The right to an equal opportunity1 December 2010
By PANG HIN YUE
DURING his free time, Ho Wai Keen, 23, reads and copies from a book, You Love Me? Don’t Accept Me As I Am by Dr Reuven Feuerstein and his colleagues at the International Centre for the Enhancement of Learning Potential. If the title of the book is telling, it is because he is determined to fight off the label that had been placed on him since birth for having an extra chromosome.
World-renowned clinical psychologist Feuerstein, whose grandson also has Down Syndrome, urges people with learning disabilities and their caregivers not to accept the diagnosis passively but to actively seek mind-stimulating therapies. He postulates that the brain is like plastic, modifiable when given the right stimulus.
“I don’t like it when people call me names or see me as someone who has a learning disorder,” said Ho as he related how he was bullied when he first enrolled in an international school.
The book means a lot to him as he bought it in July this year when he attended Feuerstein’s conference in Romania which catered to educators and therapists.
“I want to learn how to mediate so that I can reach out to others who are considered low-functioning,” said Ho emphatically.
Therapists Foo Siang Mun and K.C. Soo who were also at the conference, said Ho left a deep impression on the lecturers as he did not shy away from speaking up and did not quit even when given tough assignments.
As confident as he is, Ho, too, faces the challenge of employment in mainstream society. Many high-functioning young adults like Ho, have a deep desire to secure a job in the open market.
“Just like everyone else, they want equal opportunities in getting a job, and be able to earn money and make independent financial decisions,” said Dignity and Services (D&S) executive director, Mettilda John. D&S is an advocacy group that seeks to empower people with learning disabilities, and help them live independently through its supported living programme.
Over the past four years since D&S started the programme, Ho has been actively involved and has proven to be a capable person. He enjoys time spent away from his family from Wednesday to Sunday at Options for Supported Living in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.
“Set him a task, and he will put in 150% effort. His work ethics is second to none,” said John. It is no surprise why he has been elected by his peers as the head of the house. And when the occasion calls for it, Ho is entrusted to help out with D&S office work.
More good things are in store for him. Ho begins his internship with Hotel Maya Kuala Lumpur near KL City Centre this month. The prospect of working and taking the LRT gives him a sense of purpose and hope for the future. All this is made possible because Selangor Dredging Bhd (SDB), which owns the five-star boutique hotel, has embarked on a course to be an inclusive corporation. SDB managing director Teh Lip Kim is instrumental in setting the agenda.
“Having a six-year-old son with autism helps me to see things in a different perspective. Providing working experience for the learning disabled is our first step. It is something close to my heart,” Teh admitted candidly.
Although it is uncharted terrain for her, Teh is prepared to step out in faith to use the resources available to her to bring together the able and disabled alike as a community.
“Life is a journey and at times, it calls for taking risks. If we fall, we pick ourselves up. The key is not to be afraid to take the first step,” said Teh.
When Teh came to know about D&S and Bake4Fund, a set-up by two mothers for people with learning disorders to learn and earn by baking cakes and cookies for sale, she decided to rope them in to help raise awareness among her staff and the patrons of SDB.
“Bake4Fund is about helping people with learning disorders to focus on their potential by honing their skills in baking even as care is put into the products to ensure they are delicious and of quality,” explained Lim Ang Nei, Bake4Fund’s co-founder.
A baking project was mooted and it was timed for the launch of SDB’s Dedaun which offers 38 luxury apartments in an enclave off Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.
With help from Maya Hotel’s executive chef, Adriano Teng, pastry chef, Tommy Soong and his staff, seven participants from D&S and Bake4Fund baked 200 trays of fudge brownies and 1,800 mini muffins of cempedak and pandan flavours. These were packed into 400 boxes and given away to visitors who turned up at SDB’s Dedaun show unit.
Teh said she was drawn to the energy and vision of D&S and Bake4Fund.
As it was a first for everyone, Teng and Soong took care of the logistics to ensure everyone had a chance to bake at the hotel’s pastry kitchen. Soong and his staff taught the participants how to do piping, besides the usual mixing and stirring.
To accommodate one of the participants, Cheong Choong Jian, who uses a wheelchair, care was given to ensure accessibility in the kitchen.
For participants like Ho, Chin Keat Lai and Nicholas Mathew, donning an apron with their name tag gave them a sense of pride.
Even before the baking project came to an end, SDB’s human resource department had started working out the details to provide internships for the learning disabled community at the hotel.
“It is our (SDB) way of giving back to society,” added Teh.
One Voice is a monthly column which serves as a platform for professionals, parents and careproviders of children with learning difficulties. Feedback on the column can be sent to email@example.com. For enquiries of services and support groups, please call Malaysian Care ( 03 9058 2102) or Dignity & Services ( 03-7725 5569). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.