FOUR intellectually challenged youths managed to raise RM2,795 to help build houses for the Orang Asli community.
They are Ace who has Asperger’s Syndrome, Nick who is mildly autistic and dyslexic, May who became a slow learner after developing a brain tumour and Yes, an autistic savant.
The four signed up for The Epic Run, a running event held between Jan 7 and Feb 10. The organiser, Epic Collective Sdn Bhd, incorporated a fundraiser for their non-profit, Epic Homes, which builds houses for the Orang Asli.
The youths only learned about the run two weeks in, but wasted no time in forming a team called “Specialme” and set up a crowdfunding page.
They felt a sense of accomplishment after having actively contributed to the cause and hope their achievement would serve as an eye opener of what other special individuals are capable of.
Epic Collective founder and group chief executive officer John-Son Oei said the inaugural run raised RM51,635, which was enough to build one house for the Orang Asli.
“It was impressive that Specialme managed to raise a huge sum in such a short period of time, ” he said.
Run co-organiser, Summersault Digital Enterprise founder Lily Sim said encouragement by others via the run’s Facebook group pushed the youth to excel further.
“They installed running apps on their smartphones and had been updating the group about their runs. They were motivated to do better when they received acknowledgement and encouragement.
“They completed 318.63km in total, coming in at 38th spot out of 72 teams, ” she said.
There were 525 participants in total, who took part individually or in teams of four.
Ace, 23, who often isolated himself due to his social awkwardness and lack of communication skills, gained confidence taking part in the race.
He has been posting his daily runs on social media and was spurred to do better from the encouragement he received.
“This run is a big deal for me. I learned to go outdoors and enjoy running and walking to keep my brain healthy and my body strong. I am also proud that I was raising money to help build houses for another marginalised group.
“Despite getting good results for SPM, I am still unable to hold a permanent job. I want to earn some money to help my family. Although it has been difficult, I am trying to improve myself.
“I hope employers will give me a chance to prove myself. My other abilities include playing the piano and tabla. I can also read Sanskrit, ” he said.
As for Nick, he has always been an outdoors person who loved swimming, cycling and running, so it was natural for him to take part in the run.
The 20-year-old is pursuing a 3D animation course at a vocational college.
“I am happy doing this course as I only need to use my laptop.
“I love to talk and socialise and hope to form lasting friendships. I want to be able to continue to do well in my studies and at the same time, get a part-time job.
“I want to be independent and fend for myself as I grow older. Mum said that should be my goal in life, ” he said.
May said she too wanted to get a job and live independently.
The 29-year-old said her brain function was affected after having to undergo intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy to remove a tumor, but she was hopeful of being employed someday.
“My daily life is a struggle but I am determined to make a difference and become a contributing member of society.
“I hope intellectually challenged adults will also be given a chance to have a job and lead a fulfilling life, ” she said.
Yes, 20, a high functioning autistic and historophile, is currently taking an online course on business studies.
“I want to get a part-time job like other college students to earn some money and help ease my parent’s burden.
“I am intellectually challenged and poor in social and conversational skills, but I hope people will give me time and have patience, ” he said.
All four are undergoing on-the-job training once a week at Brickfields Asia College under its corporate social responsibility arm, Make It Right Movement (MIRM), which is offering them hands-on experience of the working world.
MIRM chief executive officer and head of community development Brian Lariche said the disabled were an untapped workforce that would benefit many sectors, big or small.
“With proper guidance and training, these individuals will be an asset to any company. Once they get a hold of the task at hand and are comfortable with the arrangement, they make loyal employees, ” he said.
A volunteer trainer who only wanted to be known as Low said the youths had never missed a training session since the start of the programme in 2019.
“At the BAC office, I teach them computer skills. They are seated with the BAC employees, so they learn to socialise and fit into the office environment.
“I have seen tremendous improvement in their interest in learning new things. I hope more companies will open their doors to accept these individuals for similar training, internships and employment opportunities.
“All they are asking for is the opportunity to do simple jobs, to have something to look forward to every day and to live their lives independently and with dignity, ” she said.