Bit by bit, Jeanie Ng stirs in spoonfuls of sugar into a simmering pot of syrup. After getting it to the right consistency, the apprentice turns off the heat and waits for the mixture to cool down.
Armed with over two years’ experience, the 23-year-old can now cook, bake and do basic piping for cakes. Each day, she repeats her tasks till they become second nature to her.
Ng has come a long way. She has Autism Spectrum Disorder, a neurodevelopment disorder which affects a person’s social interactions and cognitive development. Ng is a medium functioning autistic person; she has some level of self-reliance but lacks social skills.
At Bake With Dignity (BWD), a social enterprise by NGO Dignity and Services (D&S), Ng is learning to adapt to a work environment. She is acquiring income generating skills and holding a job; crucial milestones in the young autistic adult’s life.
The BWD project started back in 2007 when a group of caregivers, including journalist Pang Hin Yue, whose son is autistic, decided to teach their special needs children how to cook and bake. They started out small, with bake sessions using an 18-inch oven in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Word slowly got around and orders started to streaming in.
In 2011, D&S decided to call the baking project Bake With Dignity. In Oct 2016, D&S proudly opened BWD at Leisure Commerce Square in Bandar Sunway, Selangor. The bakery is run by individuals with autism and Down Syndrome.
D&S executive director Helen Teh says employment provides people with special needs the opportunity to stand on their own two feet and lead meaningful lives. “Jobs enable these special individuals with the opportunity for social integration. It also allows them fuller participation in mainstream community,” says Teh.
Business has been brisk, with orders coming in from corporations, friends and walk-in customers.
Teh is currently recruiting interested third parties (individuals or parents) to replicate the BWD model, which is under D&S’ Supported Living programme, to empower more people with learning disabilities.
“We have received enquiries from parents of children with special needs, asking if we can employ their kids. But we lack space in our current premise. We are identifying suitable individuals to replicate our projects that can create more employment opportunities for others. Hopefully we can connect with dedicated individuals.”
According to the 2014 Department of Statistics report, there are over half a million disabled people in the country. The National Autism Society of Malaysia estimates that about 9,000 children are born with autism in Malaysia each year.
The BWD bakery currently employs 11 individuals with autism and Down Syndrome between the ages of 17 and 56. These special needs individuals – mostly working part-time – are hired through word of mouth.
They are trained by Pang and Marina Lim, mothers of children with autism, and Teh.
“People with learning disabilities should have an equal opportunity to reach their potential. It is important to tap into their interests and help them excel in their career and development,” They work two or three days a week, for about seven hours.
“They find it fulfilling being able to work and earn their own income. It helps raise their self-esteem and confidence. They are especially proud when customers like their baked goods,” she says.
Bake With Dignity is hoping to expand their social enterprise so more special needs adults could gain employment. They are reaching out to those interested in replicating the BWD model, as well as looking for a premise to set up another bakery. For more details, call Helen at 010-288 1201 or go to dignityandservices.org or facebook.com/bakewithdignity.