Making it their business


  • Metro News
  • Thursday, 08 Mar 2018

Catama Borneo founders Maddocks (centre) and Amalina (right), discussing the design of a handwoven mat with a weaver. The enterprise helps younger Sarawakians ensure their unique crafts do not become extinct. — Photos: SYAZANA ABD SHUKUR/The Star

 

 

SOCIAL enterprises enabled four women to pursue their noble causes while they managed financially with the income generated through their projects.

StarMetro spoke to the founders of three such enterprises in the country, namely Yellow House KL and WeCare Journey, both in the Klang Valley, and Kuching-based Catama Borneo.

The Yellow House KL uses a transformational sustainable approach in addressing social issues through social innovations such as training former street people to become tour guides.

Catama Borneo engages the natives of Sarawak to produce artisan works based on native prints and helps the community generate income.

WeCareJourney was formed to enable better lives for those living with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and to educate the public on the importance of an inclusive society through activities and events.

Yellow House

Nestled in a quiet corner of Kampung Ampang Campuran in Kuala Lumpur, the Yellow House is a partially wooden and brick house that is painted yellow.

Its founder Shyam Priah Marimuthu, 43, said she came from a socially conscious family.

Yap (in yellow) and her husband founded WeCareJourney partly because their son Branden Lim (right) has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Pictured are programme participant Ainaa Farhanah Amali (left) and volunteer Poh Choo.
Yap (in yellow) and her husband founded WeCareJourney partly because their son Branden Lim (right) has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Pictured are programme participant Ainaa Farhanah Amali (left) and volunteer Poh Choo.

“My parents always cared for others in need especially those in our neighbourhood. They were also enterprising. When we were younger we helped our parents make and sell vadai for extra income. That was how we raised enough money and bought this house, which is now called the Yellow House,” said Shyam whose father served in the air force while her mother was a Tamil school teacher.

The Yellow House was named because the colour yellow is often associated with happiness and positivity, said Shyam who was born in Kuala Lumpur and spent her formative years in Sungai Petani, Kedah.

The house acts as a hub for numerous community outreach activities including the Unseen Tours and Volunteer Residence.

The Unseen Tours are conducted by former street people who act as tour guides.

They guide tourists to places of worship, mural spots and other interesting locations in Kuala Lumpur.

Shyam (left) with Fazliza Mat Piah who is now a tour guide for the Unseen Tours.
Shyam (left) with Fazliza Mat Piah who is now a tour guide for the Unseen Tours.

Volunteer Residence are tourists who come to the country to help in various activities such as, assisting at the animal shelter, working with children with disability, or help with the street people’s outreach activities.

Shyam had engaged with the homeless through outreach activities as early as 2012 by providing them with a haircut. Her exposure to the community had motivated her to help them acquire skills to become self-sufficient.

“People become homeless for various reasons and it is mostly due to financial illiteracy.

“I met a street person who could speak nine languages including several local dialects. They have potential.

 

“As a society, we have to stop telling them what to do and listen to what they want to do,” said Shyam, who has trained four tour guides who came from challenging backgrounds.

“Within three months, they flourished in their new-found job. We received mostly positive feedback from our tourists who experienced their tours,” she added.

Catama Borneo works with about 60 women between the ages of 16 and 60 who are now actively involved in the weaving process.
Catama Borneo works with about 60 women between the ages of 16 and 60 who are now actively involved in the weaving process.

“We want to focus on capacity building for the street people. We want to train them based on their interest and help them build skills,” said Shyam.

She said volunteers who aid the activities carried out by Yellow House are thoroughly vetted before they came on board to help.

“We have strict guidelines and we do not allow our international volunteers to take unnecessary selfies when they volunteer with the street people. There has to be some ethics and guidelines. We check their profile and even test them over issues to know if they are genuinely here to volunteer with good intentions,” said Shyam.

For more details, visit http://khatulistiwa.com.my/

WeCareJourney

WeCareJourney was formed to enable better lives for those living with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and to educate the public on the importance of an inclusive society through activities and events.

