Centre for the mentally challenged in danger of closing down

AFTER almost five decades of caring for children and adults suffering from various learning disorders, an association in the Klang Valley may close down due to lack of funds.

The Selangor and Federal Territory Association for the Mentally Handicapped (SAMH), which was established in 1964 by a group of concerned parents and voluntary workers, is in dire straits and is hoping for the Government’s intervention to continue operating.

The association has branches in Kuala Lumpur and Klang and offers 13 programmes, such as vocational training, music and movements, home science, self-help skills, art and craft, simple hygiene, interpersonal and vocational skills and more.

Association manager T. Kamaraj said SAMH conducts specified programmes at its five centres with the help of 80 staff comprising teachers, support staff, a cook, security guards and a driver.

“We have been struggling to pay rent and over the past two years forced to close two special schools in Jalan Ipoh and Sentul, which have been operating for 41 and 33 years respectively.

“Apart from our headquarters in Wisma Harapan in Brickfields and our sheltered workshops in Klang, the centres in Cheras, Jinjang South and North are rented premises,” he said, adding that they could no longer even afford to pay the staff.

Kamaraj said the cost of conducting the programmes for the more than 500 children and adults at all its centres totalled RM2.5mil a year, of which 40% or RM900,000 was from a Government grant.

The balance RM1mil is from public donations and fund-raising projects.

He said over the last 10 years, raising funds had become a constant struggle and their situation has become dire over the past five years.

“There are more NGOs now and it has become difficult to even get donations,” Kamaraj said, adding that government NGOs were also facing the pinch.

He said the corporate sector, in fulfilling its corporate social responsibility, also preferred donating in kind rather than cash.

“While we appreciate their help, we also need money to continue operating,” he said.

He said the price of basic necessities in the city were now higher and providing care for the over 500 children and adults, mostly from the low-income bracket, was becoming a challenge.

“We cannot take in new students and even had to let go of some of our older ones.

“Besides vocational training, they get to interact and socialise at our centres and we feel sorry we cannot go on providing this for them.

“We even increased fees from RM60 to RM100 recently and many parents complained that it was too much for them to pay,” he said, adding that the amount also covers meals.

“We feel sorry for the parents as many are single parents struggling to make ends meet. A large number of our students are also orphans or abandoned when small and who come from homes.

“We absorb the costs to provide skills training for them,” he said.

Many of the students, in their late 40’s and 60’s, are still dependent on their aging parents who themselves need care.

He said he was worried about their plight if the association was forced to close adding that he was hoped the Government will come to their aid.

The association’s senior council member Rosnah Shamsudin, 74, is also appealing to the Government for aid.

“SMAH is a special case. People who are mentally disabled are among the most marginalised groups in developing countries, unlike the blind and deaf community who are able to work and earn a living, those who are mentally challenged are helpless,” said the former teacher.

“Our educational and vocational programmes are designed to help this vulnerable community from infancy to adulthood.

“In fact, children who came to us in the 1970s are now in their 40’s and some are in our sheltered workshops,” she said.

Rosnah said that they were in a safe environment here and some received Disabled Workers’ Allow-ance (EPC) from the Ministry of Wo-men, Family and Community Dev-elopment.

“If the association is shut down, many of the students may end up living on the streets,” she said.

For more details, call 03-2274 1457/75, email wisma_harapan@yahoo.com or visit www.mentallyhandicapped-samh.org/.

Related Story: Association helps them help themselves

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