A man, a camera and a plan

Sale of wildlife photos to fund center, find jobs for the autistic

In Malaysia, autistic children have good educational resources but only until they are 18.

As adults, they are left with little or no guidance, or find themselves in a normal work place environment which rarely respects their special abilities.

They are given menial and repetitive work, and are often bullied by those who either have little patience or understanding of their condition.

Studies have shown that with the right approach and environment, these adults with special needs can contribute  and find their place in society too.

Ng Wymin, a lawyer by profession and ‘professional amateur photographer’ in his out-of-office hours, has a plan to help them.

As a parent of two children with autism, aged 22 and 23, he realises the lack of career opportunities for adults with autism spectrum disorder.

THE PLAN

Ng wants to create these much-needed opportunities – by opening retail outlets such as cafes, bakeries, laundrettes and car wash stations – that are staffed by adults with autism.

He hopes to enlist the assistance of corporations and business owners, as part of their corporate social responsibility, to contribute to this worthy project.

While there will be two managers per outlet to oversee the running of the business and guide the special workforce, parents are also encouraged to undertake some of the responsibilities.

The first outlet is targeted to begin operations sometime next year in a shopping mall in Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya, close to the Gem & Bread premises.

A MEETING OF MINDS

In his search for meaningful work opportunities for his children, Ng met Gopal Sreenevasan, the uncle of Gem & Bread Special Needs Support Group co-founder, Sharanya Radhakrishnan.

“Gopal told me about the work that his niece was doing,’’ said Ng, who was initially thinking of setting up a bakery or café where his children could work.

After a lengthy and inspiring discussion with Sharanya, a bigger plan had emerged.

With Sharanya at the helm on a hands-on, day-to-day basis, Ng’s role would be to seek the initial capital expenditure, set up the outlets and plan their expansion.

Apart from the overall operation and management of the outlets, Sharanya will also train the outlet managers on how to manage their special staff.

“With Ng helping to raise funds on a virtual platform, it enables us to continue throughout these uncertain times.

“My role is to help Ng run this project, and also create a larger awareness of the need to train and support our students,’’ said Sharanya.

ABOUT GEM & BREAD

Gem & Bread was set up six years ago to provide a creative arts education to adults with special needs. Their students are aged between 18 to 43.

Their work to arm these students with the confidence and skills to assimilate into the regular world, has Ng’s support.

Gem & Bread caters to all types of special needs including  autism, Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy, happy puppet syndrome, slow learners and and many more.

With a background in the performing arts, Sharanya had done a module called applied drama and continued with a postgraduate degree in special needs.

She realised that back home, there was a need for a creative arts education programme to enhance social skills and confidence in adults with special needs.

So she returned to Malaysia and with co-founder Teresa Tan, started Gem & Bread.

Believing that a creative arts education and job training go hand in hand, Gem & Bread trains students in quill art, beading, baking and how to work in retail establishments like a café.

Through education in drama, art, dance and music therapy, students also learn to be independent.

The center is self-funded but during this year of repeated lockdowns, fundraising has been challenging.

The students have been selling bread and cookies to help keep the center open.

In the long term, Gem & Bread hopes to introduce its teaching modules to other job training centers.

“We believe in the power of the creative arts and would like all adults with special needs to have an equal opportunity to lead happy and meaningful lives,’’ said Sharanya.

Sharanya hopes this collaboration with Ng will help, in a big way, towards achieving these goals.

It will also create a community of people with special needs who are proud to contribute to the progress of the country.

PHOTOGRAPHY FOR A PURPOSE

To kickstart the project, Ng has donated five limited edition prints of African and Indian wildlife to raise funds for Gem Bread.

“Wildlife is one of my favourite subjects to capture – not literally but visually,” said Ng with a laugh.

The five that he has earmarked for this sale are his personal top choices, shot on a camera model and come along with some interesting backstories. The prints are available for sale on The Artisans Haven at http://www.artisanshaven.com.my

The Artisans Haven.

The Artisans Haven, is a digital mall with 100 acres of virtual real estate. Attractions include an art gallery, convention centre, theatre, comedy club, happyness retreat, live studio, campus, adventure park and more. The Mall is live to at artisanshaven.com.my

Author.

Yap Leng Kuen had a respected career as a senior business editor and widely read columnist speaking plainly, for the leading local newspaper. She continues to write Plain Speaking for The Star Online.

I am delighted to share her view points and insights, here.

More Stories from Yap Leng Kuen.

Insight – Retail sector mildly positive on 2021