“What could possibly make someone interested in sign language?” I asked myself when I met Lucy Lim for the first time. She was on stage, facing a group of deaf people who were attending an art festival. They were listening to the presenter, while Lucy was interpreting every word by moving her hands!

I was really surprised when I found out that no one was deaf in Lucy’s family and she is in this job only because of her personal interest. Lucy has a Chinese name, but she can’t communicate in Chinese as her parents are Baba-Nyonya. Lucy believes that her smattering Chinese makes it easier for her to relate and hence communicate with the deaf. “I feel the same when I’m among the Chinese community, as I don’t understand what they are talking about” she says.

Lucy was 19 when she started to work with the deaf as a volunteer. Meanwhile, she decided to learn sign language to work as a lecturer and interpreter in a community based organization in Brickfields. “I like the their lifestyle. The deaf are surprisingly sociable and united. For the deaf, it is something usual to gather around with more than 10 friends in a mamak and spend hours talking. They don’t usually keep track of time and when invited to someone’s home they might stay up late! You need to live with them to understand their mind-set and lifestyle”.

Although Lucy is one of the best deaf interpreters in Malaysia, she believes that working as a freelancer is challenging: “Malaysian organizations, which provide programs or organize events for the deaf have the perception that the interpreter has to serve them free of charge. They don’t consider the professionalism and skill required for the job. That’s the main reason why the number of people who are interested in learning sign language in Malaysia is respectively limited, compared to developed countries.

I enjoyed spending a day with Lucy while she was going to meet some of her deaf friends. She also invited a group of them to her house. “I know many of them since they were kids. I’ve accompanied them through happiness and sorrow, and I’m happy to see that most of them are now educated, skillful people. I hope Malaysians will care more about the deaf, creating better facilities and job opportunities for them in the future.”

Interview and photo story by Nafise Motlaq. See more CariMakan videos here.