Bak­ery spear­heads deaf em­pow­er­ment in Malaysia

Young­sters say work op­por­tu­ni­ties are their chance to be in­cluded in so­ci­ety

Arab News - - News Internatio­nal - Ushar Daniele Kuala Lumpur

At a small bak­ery in Kuala Lumpur’s Lorong Am­pang area, a group of men and women take out from the oven and pack col­or­ful cook­ies in com­plete si­lence. The cook­ies have one shape — that of a hand with the thumb, in­dex fin­ger and pinkie fin­ger put up. In sign lan­guage it means “I love you.”

The bak­ery, Silent Ted­dies, was founded in 2004 by Cindy Leong, a sign lan­guage in­ter­preter who has sought ways to em­power Malaysia’s deaf com­mu­nity by en­cour­ag­ing en­trepreneur­ship and train­ing hearingim­paired youths to be in­de­pen­dent. All staff mem­bers of Silent Ted­dies are peo­ple with hear­ing loss.

“We aim to build tal­ents here and the mind­set of the com­mu­nity needs to change be­cause we can­not be solely sur­viv­ing on cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity do­na­tions or sup­port to sus­tain our­selves,” Leong told Arab News as the In­ter­na­tional Week of the Deaf started on Wed­nes­day.

About 40,000 Malaysians are reg­is­tered as deaf and have limited ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Many deaf peo­ple are from the bot­tom 40 seg­ment,” Leong said, re­fer­ring to Malaysia’s low­est earn­ing group.

It took her Silent Ted­dies years to gain trac­tion but in 2012 the ef­forts flour­ished with a deal with Malaysian air­line AirAsia, the big­gest low­cost car­rier of South­east Asia.

“It was a step­ping stone for me and the bak­ers here to have their cook­ies and prod­ucts sold to the masses in Asia. We were never driven by prof­its, our main goal is to em­power the com­mu­nity by pro­vid­ing them train­ing and op­por­tu­ni­ties to grow and sup­port them­selves.”

Through the So­ci­ety of In­ter­preters for the Deaf ( SID), the ini­tia­tive ex­panded to the cof­fee­house gi­ant Star­bucks.

Ber­jaya Star­bucks Cof­fee Com­pany, a li­censee of the Star­bucks fran­chise in Malaysia, in 2016 opened the doors to em­ploy­ment for deaf peo­ple and es­tab­lished the sign­ing store model — the first of its kind for Star­bucks glob­ally. “Star­bucks have al­ways hired the deaf at our stores even be­fore we were plan­ning the sign­ing store but be­cause of cer­tain se­cu­rity risks and cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties, we could only give them very sim­ple and me­nial tasks such as re­stock­ing and clean­ing,” Ber­jaya Star­bucks rep­re­sen­ta­tives said in a state­ment for Arab News.

Their sign­ing stores changed the sit­u­a­tion and of­fered hear­ing-im­paired peo­ple bet­ter jobs and ca­reer pro­gres­sion. Es­tab­lished in con­sul­ta­tion with the SID, the out­lets in Kuala Lumpur’s pop­u­lar hang­out area Bangsar and in Ge­orge Town, Pe­nang, em­ploy 14 deaf part­ners.

We aim to build tal­ents here and the mind­set of the com­mu­nity needs to change be­cause we can­not be solely sur­viv­ing on cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity do­na­tions or sup­port to sus­tain our­selves.

Cindy Leong

Sign lan­guage in­ter­preter

AN photo

Em­ploy­ees bake and pack cook­ies for sale at Silent Ted­dies Bak­ery in Kuala Lumpur. It was founded in 2004 by Cindy Leong, a sign lan­guage in­ter­preter.

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