A Golden Opportunity for Independent Living
Thirty-year-old Angie Lim may have a learning disability but it has never impeded her ability to run the trade kitchen at GOLD, which stands for Generating Opportunities for the Learning Disabled.
As trade kitchen supervisor and head baker, Lim oversees the production of cookies to be sold by GOLD, which is the main source of revenue for the social enterprise.
Besides assisting and monitoring other GOLD trainees, Lim meets daily production targets, controls the baking stock inventory, and manages the test kitchen for new cookie production.
It was not always easy for Lim, who was timid and lacked self-confidence when she first joined GOLD in 2011.
The Sunway Job Training Programme had a role to play in helping Lim come out of her shell. Under the programme, Lim spent three months training under the tutelage of Sunway University’s School of Hospitality teaching fellow Ng Wan Cheng or Chef Cheng. She then underwent a three-month internship at Sunway Resort Hotel’s pastry kitchen.
“With the skills I learned, I am now able to work independently with minimal supervision at GOLD. I enjoy being able to go to work like my siblings, baking cookies that are needed by others and spending time with my friends who work with me,” said Lim.
Blazing the Trail
Driven by love and care for children with learning disabilities, a group of parents of students with learning disabilities and teachers of SMK Bandar Sunway began volunteering their time and resources to strengthen the school’s Special Education Programme (SEP) for special needs students in 1998.
This led to the founding of GOLD in 2000, with the aim of equipping learning-disabled students with the prevocational, social, and living skills to enable independent living and gainful employment.
In 2006, the strategic CSR partnership between Sunway and GOLD began when Sunway Group deputy executive chairman Tan Sri Datuk Seri Razman M. Hashim and Sunway staff visited SMK Bandar Sunway to observe the special education class.
SMK Bandar Sunway, which is one of the conglomerate’s seven adopted schools under the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, has a special education class dedicated for students with special needs. “In the following week, the HR personnel from Sunway’s different business divisions made a follow-up visit to observe the SEP and to discuss how they would be able to lend a hand,” said Juairiah Johari, GOLD’s co-founders and former senior assistant of the special needs class at SMK Bandar Sunway.
Since 2006, Sunway Group has been collaborating with GOLD and SMK Bandar Sunway to organise the Sunway Job Training Programme annually.
Endorsed by the Malaysian Education Ministry’s Education and Performance Delivery Unit (PADU), the programme provides hands-on prevocational and life skills training, simulating working habits with mentoring from the job coaches within the Sunway business units.
Under the programme, GOLD trainees work in areas such as baking and pastry, office and general housekeeping, culinary kitchen, and ticketing at Sunway Medical Centre, Sunway Pyramid, Sunway Lagoon Theme Park and Sunway Resort Hotel. And at Sunway University, they given three months of basic patisserie training.
She said the Sunway Job Training Programme has even been used as a benchmark by a Malaysian GLC that started their in-house job training programme involving people with learning disabilities.
To date, more than 120 young adults have graduated from the Sunway Job Training Programme into open employment.
Teaching Them to Fish
When GOLD first set up its own centre at Complex 3C MPSJ in Bandar Sunway in 2005, Sunway University’s School of Hospitality raised funds to outfit the rooms with ovens, kitchen cabinets and baking appliances to be used by trainers, volunteers, and students. Chef Cheng also trained the GOLD trainees in baking and how to bake one of GOLD’s specialty cookies.
“These skills elevated GOLD’s ability from baking for personal consumption to baking for business. It marks the turning point for GOLD as an NGO becoming a social enterprise,” said Juairiah.
What she appreciates about Sunway’s partnership is that the company “teaches us to fish and does not give us a fish”.
“Sunway endorses GOLD by making us their priority NGO when it comes to sourcing for corporate gifts for their business units. By purchasing our products, this helps create job opportunities and skill training for GOLD to hire more young people with special needs within the community. Being able to generate income for the business enables us to provide decent allowances and wages to GOLD trainees,” she said.
In 2015, the ‘Beautiful Minds’ GOLD Art Exhibition was held in Sunway Pyramid, featuring artwork produced by 12 GOLD members who trained under Sunway University’s Department of Art & Design for six months. Their paintings were sold to the public to raise funds for GOLD, while some art pieces are currently displayed in Sunway Lagoon Hotel.
Nurturing an Inclusive Society
Beyond preparing GOLD trainees for future employment, Sunway’s partnership with GOLD ultimately helps create a more inclusive society in Malaysia.
In 2018, GOLD collaborated with Jeffrey Cheah Foundation to organise the inaugural Special Education Conference 2018, a platform to connect, educate and improve collaboration between private sector, NGOs, schools, community, special education experts, children with special needs and parents.
The two-day conference featured over 20 speakers from Malaysia, Australia, and the UK, and was attended by around 250 delegates from Selangor and neighbouring states.
Being able to interact closely with members of GOLD during CSR activities allows volunteers to learn more about people with learning disabilities and in doing so, foster empathy and compassion towards those who are differently abled.
Kelab Sosial Sunway included and sponsored GOLD members in their yearly staff trips to local tourist attractions such as Taman Negara and Kuala Selangor, which gave them the opportunity to better understand about people with special needs.
“GOLD’s partnership with Sunway has been a catalyst in making our dream a reality. We are very glad that Sunway chose us as a strategic partner and is supporting small social enterprises like GOLD to become self-sustainable. This is testament to their corporate culture of helping the community grow alongside them,” said Juairiah.
This article first appeared in Berita Sunway Issue 74