Term at St. Clare’s)
After spending some time talking to Jasmin, what amazed me most of all about this young woman was her naturally open and honest nature. Jasmin unhesitatingly admitted that operating in the sighted world when you can’t see is extremely difficult. She revealed several truths about herself-: as the youngest member of her family, she’s the spoilt one who likes getting her own way; she sometimes gets frustrated because she’d like to style her own hair and do her own make up, but she can’t; in certain situations she feels insecure and vulnerable; and there are also times in class when everyone else might be laughing at something – but she feels excluded, because she can’t see what they’re laughing at. What is clear is that Jasmin is acutely aware of all of the complex emotions and characteristics that make her uniquely Jasmin and continues to struggle day by day to accept and deal with them in the best way she can. She knows that she just has to do it, simply because she has no choice. Yes, even though at times she feels afraid of what tomorrow may hold, Jasmin has dogged determination and an unshakable belief in what she wants to achieve. The way she lives her life is an example of what can be achieved when you dare to look beyond your limitations! I believe that with the continued support and love of her family and friends, we will definitely be hearing a lot more about this remarkable young woman and her many accomplishments in the future.