KOTA KINABALU: For the past few weeks, a group of bakers has been putting in extra time and effort to get Raya cookies ready for their customers.
Not a word is uttered as the whole bakery is kept running with only the occasional clanks of metal plates, thuds from dough rollers, hum of machines and the delectable smell of sugar, chocolate and butter cooking.
The bakers are so focused on their work and do not break the rhythm by speaking to one another.
But there is also a reason why they are not talking to each other; they are deaf and communicate via sign language.
Regina Wong, principal of the Sabah Society for the Deaf (SSD), said these men and women in their 20s and 30s are part of the bakery and sales team.
“We sell cookies and festive goodies for almost every occasion – Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Christmas or anytime a celebration is on and when there is demand for them,” she said.
Wong said apart from hearing impairment, some of the bakers have other disorders or disabilities such as autism, slow learning, cerebral palsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Thus, she said there are extra challenges when it comes to the overall baking and packing process.
“Due to the different levels of comprehension, some of them may make a mistake when cutting the dough to size.
“And that is where the seniors or teachers come in to assist,” she said.
One of them is the head baker, Nathanael Boidon Tondubah, who is in his mid-20s.
He is in charge of manually measuring the ingredients before blending them in a mixer.
Once ready, he takes the dough, weighs them and gets them ready to be rolled, cut and shaped by his colleagues.
Wong said that sometimes, one of the bakers tasked with rolling the dough will keep rolling it even if it is already in the right shape and size.
“The shapes and sizes of each cookie may also vary, so we’ll tell our customers about all this before they purchase anything,” she said.
For this Raya season, they are making eight flavours of cookies including their popular German butter cookies, Nestum cookies, corn flakes and chocolate.
Wong said the main purpose of the programme is to help the participants learn skills that could lead to financial independence.
Now, after over five years of operating, the revenue from these cookies helps to cover the centre’s operational costs and pay for staff allowances, she said.
“It’s the continuous support of friends and family, who later expanded to customers on social media platforms, that makes it possible for the disabled to learn and earn a living for themselves,” she added.