Learning – College Beat

PERKOBP id a non-profit organisation dedicated to the welfare of children with learning difficulties
PERKOBP id a non-profit organisation dedicated to the welfare of children with learning difficulties

When she was asked to take a class of college students pursuing a course in photojournalism last November, Mary Chen decided it was a golden opportunity to introduce them to their peers with disabilities

AS the song The Greatest Love of All  goes: ‘I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way….”
At CHALLENGES, we believe one way to build a more caring future generation of Malaysians is by supporting youth-focussed projects that sensitise Malaysian youths to disability issues.  Acceptance of  another person’s individuality only comes with understanding and learning to communicate with one another is the first step in that direction.

So one Thursday morning the mass communication students from Dasein Academy of Art turned up at the Society of Families of Person with Learning Difficulties or PERKOBP in Puchong, Kuala Lumpur.
These students were tasked with taking photographs and write either an article about the centre or a personality piece on the trainees who are teenagers with learning disabilities.
Not surprisingly, many of the students have had no contact with people with disabilities prior to this assignment, simply because they had no reason to in the course of their daily lives. A few of the students panicked, asking me anxiously when faced with their special peers: “Must I talk to them?”, “What do I ask them?”, “Will they know how to answer me?”, “How do I talk to them?”.

I answered them with reassuring smiles and words and sent them back to the centre. As a facilitator, I can only set the stage and/or offer some guidelines but in the end it would really depend on the students’ own efforts to complete their assignments.

As a advocate for disability equality, it was encouraging to see the two groups of young adults warming up to each other, eventually.

Read  what the students had to say of their first-ever experience meeting PWDs.

College students on a mission: to better understand their peers with disabilities
College students on a mission: to better understand their peers with disabilities

Savouries from PERKOBP
By Low Bee Sin

When I first stepped into PERKOBP, I was attracted  by the aroma from the bakery.  Inside, there   were two people making siew pao. I was really impressed because of the delicious smell that had everyone crowding inside the room.
Peter Phang, president of PERKOBP, gave us a briefing about the society.  He said the society’s  main aim is to equip their children with useful skills to let them achieve independent living. They have four main projects, namely Laundry project, Group Home project, Bakery project and Organic Farm project.
The trainees work from 9am to 4pm. They have salaries which they spend by themselves. When chatting with them, I felt very touched and happy. One of the trainees told me that her parents had passed away and that tomorrow it would be her birthday. She is happy because her friends at PERKOBP will celebrate with her. I admire her tough optimism and hope she will have a better future and be happy always.


Give The Disabled Child An Opportunity To Be Independent
By Wong Kai Hang

Parents need to understand that as the child grows up, there is a real need to allow him to take charge of his own life. How long can the parents be there to protect the child? What will happen to the child after the parents are no longer around?
Parents who really care for their disabled child, no matter how old the child is,  should let the child learn to live independently. The parents should not just feed them but more importantly teach them survival skills because parents simply cannot be there forever. They must be taught skills to live independently and carry out their daily activities.  That confidence will in turn empower the child to take charge of her or his own life, be responsible for their own actions and learn to be independent.
PERKOBP or Society of Families of Persons with Learning Difficulties, is a support group formed in early 1992 by a group of parents’ who were concerned with the welfare of their children who had  learning difficulties. The society runs a centre with sheltered workshops for trainees with learning disabilities in Puchong, Kuala Lumpur. Although they are learning slowly, sometimes having difficulty in understanding and following instructions, yet they can still work and complete their tasks.
At the packaging workshop,  you can see the trainees busy doing their work. They have their own work areas and responsibilities.  You can even see the punch card machine where they clock in and out of office.
PERKOBP runs a few projects at the centre. The Laundry project teaches the trainees how to run a laundry service. You can also see the bakery, with the ovens and the trainees learning to bake. There is also an organic garden to provide additional outdoor activities for the trainees, especially those who cannot sit still for too long. The garden produces organic vegetables and the produce is sold to members and their families.

Trainees at the packaging workshop in PERKOBP
Trainees at the packaging workshop in PERKOBP

PERKOBP – Support for Parents in Need
 By Tan Siang Hui

Many people complain that they are always unlucky and always ask for help. They do not think that in this world there are people who really need our help and a chance.
PERKOBP is a place which is full of love, especially for those who work there as they have to work with love to educate those with learning difficulties. The staff there do not earn much but that is compensated by their sense of accomplishment to see the children there live with independence. They treat the children here just like their own.
Some of those families really feel helpless and PERKOBP offers them a helping hand. In this regard,  we  need more support from our community so that organisations like this can continue their good work.

  A meaningful place
   By Chua Jack Bin

A blank drawing paper can become a very meaningful and beautiful picture. PERKOBP is such a place is for the mentally challenged people to produce beautiful artwork because there are many good ‘artists at work’ at PERKOBP.
I admire the trainers for their endurance and the trainees for their perseverance to be able to do the same work every day. They may be slow, but they are also careful and cautious.
Satish Kumar, 22, said he is happy even doing the same thing daily. And when he smiled at me, I know he is really fulfilled and happy because he can work at PERKOBP.

