Sophia M. Joe is hearing impaired. This would not make much difference to anyone else other than Sophia herself and her loved ones. However, certain other things about her will surely make other curious to know more about her. She is a model, a medal-winning athlete, a painter, dancer, and a very confident girl who instantaneously proved the RTO wrong, when she was asked how she could drive a car being deaf. Sophia is the first person in Kerala with a hearing impairment who holds a driving license.
Sophia’s parents were unaware of the fact that their first child was born with such an irregularity and though they were taken aback as soon as they discovered it, they stood strong and decided to bring up their child exactly like other children in society. Bhavan’s Bala Mandir, the school where Sophia’s mother was a teacher, came to their rescue and so she was admitted there with all the other children.
“Right from the beginning my daughter proved her talent in academic as well as non-curricular activities,” says Goretti Joe, Sophia’s mother and her “official spokesperson”.
Sophia was trained to lip-read and was also admitted for speech therapy, which according to her mother proved extremely helpful for her in understanding what others were trying to say.
“Sophia was extremely good at sports and her sports teachers told us that her throws were perfect when it came to playing basketball and shot put. They also insisted she should be provided professional training and be made to compete. We, therefore, took her to the sports meet for the deaf and dumb at the regional level just to encourage her as we never wanted her to lag in anything. However, to our surprise she bagged the first position in the regional, district and State levels for eight consecutive years and also represented our State at the national level. She was three-time winner at the national level for shot put and discus throw,” Mrs. Joe added.
Sophia’s father Joe Francis, an employee at Hindustan Petroleum, was confident about his daughter’s talents and ensured that every opportunity reached Sophia, which she immediately used to grab and emerge victorious. It was Mr. Francis who encouraged her to take up modelling as she had the height, weight and right attitude to become a successful model. Sophia did not disappoint her parents here also and her interest towards the spotlight made her more involved in modelling, which apart from earning her a number of fashion shows also made her the winner on Amrita TV’s programme Super Model.
As she was more inclined towards modelling, she gave up athletics as the physique required for both were different. Sophia also started applying to various beauty contests where she used to win more than one subtitle like Miss Congeniality, Miss Talent, Best Catwalk and so on. It was not the lack of talent that confined her to the subtitles, but a little hesitance and anxiety she had to encounter while dealing with the question-answer round.
Sophia was also qualified to go to Paris after the TV programme, however, denied it and selected to go to Prague, Czech Republic, to represent India at the Miss World Deaf and Dumb competition. Sophia, however, had to go through a lot of problems in order to go there as well once she reached there.
“We could not let her go alone and unlike other countries our government showed zero interest in this event and therefore did not help us in any way. Contestants from other countries were accompanied by an official who helped them with everything including understanding the language. But we had nothing of that sort. We designed all her clothes for the contest and that cost us almost one lakh rupees and extra money was also spent as we had to accompany her. The miscommunication with the organisers was the only reason that made her perform a 10-minute skit instead of a 6-minute one and led to her disqualification,” remembers Mrs. Joe.
She added that it was unfortunate that the government behaved in this manner and the enthusiasm that Sophia had to represent her country was not there in India in sending her for the contest.
Sophia has also modeled for leading textile shops like Seematti. While the model in Sophia is fond of taking it up as a career, as a person with dignity, she is not willing to adjust with the non-ethical practices of the industry and has firmly told her parents that she will never do anything that feels wrong. Her parents and her brother Richard, who is also hearing-impaired and equally talented like her, are Sophia’s support.
She is a degree holder in literature from St. Xavier’s College, Aluva, and is presently looking out for an appropriate job, which according to her if is a government job will give her the dignity as well as the financial stability that she requires. She, however, insists on going out of Kerala as she feels that society here will never accept people like her and Richard, who also aspires to become a model.