Media planner Lee Yan Joe, 27, was in a cheerful mood during her company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme at the Autism Café Project (ACP) at Da Men Mall in Subang Jaya recently.
She didn’t mind being tasked with kitchen duties, including cutting chicken, peeling kilogrammes of onions, and packing chilli sauce into small containers. The CSR activity involved helping ACP staff prepare 200 meals for the homeless, orphanages and B40 families in the Klang Valley.
“I’ve been helping out at the cafe since yesterday afternoon. We must prepare tomato rice, ayam masak merah, stir-fried vegetables and drinks for underprivileged communities by noon.
“It’s a lot of work, but my colleagues and I have been managing pretty well.
“Each of us have different responsibilities and together, we have completed quite a bit of work,” said Lee during the CSR programme.
She was one of the 60 staff from Universal McCann (UM) – the global media agency network of IPG Mediabrands – who had participated in Impact Day, their company’s annual CSR activity.
This year, Lee and her colleagues came together to support ACP – a project that was established to encourage independence among young adults with autism.
ACP was set up in 2017 by Mohd Adli Yahya, 57, whose son, Muhammad Luqman Shariff, 23, is autistic. Currently, there are four young adults with autism employed by ACP.
Some UM staff chipped in to cook meals while others sold cookies, jewellery and cakes.
A few took charge of the coffee machine, whipping up lattes, cappuccinos and caffe Americanos for customers.
Others went out to deliver the meals to the underprivileged communities in Subang and Gombak and orphanages in Selayang and Puchong.
Lee is learning more about the importance of empowering people with autism. She understands a little about the challenges they face and wants to do whatever she can to help them reach their fullest potential.
“This is the first time I’ve worked with young adults with autism. And now that I’ve been with them, I realise that they are just like us.
“Sadly, many people think autistic people are different. I think it boils down to understanding their needs. They just don’t relate to their environment like us. But with the right training, autistic youth too can excel.”
UM chief executive officer Audrey Chong was pleased with her staff’s turnout and their enthusiasm to help this underserved community.
“My staff are all so semangat (in high spirits). Everyone looks forward to Impact Day, a time to give back to society each year.
“Such activities teach us about empathy and inculcates in us the spirit of giving.
“Plus, it also exposes us to issues faced by those with special needs.
“These days, we are so caught up in the virtual world that we tend to lose contact with others. So, it’s good for people to connect with others and understand others better.”
“We were in search of a worthy cause to support and we came across ACP on Facebook.
“We liked the idea of how the project supports the autism community. and were touched by Mohd Adli’s appeal for funds for his chilli farming project.
“We were taken up by how Mohd Adli is going beyond ACP to build a agricultural farm to help young adults with autism.
“He’s doing whatever it takes to allow his son and his special needs staff to move towards independence,” said Chong.
A chance to help society
So on Impact Day, UM invited clients, partners, friends and family to visit the Autism Cafe Project in Da Men Mall to have lunch prepared by the young adults with autism while learning more about their activities and the chilli farm initiative.
In total, they managed to raise RM30,000 on that day.
“Learning more about this social enterprise’s activities is exciting and inspiring. They provide job opportunities and give voice to those living with autism.
“We must not close a blind eye to people with special needs. Society needs to become more open, accepting and inclusive to those who are differently-abled.
“They have the same needs as the rest of us. Thankfully, as a community, we are slowly becoming more aware about autism, people with different disabilities as well as mental health issues.”