Esther Michael’s Journey of a Dream
By Jude Toyat
There is no harm in having big dreams
– Dr Esther Michael
Esther Michael grew up in a humble family and could not afford expensive entertainment.
Every Sunday night, instead of going to the cinema to watch movies, her father would drive her and their family to an even bigger cinema screen, complete with surround sound and real life experience – our lovely Kuching airport.
They would lay a mat on the ground and sit for hours watching huge planes landing on the ground and others soaring into the skies.
“I was really fascinated and would wave my hands to each of the planes assuming that someone actually waved back at me… but more than that, it was in these beautiful moments that I began to dream,” said the 23-year-old Sarawakian of mixed Bidayuh-Chinese-Iban parentage.
Esther, who has always been a dreamer, both literally and figuratively, dreams every night.
“It only takes a two-minute nap for me to start dreaming,” she confessed during a recent interview.
“Not only that, I daydream a lot too. But what makes them different from one another is the fact that night dreams are fantasies but daydreams can turn into realities.”
So she kept a diary to doodle in when she was just six years old. At that age, she was already certain about five things that she wanted to achieve in life.
“Firstly, I aspired to become a doctor. Every time I heard the ambulance sirens, it was like a calling and reminder that one day I would be able to help those patients in it. Secondly, I wanted to be a beauty queen. I always wished to grow up and be as beautiful as my mum and I remember walking in her high heels down my imaginary runway.
“Thirdly, I wanted to help people. Fourthly, to marry a great man and lastly, to be a testimony and inspire people,” she said.
Esther had no idea where these dreams would take her at the time, but now she realises that dreams are such a powerful thing.
“Your dreams shape your world and it is free to dream but the journey is expensive. It takes lots of sacrifice, investing your time, talents and treasures to accomplish them.”
Inspired to achieve her dreams, Esther strived hard to do well in her studies.
“Coming from a humble family, I was always reminded that education was the only tunnel that you could take in order to escape poverty and change your life,” she said, adding that she obtained all As in her Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and in her Bau village, Kampung Stass, it was a legendary achievement.
The achievement was the golden ticket for her to her next destination, Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) Kuching.
“I had the opportunities to represent my school all over Malaysia that I travelled the whole country at the end of the fifth year and the icing on the cake was when I scored straight As in my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination,” she recalled.
Then, come the period in her life when she had to face her cross roads and had to make choices that would change her entire destiny.
“I have always inspired to be a doctor but when the time came for me to decide, it was not an easy decision. I received multiple offers to choose from right after SPM. But among the many options, Russia caught my attention. A place that was very alien to me.
“Knowing my nature, I am always intrigued to try something out of the norm. So with the scholarship I was offered I pack my bags and set off to the greatest adventure of my life,” she explained.
Landing in Moscow in the midst of winter, her tears of joy froze into ice, with subzero temperatures, foreign language, strange culture, half way around the world.
“During that time, fingers and head nods were my only medium of communication. And I soon came to realise that hand gestures do not have the same meaning around the world.
“But today, I am proud to testify that I after six years of what I would describe as a roller coaster ride, I survived. I graduated with honors and now back home for good to serve my own people. And the years that past change my view on Russia,” said the First Moscow State Medical University graduate, describing Russia as a beautiful, peaceful, harmonious and very romantic country of what used to be her second home.
Along those six years of being away from her family, Esther had the privilege to visit 70 cities in 30 countries and every time the plane took off and landed, she would recall herself being a 3-year-old girl at the airport.
“I would take a deep breath and would just shout praise to God for this journey I travel in. It is amazing how we learn a lot in visiting places. Life is about adding values.
“I remember in Ghent, Belgium, the street lights would blink and music will be played each time a baby was born. It is the way this city welcome new life. I remember the feeling as I gazed out of the window looking at the windmill in the Netherlands, defying my acrophobia by standing in the highest floor of Burj Khalifa and climbing the Great Wall of China,” she added.
Miss Princess of the World
Esther also had a chance to represent Malaysia to the Miss Princess of the World, held at Czech Republic in 2014.