It operates as two legal entities – one as a non-profit organisation and the other as a social enterprise.

Mother of two boys Yap Sook Yee, 44, and her husband Edmund Lim formed WeCareJourney in 2016 in Petaling Jaya, when they felt it was time for the public to learn more about the disabled based on the challenges they faced daily.

Among the activities carried out are the sale of soft toys made by refugee women.

Two soft toy characters called Joe and Bib are inspired by their sons Jaden, 11, and eight-year-old Branden.

Yap said Branden has SMA and based on her experience, the biggest challenge the disabled faced in the country was related to inclusion, accessibility and poor public understanding on disability.

“When I started the project, I had a doctor who bought many sets of my soft toys and distributed it to her other doctor friends. This helped us spread awareness on our cause. We hope more corporate companies will come on board to support us because we will be able to run more inclusion related activities with better funding.

“People often expect us to do awareness related programmes on disability for free. This is not always possible.

“We have to keep it sustainable and we raise funds through the sale of the soft toys and corporate related activities.

“Sometimes we include our friends with disability and provide them paid work opportunities. They would give talks or audit buildings,” said Yap, who quit her job in the retail sector to care for Branden.

Yap added that most places have facilities for the disabled, but it may not be accessible because it was never audited by them.

“We had a case where a toilet for the disabled was kept exclusively for VIP use. My son was initially denied access, and allowed to use the toilet only after he begged and pleaded with those in charge.

“Behaviour and mindset is harder to change especially among the adults. Children on the other hand are more receptive towards understanding and showing empathy towards the disabled,” said Yap.

Through her social enterprise initiatives, she has worked with companies such as Ikea which has even included features for the disabled in its kitchen and bedroom displays.

“We want to work with more corporate partners in the future because when a place is accessible for the disabled and elderly, it will attract more customers and be better for their business.

“We would come with our entire family if a place is accessible for a member with special needs,” she said.

For details, visit http://wecarejourney.org/ https://www.facebook.com/WeCareJourney/

Catama Borneo

Two like-minded women, one from Kuching and the other from Newcastle, United Kingdom, formed Catama Borneo in 2014 – a social enterprise to preserve and promote the works of native artisans of Sarawak.

Amalina Hamidah Mohamad Arip, 30, and Catriona Elspeth Maddocks, 33, both realised the need to cultivate the interest among the younger generation of the Sarawak natives to ensure their unique crafts do not become extinct.

Upon gaining the trust of the community, both Amalina and Maddocks with help from their mentor Margaret Tan, set up Catama Borneo in Kuching.

“It is no easy task to gain the trust of the natives in some villages in Sarawak. The longhouse leader must first believe in our cause and trust us. It took us one-and-a-half years to convince a village leader before we could meet the residents.

“They do not want to be exploited. We had to assure them that our intentions were good which is to help preserve their heritage and to promote their crafts to the world,” said Amalina, who is also a Sarawakian.

Amalina and Maddocks first created a digital library to compile the design motifs of the different tribes.

Later they taught the local women on measurements and trained them to weave the motifs.

“Finding skilled workmanship is a challenge because these crafts are commonly made by those with at least 20 years of experience. However, the younger generation are not familiar with the craft.

“However, since our involvement we have more youngsters between the ages of 16 and 20 learning the crafts,” said Amalina.

She added that Catama Borneo worked with about 60 women between the ages of 16 and 60 who were now actively involved in the weaving process.

By understanding fashion trends, the products made are more marketable, said Amalina.

Maddocks said that while she was pursuing her masters degree in Sarawak, she was exposed to the unique crafts of the state.

“The Sarawakians have a one-of-a-kind design motif in the world and it is unique. Some of their design inspirations are drawn from their folklore. Ironically, the locals did not see it as something valuable.

“Now the younger women are learning the craft, and this is encouraging,” said Maddocks.

She hoped to someday showcase the best of Borneo in the international stage. For details, visit http://www.catamaborneo.com/about


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