When I was two years old, my parents learned that I have 97 percent profound hearing loss. Even though they were extremely shocked and disappointed, they decided not to give up on me. Instead of looking at how big the problem was, they said, “How big is our Lord?”
Every day turned out to be a challenge for me and my parents. For me, because I would throw constant tantrums; for my parents, because I thought I was just like any other little girl. I didn’t understand the need to make the extra effort to learn how to speak with my voice and read lips.
One day I sat on the couch in the living room. “I don’t want to!” I shouted.
My mom, always the patient teacher, said, “I know you can…”
At the age of 6, I was enrolled in an English school, despite Afrikaans (a Dutch dialect) being my native language. Statistics indicate that a deaf child cannot learn a second language, but my parents were adamant to prove those statistics wrong.
There were many obstacles along the way, but I overcame them by believing that “Courage isn’t a gift, it’s a decision.” My mother’s voice was a constant echo in my mind, “I know you can, I know you can…”
Eventually, I began to say it to myself, ‘I know I can, I know I can…’
Fast forward to high school, where my biggest challenge was understanding people in large groups. Everyone would speak at once, and my hearing loss kept me from being able to follow what was going on. It hurt the most when people made jokes and everyone laughed but I didn’t get the joke. I felt like such an outcast.
I tried to avoid those kinds of situations, but there were times when I simply had to make the best of it. I learned to overcome my shyness about asking questions, keeping in mind that “He who asks is a fool for a moment – but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.” Now I encourage kids to be bold – do not be shy. Always ask questions. Be curious about everything and everything – the more you learn, the more you realize you still have a lot to learn.
I still have my moments when I feel left out. For instance, I can’t speak on the phone, listen to the radio or go to the movies, but I have learned to adapt. Instead of speaking on the phone, I text or e-mail. Instead of going out to the movies, I rent DVDs and watch them with subtitles. Instead of listening to the radio, I buy the newspaper.
Human beings have an innate instinct to survive and adapt. We can learn how to make the best of our situations. We can ask ourselves, “What can I do to overcome my obstacles?”
The Road to the Runway
The world of beauty pageants was an unexpected turn for me. In my final year of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Several people told me I would be like Esther of the Bible – I would use my beauty to save a nation. At first, I didn’t quite understand (I thought I needed to marry a prince, and South Africa doesn’t have royalty!).
I heard about the Miss Deaf South Africa pageant, and it occurred to me that Esther also partook in a pageant: the Miss Persia pageant. I took this as a sign that I should enter.
Pageants have been a positive experience for me. I am sure there are those who look at supermodels and think, “How can that be positive?! The girls are anorexic, they smoke, and they have such low self-esteem.” There are those experiences as well, but for some, much good can come of the pageant world. If it weren’t for my title as Miss Deaf South Africa, I probably never would have had the motivation or opportunity to step into the public to motivate and inspire others.
I speak a lot about overcoming my disability, but another event had a drastic impact on me. When I was 14 years old, I was accidentally shot with a gun – the bullet entered me at the back of my shoulder and exited in the front. This accident changed my whole life – in a good way. Before this happened, I always thought that my life was about me, about what I wanted, what I needed. I also struggled with depression.
After the accident, my attitude toward life changed. I decided not to be selfish anymore and not to feel sorry for myself. Life owes you nothing – it’s your responsibility to make something out of it.
The more I shared my story with others, the more I received healing. When something traumatic happens, we tend to withdraw and keep it to ourselves. This isn’t healthy – if you don’t talk about it, you will die within yourself.
Since winning the crown, I have had numerous opportunities to speak with young people of South Africa, sharing with the younger ones about how I struggled to be good in drama and ballet, and with the older youth, sharing my testimony of how I came to the Lord after the shooting accident.
If I am blessed to win the Miss Deaf World 2011 crown, I will reach out to young people internationally. I know I can, because of Him who first believed in me.
Even as a kid, I knew that God had a great purpose for my life. I just didn’t know what that purpose would be. As I grew older, I realized that life is not about what I want and what I need; it’s about others. Whenever I meet people, and they tell me that I have changed their lives, I know that I’m right on track in my own life. It’s not about how many times I’m on TV, or how many articles are written about me – it’s about all the people who can be impacted positively from those efforts.
It’s nice when kids come up to me and say, “Thank you so much, I really needed to hear your story.” Each of us has a story to tell – and we shouldn’t be shy about sharing it.
In the pageant world, there are always winners and losers, but it’s important to remember that in life things are not so cut and dry. Sure, many girls are eventually disappointed when they don’t win in a pageant and it can seem that life isn’t fair – and it isn’t if we measure our successes against someone else’s. We each have our own path to walk. The competition is not against each other, but against ourselves. Ask yourself, “Am I developing the talents and gifts God gave me? Am I making the most of my circumstances and decisions?” A true winner in life is the person who is the best “she” she can be – the one who is not trying to be a copy of someone else, but a true original!
And About that Disability
There are some people who wallow in self-pity and bitterness, and that doesn’t get them very far in life. Stop complaining! You are alive, and your disability or circumstance is nothing compared to what you have – the gift of life. It doesn’t help feeling angry towards God or people about your disability. Believe me, it’s a total waste of time. Find out what are your talents and gifts, and focus on them. The world doesn’t owe us a thing – it’s our responsibility to make something out of our lives.
Life is full of choices, and having a positive attitude doesn’t just fall in one’s lap – we have to make a choice to practice this attitude in life. It’s like building a muscle: at first it’s not that easy, but with time it becomes easier and then one wonders, “Why did I ever doubt myself?”
Embrace who you are. Your disability/circumstances need not define you… Be courageous!
Vicki Fourie won Miss Deaf South Africa 2009/2010 and Miss Deaf International 2010 2nd Princess in Las Vegas. This July she will represent South Africa in the Miss Deaf World 2011 pageant in Prague, Czech Republic. Visit Vicki’s blog; follow her on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.