Equipping special needs folk with farming skills

Lee Win Ler (left) and Eugene Tan harvesting okras for lunch and to sell under the agricultural project.

THE Selangor and Federal Territory Association for the Mentally Handicapped (SAMH) has empowered 50 special needs youths and adults under its agricultural project.

The RM50,000 grant from Star Foundation’s annual Star Social Impact Grant (SSIG) was used to support the “SAMH Agriculture Project to Empower the Mentally Handicapped through Farming Skills”.

It was carried out at its centres in Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur and Klang in Selangor for individuals aged 18 to 40 who have Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and other conditions.

SAMH manager Krishnaveni Vellayatham said the 12-month agricultural programme had acted as a good starting point for them to pick up useful skills and learn to be more independent.

“Agricultural activities have the potential to help the intellectually-disabled improve their health and develop fine and gross motor skills,” she explained.

She noted that the trainees had not only demonstrated better concentration but also shown keen interest in agricultural production processes including sowing, watering, harvesting, weighing and selling the produce.

“In fact, gardening time is the most awaited session for the students every day,” she said.

The centres’ impact goes beyond just equipping them with farming skills.

Lee Win Ler, 25, who has been a student at SAMH Klang since 2019, said he also learned how to sell produce.

“I had so much fun learning how to plant ladies’ fingers and choy sum and earn some money too.

”When the teachers are not around, I will take the responsibility of serving customers who come to our centre to buy the produce,” he said.

Throughout the project period, SAMH had harvested over 3,000kg of vegetables such as mushroom, chilli, lettuce, brinjal and organic leafy greens including bok choy, kailan and spinach.

These are used in making the trainees’ lunch and the surplus, if any, is sold to the parents and community.

Nur Hafidzah, who joined the centre in 2010, shared that her biggest takeaway from the classes was learning to be patient.

“We would need to wait because mushrooms take time to grow.

“However, it is very satisfying to see the harvesting of the mushrooms that I planted,” she said.

She has started growing lemongrass and turmeric at home and hopes to sell them to earn some pocket money.

With the grant, SAMH was able to kick off an additional variation to their farm, which was the mushroom cultivation project.

SAMH Klang vocational teacher Nur Ain Faruc said the new addition had turned out to be a bestseller.

“We only started the mushroom farm after receiving the grant from Star Foundation.

“With it, we were able to afford the set-up cost and also sent some of our teachers for training in mushroom cultivation,” she said.

Trainee Sri Neshini Wigneswaran showing the oyster mushrooms cultivated at SAMH  Brickfields in Wisma Harapan, Kuala Lumpur. ― Photos courtesy of Selangor and Federal Territory Association for the Mentally HandicappedTrainee Sri Neshini Wigneswaran showing the oyster mushrooms cultivated at SAMH Brickfields in Wisma Harapan, Kuala Lumpur. ― Photos courtesy of Selangor and Federal Territory Association for the Mentally Handicapped

On top of that, she said the funds were used to expand their organic farm including updating the machinery.

“This made our day-to-day work much easier and more efficient,” she added.

While practical skills are important, Nur Ain said the social skills students gained from the project should not be overlooked.

“I noticed that many of our students who used to be very quiet, are now more willing to socialise.

“Some will even take the initiative to serve our customers.

“Since we started farming, many parents noticed that their children are more well-behaved and have a greater sense of responsibility,” she added.

Senior assistant Jaisakthy Shanmugam, who is in charge of the mushroom farm, shared further insights on students’ commitment to the project.

“You would be surprised to see how dedicated our students are to their mushroom cultivation project.

“They love seeing the mushrooms grow. Some would even talk to the mushrooms, telling them to grow healthily.

“We can see that they are happy to be involved in the farming project,” she added.

“We thank Star Foundation for giving us this opportunity to expand the project.

“But this is not the end. We will continue the project and hopefully create more education, training and employment opportunities for the students,” Krishnaveni said.

Some of their plans include expanding the hydroponic gardening and mushroom cultivation projects as well as creating an indoor potted plant project.

Established in 1964, SAMH has provided education and training to over 5,000 special needs individuals to help them realise their full potential.

SAMH welcomes public donations and is organising a charity dinner on March 18, which aims to raise RM500,000 in support of their programmes this year.

Those interested can contact Krishnaveni at admin@mysamh.org or call 013-208 6726 for details.

SSIG is an initiative by Star Foundation aimed at supporting impact-driven and sustainable projects by non-governmental organisations and social enterprises to better the lives of local communities and the environment.

Applications for the third cycle of SSIG is now open.

Changemakers with project ideas that are aligned with the grant’s five focus areas are encouraged to submit their proposals and relevant supporting documents via bit.ly/starsig by April 2.

Star Foundation is the charitable arm of Star Media Group, which aims to deliver meaningful initiatives with lasting outcomes to diverse groups of beneficiaries.

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