IT takes commitment and perseverance to start a community project, let alone sustain it for years.
One individual who has succeeded in doing this is Anne Sivanathan, who founded Inclusive Outdoor Classroom in USJ 11, Subang Jaya, Selangor, in 2016.
As an advocate of inclusive education, the classroom ensures children with disabilities learn together and have fun with their able-bodied peers.
“We first started holding inclusive activities at the porch of my home in USJ11.
“Later with the Subang Jaya City Council’s (MBSJ) approval, we moved to a cabin located at the neighbourhood field,” said Anne.
Activities carried out include drum circle, where the children interact and play musical instruments.
Other activities include stonework play, which is a form of creative learning that engages the senses and allows participants to tell a story or make a unique pattern by handling stones.
“We also conduct activities such as sports and reading in our inclusive classroom,” said Anne, who has been involved in promoting inclusive education in early childhood since the 1990s.
She is also a board member of the World Forum Foundation International Advisory Group.
Anne said parents with special needs children were always looking for a place where their children could interact with others.
“I used to operate an inclusive preschool which gave my two daughters the opportunity to become more aware of the needs of their peers with special needs.
“My daughters are in their 20s now and are also advocates for special needs children.
“They also roped in their friends for our activities.
“A large number of our volunteers are youths,” she said.
Anne said these volunteers are encouraged to share their knowledge and skills.
“For instance, a volunteer who is a lawyer can talk about laws that relate to people with disabilities,” she said.
She described a time when a group of hearing-impaired students joined their activities and how a seven-year-old soon realised that he needed to find a way to communicate with them effectively.
“He did not know sign language and started to sign intuitively,” she recounted.
Anne stressed that having a platform advocating inclusion was important.
She noted that due to limited opportunities for social interaction during the Covid-19 pandemic, some children were showing signs of delayed speech.
The community has been supportive, she said, highlighting that Subang Jaya City Council’s Majlis perwakilan penduduk (MPP zone 3) under the leadership of our city councillor Lee Jen Uyin also helped to pay for the cabin utility bills.
Anne said Inclusive Outdoor Classroom was in need of a van to reach out to more communities within and outside Klang Valley.
“We want to continue our advocacy work around the country and reach more communities.”
She said the group had also conducted inclusive fashion shows where teenagers and adults with disabilities participated.
Anne said that based on her experience, there was a need for more screening before children entered preschool.
“In countries like Japan and the United States, learning disabilities are identified so early that effective intervention can be conducted.
“We need to do this here too,” she said.
Transforming idle land
After retirement, Margaret Lee set up the Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) Edible Community Garden in Kuala Lumpur.
In 2017, Lee roped in several fellow residents and converted a plot of idle land in TTDI into a vegetable garden.
The land was formerly an illegal dumping ground for construction waste.
“We approached the Local Agenda 21 Department in Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and the officers were helpful in getting approval,” said Lee.
Initially, she said about five neighbours came together to help her.
In the first phase, fruit trees such as mangoes, longan, jackfruit and bananas were planted.
In the second phase, they grew bitter gourd, radish, cucumber and brinjal.
The garden has also turned into a meeting place for the community on weekends, during the farmers’ market.
Produce from the garden as well as compost are sold to help sustain the space.
Activities such as a book exchange are carried out too, while residents also take part in food composting and drop off used cooking oil.
Lee said that previously, expatriates also volunteered at the garden.
“This garden has brought the community together and we now have 300 members in our WhatsApp group.
“During the December 2021 floods, residents dropped off donated items at our garden.
“We also managed to help flood victims in Rompin, Pahang, by giving them electrical items.
“This place has certainly helped bring the community together for the greater good,” she said.