Trainee Satish Kumar happy at PERKOBP
Trainee Satish Kumar happy at PERKOBP

I would like to volunteer and help
   By Hoh Mun Yee

PERKOBP is managed by family members of persons with learning difficulties who serve this society on a voluntary basis. The members have taken up the challenge to play a greater role in campaigning for the welfare of their special children.
The vision of PERKOBP is an enhanced quality of life for persons with learning difficulties and their caregivers.
Siew Chooi Cheng is a volunteer at the centre. According to her, the trainers spent time to teach the trainees to pack, arrange stocks and much more. She said it is not easy as some of the trainees cannot control what they do and will not communicate with people.
Talking to the trainees and seeing the innocence in their eyes, I felt we, the teenagers of today are too fickle-minded despite having a variety of choices to choose from, on what we want and who we want to be. The trainees cannot!  How many of us will really treasure the things we have now?!
I would like to volunteer and help here.

Volunteers working alongside trainees at PERKOBP
Volunteers working alongside trainees at PERKOBP

Skills training at PERKOBP

By Yong See Yee
“Give me a fish, I eat for a day. Teach me how to fish; I can eat for a life time!”
At PERKOBP, all the trainees are involved in activities of a regular working person. They are trained in a task until they are used to it and it becomes a habit for them. Their progress may be slow but every small improvement made is an individual’s own breakthrough and the trainers’ satisfaction.
“I can take care (of) myself. I am happy here, with my friends,” said Soo Kee, a trainee of PERKOBP. Soo Kee is happy with her life, although she doesn’t understand what life means. We can learn something important from her.

Sheltered workshop   
   By Edmond Ng Lian Choon

The sheltered workshop at PERKOBP was set up in August 1997 to provide employment to teenagers with learning disabilities who cannot find jobs in the open market. In 2000, PERKOBP took a self-reliant approach under the ‘Partners in Enterprise’ business strategy, focusing on projects that would provide employment opportunities for the trainees as well as to generate revenue to sustain the projects.
PERKOBP Bakery Training Centre – On 10 June 2004, the Bakery Training Centre, under the ‘Partners in Enterprise’ concept was officially launched by sponsors, HSBC Bank Berhad.
Peter Phang, president of PERKOBP said: “Our trainees now have the opportunity to undergo hands-on training to become skilled at making various bakery products. We make a variety of bakery products such as cup cakes, muffins of various flavors, scones, egg tart, cheese tart, wholemeal bread and buns of various flavors, chocolate and butter cakes.”

Delicious siew pau from the bakery workshop
Delicious siew pau from the bakery workshop

Visit to PERKOBP
  By Tan Keat Son

I visited PERKOBP because of my homework. But when I saw how the trainers teach all the special needs teenagers, I learned something else.
The centre is divided into various departments to let special needs teenagers learn different work skills ranging from bakery, packaging, laundry and cooking.
In the packing department, the trainees pack the KFC fast food packets of tissue, plastic knife and form, tomato and chili sauces. They take a plastic bag, put in the items one by one and then place the bags in a box. There are different trainees working on different processes in this department. In one section, the trainees were repacking items like sugar, salt and tidbits from big five to 10 kg bags into smaller packs of 500g and 1kg.
Some of them have learnt to check stock and keep reports.  And I have learnt an important lesson here, which is that every person has a place in this society. We just need to help her or him and give them a chance to learn.

Be simple like them
    By Chloe Choy Qian Xin

How do you react when you face a 23-year- old who cannot talk properly and  walks with jerky, uncontrolled  motion?
Do you feel weird or curious?
Learning disabilities refers to a group of disorders that affect a broad range of academic and functional skills including the ability to speak, listen, read, write, spell, reason and organise information.
There are 50 trainees with learning disabilities at PERKOBP. They are slow to learn new things but they complete their tasks efficiently because they are treated like ordinary people at the centre.
Is it possible for people with learning disabilities to hold jobs? The answer is a definite YES. They can learn to do simple counting, measuring, packaging, taking charge of laundry, baking, cooking and gardening.
They can do more. They are willing to learn with special methods to help them to learn such work skills.
Tan Soo Jye, 23, is one of the expert packers at PERKOBP, but the ‘real world’ may not accept her because she cannot speak very clearly and learns much slower than others.
When we interviewed the others, she keep glancing at us while still working on her task.
I thought she was shy. But I was wrong. When I started chatting with her, I learnt she likes to talk, and that too in Mandarin!
Lee Yik is another trainee who does not talk much. I think she is quiet because others cannot  understand her, therefore she talks less. She is very active and interested in people and everything around her. When I walked by, she touched my hand and my camera.
When I took her photo, she was as excited as a child getting her first candy.
People with learning disabilities have simple needs. They do not understand envy, hate or grudges. Is that not a good thing for them?
Perhaps we should also learn to appreciate who we are. Be simple.


Challenges Magazine Vol1 Issue4, 2008  (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)