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Thursday October 9, 2008

Pooling resources for a better world

IT WAS 9.30am and the children were absorbed in their activity, splattering watercolour on paper as they painted pictures of fruits.

Some of the pictures were painted with overlapping layers of colours, but the children were unperturbed as they continued happily to indulge in their world of colourful fun.

The youngsters were special children, and they were engaged in a watercolour painting activity in an upstairs room at the Children’s World Home in USJ 4, Subang Jaya.

Although they were otherwise oblivious to their surroundings, many of them were aware that they had a special visitor that day.

Learning at their own pace: The children engaged in their painting activity. They learn at their own pace. Seated near the window at the far end of the room is Yeoh

Subang Jaya assemblyman Hannah Yeoh was seated quietly among them, watching them as they dabbed the brightly coloured paints on the paper.

Children’s World founder and principal Anne Subashini Sivanathan said some of the children were autistic while some had Down Syndrome.

“We have about 30 children registered with us, but they do not come every day. On a good day, we get about 15 kids,” she said.

The children are at the centre for half a day; their parents pick them up in the afternoon. At Children’s World, they take part in a host of activities, like reading, writing and painting. They are also taken for swimming sessions at the 3K Complex Subang Jaya.

“We want to help them fit into society by teaching them these skills,” Sivanathan said, adding that some could not speak and had bad behavioural problems when they first joined the centre, and it took three to six months to get them to sit down quietly and concentrate on the activity at hand.

The children, she said, had shown tremendous improvement and could now take instructions and understand what they were told.

The children attend a normal primary school at least once a week so that they are entitled to the RM50 monthly allowance from the Welfare Department.

According to Sivanathan, Children’s World has been operating for six years now. Parents learn about the place mostly through word of mouth.

While the children there are between six and nine years old, Children’s World will accept children up to primary level.

The centre, however, does not just cater for children with special needs. Sivanathan encourages parents with normal children to send them there to mix with the special needs children.

Malaysian Child Resource Institute governor Ruth Liew, who is a specialist in childhood care, education and rights awareness, believes that normal children would be smarter through mingling with special needs children.

Liew, who is also a columnist with The Star, goes to Children’s World once a fortnight to give talks to parents about childhood care and education.

According to her, there is often a misconception among parents that normal children would be negatively influenced by special needs children if they mixed with them.

This, though, is not the case, as it actually helps normal children to be better learners when they think of ways of how they can help special needs kids.

Focus on kids: Children¿s World in USJ 4, Subang Jaya caters not just for children with special needs but normal kids, too.

“Even now, we have one or two normal children here, and we never tell them that the others are special needs kids. Children are ‘blind’ to these things, and they are integrating happily with all their friends,” Liew said.

She and Sivanathan are starting a website where young parents can obtain resources and information online about raising children. The contents are created with the collaboration of different organisations, doctors and academicians.

Both of them are also linked to the World Forum Foundation, which promotes ongoing global exchange of ideas on the delivery of quality services for young children.

Also volunteering her time to help at the centre is Claire Keow, the principal consultant of Smart Trends Enterprise, which specialises in coaching and training corporate personnel and has programmes for children aiming for excellence.

Growing up as a dyslexic child who could not read or write until she was 10, Keow said she could relate to children with special needs children, as she had once been in the same boat.

“Now that I’m fine and have become smart, I wish to give back to society and serve, and help this group of children with their motor skills, unleash their creativity, enhance their listening skills, and help them focus on achieving the desired results,” she said.

Liew suggested that groups be set up in neighbourhoods for the safety and protection of children, so that people could keep a vigilant eye on the young ones.

Yeoh said the visit was an enlightening experience, as she got to see that special children needed the same attention from assemblymen as the other constituents.

“Special children are also part of my constituency, and I want Subang Jaya residents to be aware of this group.

“I have friends with siblings who have special needs children, but many don’t want to talk about them and this is unfortunate,” said Yeoh.

She said she would attempt to bring resources together to aid the cause, by linking the expertise of the people at Children’s World and the connections of the residents associations.

“I wish to introduce this centre to maybe the USJ Residents Association to get both to work together,” she added.

Children’s World is located at 56, Jalan USJ 4/4B, Subang Jaya. For information, call 03-8025 9910.

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