A typical work day at the workshop of Persatuan Pemulihan Orang Cacat Perak (PPOC Perak) along Jalan Ampang Baru 6A in Ipoh, begins at 8.30am, starting with roll call, followed by the singing of the national anthem, then twenty minutes of light exercise.
While this is where 27 people, aged from 19 years old to their 70s, report for duty from Monday to Friday, this is not your commonplace office as these workers are all challenged, physically or mentally.
This workshop is run by PPOC Perak, a non-governmental organisation with a focus on helping the disabled, be they visually impaired, slow learners, or living with some form of physical disability. The association, founded in 1977 by the late Dato’ Lim Siang Guan, was established to assist this segment of the community to be somewhat financially independent, apart from receiving their monthly welfare aid from the government.
Even though PPOC Perak’s doors are always open for the disabled, there are certain criteria to meet. Explained its president, Mohamed Daniel Bin Mohd. Abdul Kadir, “We only engage those who are independent; those who can feed themselves, able to use the washroom by themselves, can dress themselves and take care of hygiene. No doubt, we would like to reach out to more people but we lack the manpower and skills to care for those who are severely handicapped.
“Some of our workers may look quite all right but they are unable to fit in to the type of work offered in the open job market and are unemployable due to their disability. As such, we have created jobs that suit them, with no pressure or Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to meet.
“However, they have to be disciplined, eager to come to work, punctual, determined and most importantly, sport a positive attitude.”
Saturdays are meant for gotong-royong, whether it is for a group clean up or cook out session.
Five of the workers here are highly-skilled rattan weavers. Four of them are visually-impaired. The rest of the workers fold envelopes throughout the work day. These envelopes are produced for various government agencies thanks to the contracts secured by the association to supply envelopes to them. This regular income is vital to the sustainability of the association.
The workshop occupies the back half portion of a shop lot in Ampang Baru. Next door is a retail shop where most of the rattan baskets of all shapes and sizes weaved by the five workers are displayed and sold. Some of these products are transported to another retail shop in the city centre along Jalan Sultan Idris Shah to capture a different market segment. These rattan baskets, which range from linen baskets to magazine racks, toy storage bins, decorative items and more, are like heritage art as rattan weaving is a dying skill due to a limited number of talented weavers.
These retail outlets are run by a co-operative, Koperasi Orang Kurang Upaya Kinta Berhad that PPOC Perak helped set up, which gives members a share of the business profits.
Added Daniel, “Although we are unable to pay these workers too much apart from their share, we do contribute to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Social Security Organisation (SOCSO) to help them save for the future. Also, because they have income and can help out with household expenses, they are more confident, proud and motivated. We keep their time occupied for the better part of the day. During lunch hour, they get to mingle with people in the community as we provide them with a meal at a neighbourhood eatery.”
Although business is self-sustaining, the association is finding it difficult to meet the monthly expenses, including rental of the workshop and retail spaces, as well as the hostel nearby which provides free accommodation to six of the male workers.
Cash flow aside, the association is looking for volunteers. “We need people to spare some time for our workers, not only to teach them new craft skills but to engage them in hobbies and recreational activities so that life will not be too dull for them.
“Also, if we have a larger workshop, we can reach out to more disabled people and offer them this same empowerment through employment,” Daniel said.
Note: An edited version of this article [Helping the Disabled Make New Lives] was published on 9th April, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.