FROM DIRT ROADS TO THE PITCH
If you asked me five years ago, whether I can imagine life outside of my village, I’d probably have said no.
There is one person I wish to thank for changing my life.
For the past five years, I have been living with my coach and mentor, Cikgu (*Teacher in Bahasa Melayu Brunei) Suhaili. He took me under his wing – providing me with food, shelter, education and sports training – to ease my family’s load. He has been like a parent to me.
My name is Haziman Azrul. I am 18 and I’m the eldest in a family of 12 children. My family used to live in a remote village in Brunei Darussalam, accessible only by river or dirt road. We lived a hard life, working as fishermen and farmers for a living.
Growing up, I attended a primary school in my village. I was exempted from sitting for the final national exam because of my poor performance in school. I was exempted upon a recommendation made by an Educational Psychologist.
In 2013, I had to move out of my village to continue my education in a mainstream secondary school. But I faced learning difficulties. I struggled to fit in and it was a challenge catching up with the rest of my classmates. I was then recommended to attend a special program for students with intellectual disabilities.
That was when I met Cikgu Suhaili, a special needs teacher and Special Olympics volunteer coach. Initially, I lived with my aunt but Cikgu Suhaili welcomed me into his own home when he realized how far I had to travel to get to school. He felt it would ease my family’s financial load, and it would be more convenient for me to attend activities organized by the school.
It was the turning point in my life.
Cikgu Suhaili recognized my abilities and talent in sports. I got involved in the 5-a-side football team that he set up for the 5th National Youth Football championship organized by the Special Olympics Brunei Darussalam. I did well in the tournament, and it gave me a great sense of pride. Cikgu Suhaili told me that I had a talent, and it boosted my confidence tremendously.
I was later selected to represent Special Olympics Brunei Darussalam at the 3rd South East Asia 5 a-side Unified football Tournament 2014. To train for this tournament, Cikgu Suhaili and I travelled more than two hours each time to attend training. It was my very first tournament, and I was very excited to be a part of it.
My training paid off. I was ecstatic when I scored several goals at the tournament. I was so glad that I did the team and Cikgu
Apart from football, Cikgu
Sports became my platform to shine. In August 2014, I was chosen to represent my school in a badminton tournament. In 2015, I did well enough to represent my school in football, badminton, futsal and sepak takraw, playing with students without intellectual disabilities on the same team.
That same year, I was awarded the Excellent Student award in Extra-Curricular Activities by my school. I simply cannot describe the joy I felt when I was given that recognition.
The journey with Special Olympics has been amazing so far. My latest and proudest achievement is being selected to represent my country in athletics at the upcoming 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.
I am overwhelmed by the honour, and I can’t wait to do my country proud.
Growing up, I was a very shy and quiet boy. I preferred to be alone. Today, I’m a lot more comfortable around people, thanks to the training I’ve had and continue to have with Special Olympics. I’d have never imagined stepping from a dirt road onto a football pitch or badminton court, and now, on to the world stage. But I’m so thankful and glad that I took that step. I’ll be forever grateful to my family, CikguSuhaili, and Special Olympics for enabling my journey.