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  • Dialogue Includes All

Dinner and Dialogue in the Dark by Datuk Ahmad Talib

By Ahmad A Talib @ News Straits Times

STEVENS is not an ordinary young man. When I met him two years ago, Stevens and his team captivated their audience with their professionalism and dedication.

Stevens and his colleagues kept a group of senior business executives and professionals in their place with their unorthodox group dynamics method. The executives and professionals were on a company retreat as part of the company’s internal programme to look for new and better ways of doing business. In this particular case, the retreat was on an island, where discourses could be done without interference. It allowed everyone to stay focused on the discussions.

All executives were gathered soon after breakfast. They were then told to enter a pitch-black room, where the discussions were to take place. As they entered the hall, each of them was given a walking stick and a token. In the dark, the executives were told to seek out their colleagues who had the same token. For example, if you had an orange peel as a token, you had to sit with others who were given the same token. There were about 70 executives in that dark room. And, they were all supposed to seek their friends and sit at the same table.

Can you guess what happened next? Yes, pandemonium! Everyone was shouting and moving frantically in the dark, trying to locate each other. It took quite a while before the executives found their colleagues and sat at the same table. In the dark room, Stevens had his team of ushers help the executives locate their tables. This was duly done in about half an hour.

Once they had settled down, each group was given an assignment. A set of toys was given and each group was told to assemble them within a stipulated time. All this must be done in complete darkness! And yes, once again, the room was filled with shouting and conversations, as team members tried to identify and assemble the toys. After about 30 minutes, everyone was told to stop. The lights were switched on and normalcy resumed. And, Stevens then took centre stage and held court.

Then came the explanation that kept the room quiet, that one could hear the proverbial pin drop. Every single participant remembers Stevens’ message to this very day: “You all saw the chaos just now. Deprived of your sense of sight, you couldn’t see who was next to you and where you were going. You were lost.

“And, you were given specific tasks to do. Some of you did manage to get the tasks almost done. You did this because you communicated with each other. You asked questions, you shared ideas, you helped each other because you had a common goal. That, my friends, is what life is all about — communication. Even though you had temporarily lost your vision, you managed to do your tasks with varying degrees of success.”

Then, Stevens introduced his colleagues who had guided the executives to their correct tables. There were about 10 of them, and they were all visually impaired individuals. In layman’s language, they were all blind. Stevens’ colleagues were individuals who were blind either from birth, during their childhood or at some point in their adult life. And yet, they overcame their handicap, and came out productive and gainfully employed.

There were tears after Stevens spoke. A few of the executives shook hands and hugged their blind guides. The executives had all learnt an important lesson — that no matter how major the impairment, one can overcome it with perseverance, belief and knowledge. Armed with the right communication skills, one’s impairment won’t be a stumbling block to success and excellence.

Stevens sent me an email a few days ago. He is organising a charity dinner in August to raise funds for eye-check programmes in about 30 schools. The schools include SK Jaya Setia, Methodist Boys School Sentul, SMK Bandar Sunway and SJK (T) Pulau Carey. The dinner is dubbed “Cuisine Theatre in the Dark”, with a specially designed dinner by Chef Christine Ha, the blind Master Chef from the United States.

Event Poster with Christine Ha, amazing blind chef, winner of Masterchef U.S. Season 3

The charity dinner is to raise funds for eye-check programmes in some 30 schools.

The charity dinner is slotted for Aug 21. Please call Stevens at 012-203-5410.

Stevens’ company is called Dialogue in the Dark, a social enterprise founded in 2013 to equip and empower those suffering from blindness to become productive members of society.

The writer is chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia.


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