An organisation is giving people with learning disabilities the opportunity to be self-reliant.
THERE is often a misconception that people with learning disabilities cannot be trained, let alone be gainfully employed.
However, the volunteers at the Association of Learning Disabilities (Gold)in Petaling Jaya, think otherwise.
They work on the vision and principle of GOLD, an acronym for Generating Opportunities for Learning Disabilities.
The non-governmental organisation (NGO) aims to promote economic empowerment for those with learning disabilities.
Their members are 19 years old and above, and have disablities ranging from Down Syndrome to Autism.
Full-time staff members run it with assistance from parents and volunteers. Their founder, Juairiah Johari who is the SMK Bandar Sunway senior assistant, finds utmost joy in working with these young adults.
“Many people ask me if I have experience working with children with disabilities. Some even assume that one of my kids is disabled. I have three “normal” grown up daughters.
“One of my daughters is a doctor, one recently resigned from her job to spend more time with her family and another one is a pharmacist,” she shares.
Juairiah says she feels compelled to help those with learning disabilities attain independence.
It is important for them to be able to sustain a living for a bright future ahead.
“My volunteers and I want to create opportunities for them to sustain a living in our society. So, why not offer them an activity that can bring them fruitful results?” she says.
Juairiah also stresses that the activity offered to the students at the organisation has to appeal to their interest and meet their skills.
“We are not going to offer them work that will harm them in any way, or challenge them to a point of frustration.
“This is why it has taken a lot of dedication, patience and understanding from our volunteers to identify the skill sets of each individual who comes to our school,” said Juairiah.
Some of the activities at the centre include designing book marks and creating greeting cards.
Juairiah’s team has also recently started teaching their students to create designs on ceramic bowls and cups.
“We purchase the ceramic items in bulk from the factory. My staff and I would come up with the designs to paste on these utensils. We then create the patterns and the students would either fill in the colours or cut out the patterns to paste them on the ceramic items.
“Throughout the process, we educate them on how to use glue, cut out precise shapes and to bake the ceramic so the patterns stay on. The kids also learn the science involved in completing these items,” Juiriah continues.
“It’s a very educational journey for them and they have fun mingling with the other students while learning with each other,” she adds.
Gold is also collaborating with other NGOs such as Biji Biji, an upcycling initiative programme.
Using discarded materials found throughout the concrete jungle, this NGO works to recycle and create new products.
Biji Biji’s founder Azam Hisham, 26, is a journalist who is passionate about the environment, and he has been volunteering at Gold everyday after work since April.
“My team and I are simply passionate about the environment and want to create a better future for today’s generation.
“Hence, when Puan Ju (Juairiah) mentioned a collaboration, we saw an opportunity to come and educate the kids at the centre and also teach them how to recycle items for reproduction and sale,” shares Azam.
Their project began in April and involved creating bags out of recycled banners.
“When we found out about what they did here in Gold, we thought it would be a good opportunity to lend our expertise and time to volunteer here. Hence, we came up with this concept of ‘eco-friendly’ bags.
“Throughout my experience here, I wasn’t only teaching, but I also learned a lot from the people here. The kids are awesome. They are receptive and always eager to learn. Sometimes in school, we kids can be rather mean to each other. But it is quite harmonious here, with no threats or condemnation,” says Azam.
Initially, he too struggled a little, as he had to adapt to the students’ different intellectual levels and skills sets.
“It was tough teaching them the first few times. We had to repeat the steps over and over again. But we soon learned that it’s their nature, especially with the young adults who are autistic.
“It has truly been an enlightening experience. I’ve gotten to know the kids on a personal level and bonded with them,” shares Azam.
Azam’s family have also been very supportive with his projects at the centre.
“It’s a family affair. There are four of us, who are all working on recreating items from scraps, to produce useful objects and all our family members support each other and offer their time at the centre. My mum sometimes also helps with the designs and so on,” he continues.
Another volunteer, Noridah Adnan, a long time friend of Juairiah, is at the centre every day.
“I used to be very involved in doing arts and craft with the kids here. However, these days I concentrate more on the administrative side of the organisation.
“There is a lot to be done and someone needs to work out the logistics. Since we put the items made by the students here on sale, I assist with the distribution. I am also raising awareness on our orgnisation. Gold’s mission has been well supported by corporations such as the Sunway group.
“Most of the items are distributed to corporate clients such as The Sunway Group. They buy the products made by our students and give them out as door gifts during some of their corporate events. They also purchase the items in bulks and market them on our behalf. Of course, whatever revenue generated is paid to our students as this is how they gain an income.
“Last year, we generated RM54,000. Every year we hope to gain a lucrative income, as the money is also used to buy items such as ceramic utensils, crafts, paints and other products used to design our end results,” says Noridah.
Majlis Perbandaran Subang Jaya (MPSJ) supports Gold’s initiative by sponsoring their premise, and The Sunway Group assist with the upkeeping of the venue.
Juairiah also urges the public to lend a helping hand by volunteering at the centre.
“With the right support and supervision, it has been proven that these young adults could realise their potential and become successful. Just because they have a learning disability, it isn’t the end of the road for them. This is what creating opportunities and generating employment is all about.
“We hope people will give these young ones a chance, or help us come up with ideas on what we can do to ensure they become more independent,” she concludes.
*For more information, visit Generating Opportunities for Learning Disables (Gold), Level G, Kompleks 3C, Jalan PJS 11/2, Taman Bandar Sunway, 46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor or visit http://gold3c.blogspot.com/p/about-gold.html