“From walking on my imaginary runway to actually stand on that coveted stage, the feeling is surreal and kind of hilarious too because for once in your life, your name is ‘Malaysia’ for a week,” she said.
Prior to the competition, Esther was also a finalist in the Miss Malaysia Earth 2013 and Miss Global International in 2014.
A humanitarian at heart, Esther has served in several humanitarian missions in Asia and co-founded HelpSomebody – a community initiative that connects people to make a difference in the community.
“From the stage top, I dived deep into the interiors of Sabah, Sarawak and Indonesia and meet all sorts of tribes during several humanitarian missions. Proud to say that after six years, it is still very addictive because I always believe that we need to reach down to actually life people up,” she said.
Just as she started to get comfortable with life and thought that things were going very well, life decided to challenge her.
“I would call this a detour. But always remember detours are better than dead ends. Sometimes it simply means danger ahead and change your directions.
“I have learnt that people we journey with in our life are very important. Human are wired for relationships. As the saying goes if you wanna travel fast, you travel alone, but if you wanna travel far, travel together.
“As almost every youth at my age, I was challenge in my relationship. Someone that I thought would journey with me decided to change his path. I was in a wrong relationship that crushed me down, leaving me depressed and lost. These are the things that could derail our dreams,” she explained.
Esther holds strong to the belief that we must dig our roots deep into the earth to grow stronger from within.
It is important to reflect back why you are doing what you are doing because “Failure is never fatal and failure is never final and at the end of the day champions are not people who never fail, they are people who never quit.”
She also believes that sometimes we just have to shake the dust off our feet, wipe away the tears, pick ourselves up and move on.
“As I reflect back, I have come to realise that I was made for a greater purpose.
“So, I made a decision. That for every bad day I had, I would turn it into someone else’s smile. That’s when I decided to focus on my humanitarian work. It became my passion and daily work. For me, it’s the joy of making other people’s dream come true, which made my dreams come alive.”
Esther is now happily married to Dr Dalvinder Singh, someone whom she believes runs along the same path as her and will hold hands with as they run down it together.
“We continue to pursue our dreams, together.
“We’ve decided to initiate a community initiative called HelpSomebody and basically the name describes itself. We exist to help people by connecting volunteers of different background to make a difference in our community.
“Our work is focused in the area of healthcare, education, life skills and poverty eradication and we have grown from just two crazy volunteers to about 300 volunteers from around Kuching, Miri, Kuala Lumpur and Moscow.”
On its future activities, Esther said that they will be organising several humanitarian missions with various people of different working backgrounds including engineers and architects to not only provide healthcare assistance but also to help them in other community development programmes.
On being a testimony to others
That was the story shared by Dr Esther Michael during the recently concluded TEDxYouth@Kenyalang at Pustaka Negeri Sarawak.
“I did not come here to tell you of how great my achievement are. In fact, I know I have a long journey ahead, but right now regardless of which season you are in your life, I hope my stories have encouraged you to dream big, start small, aim high, dig deep and last long.
“Remember, what you dream of today will shape your tomorrow,” she added.
The first TEDxYouth event in Sarawak was brought by Koperasi Belia Inovatif Sarawak (Kobis) with support from Ministry of Youth, Sports and Solidarity in conjunction with the state level Youth Day 2016 as well as the World TEDxYouth Weekend celebration, which takes place in every third week of November.
With the theme of ‘Today for Tomorrrow’, TEDxYouth@Kenyalang features special speakers from a diverse field of distinguished Sarawakians such as industry leaders and inspiring community including Dr Esther Michael as well as other interesting speakers from outside Malaysia, including Mark Smalley, a British technologist with Sarawakian roots.
The youth leadership programme also featured renowned personalities from myHarapan, iM4U, iM Sarawak and Kobis. TEDxYouth@Kenyalang also features TEDxperience Gallery, which features unique and innovative exhibitions from Swinburne University, PPKS, Raw Kitchen, Urban Sketchers Kuching, Sape Star, Word of Mouth Kuching and many more.
For more information, visit www.tedxyouthkenyalang.com.