Ellen Wong knows how difficult learning can be for children with disabilities from low-income families. Wong, 47, grew up in Malaysia, in a family of four, with an intellectually disabled brother.
"I know what it's like," she says. "Over there, there is no social system like here, so it's difficult."
Wong's brother had epilepsy as a child, which she suspects the affected his mental development and cognitive skills.
It was difficult to communicate with him, and it was hard to teach him things he needed to know to get along in society.
"It was difficult teaching him because we didn't have any public, social support. The government doesn't have that kind of support, so that was the tough part," she says. "We were poor, too, so we didn't have any resources to pay people to help us."
In countries like Wong's, families that can afford it pay for help because no social safety net exists. Wong's parents sent her brother to school with the rest of the kids, but since there were no education assistants, he failed all his classes.
"I think if he were born here, he would have been able to do a lot of the basic life skills, like cook, or go to the bus stop," she says.
Wong and her family eventually moved to Canada, along with her brother, but he still needs supervision.
"He's 49 - still, we need to be with him, we have to take care of him, we have to make decisions for him," she says. "He has to be taken care of."
Now, Wong finds herself in a somewhat similar situation, a mother of four with a 14-yearold son who has cerebral palsy.
Although her son is fine mentally and intellectually, he was often pulled from class to spend time with other disabled students and their education assistants, which Wong says contributed to him falling behind in class.
Her experiences, as a child and mother, are partly why she's organizing an upcoming fundraiser at New Westminster's Massey Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 10.
Wong has lined up Tenore, a group of three tenors, with singer/songwriter Kevin Pauls as a special guest. Tickets start at $25, and proceeds go to Vancouver Urban Ministries, which runs an after-school program that helps 17 inner-city kids with one-on-one help, twice a week, with specially trained tutors. The program targets kids who have learning disabilities or those who are learning English as a second language.
"I want to help the children living in poverty in the city of Vancouver. In this case, the funds specifically will be going to those with learning disabilities, and because coming from my son's point of view - and I guess from my brother's, too - I feel that the families who are living in poverty, if they have children who have a learning disability, it's really very difficult," she says.
Wong's "Valentine's Treat" benefit show is on Sunday, Feb. 10, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Massey, at 735 Eighth Ave.
To buy tickets, go to www. masseytheatre.com, or call the box office at 604-521-5050.