New Sibu Agape Center Building Gives Interns Life Skills, Job Training
SIBU (Oct 14): The Agape Center’s new RM13 million building extension, fully sponsored by the KTS-BLD Foundation, is set to officially open today.
It will enable charities such as the Association for Children with Special Needs Sibu (ACSNS) and the Methodist Care Center (MCC) to continue their noble efforts to support people with special needs in the central region.
Situated on 2.17 acres at Jalan Alan, construction of the new building began in March 2019 and was completed in May last year. ACSNS moved into the new building in October last year, followed by MCC about a month later.
ACSNS and MCC offer employment training programs for young adults with special needs in the new building.
ACSNS Administrative Director Hyacintha Wong said the building incorporates a multi-purpose concept to meet the needs of their interns, who are mostly young adults who have graduated from high school.
“This new location provides a safe working environment because we want them to feel safe, happy and secure working and training here. We want them to be able to get along with their teachers and mentors throughout of their training,” she said.
Agape Hostel, an ACSNS job training program, is designed to expose trainees to a real work environment and teach them how to get a job.
The hostel, which has seven rooms including two dormitories, was completed and furnished last December.
Rooms located on the second floor of the three-story building are equipped with facilities for wheelchair users.
Wong said the operation of the hostel is handled by the interns, including the upkeep and hygiene of the hostel’s bedding and rooms.
“What we do is we teach and guide them, for example, how to make the bed, do the laundry, iron the sheets and how to properly install the bedding, just like in a real hotel. These are household skills. Just like at home we make our own bed, here we also teach them self-reliance skills,” she said.
She added that the hostel is open for reservations by members of the public.
“The concept is like in a longhouse where guests or visitors can freely interact with each other and most importantly our interns can have the chance to mingle with the guests.”
For the dorm, the cost is RM20 per bed per night. It is available in dormitory configuration with 12 or 8 beds.
For a family room the price is RM89 per night, a double room is RM69 per night and a twin room is RM69 per night.
ACSNS also welcomes long-term stays subject to room availability. To book a room, contact ACSNS on 084-217911 or email [email protected]
The hostel includes a kitchen, dining area, toilets and showers as well as a balcony and seating area.
Wong said the resource store on the ground floor of the building is where they sell items such as books, therapy tools and other educational items that can help parents or families in children with special needs.
The market, which incorporates a convenient store concept, also provides a platform for ACSNS trainees to sell their handicrafts.
“Parents or families of people with special needs are encouraged by their speech therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists to come here to find items that can help them in a home setting.
“This is also where we display custom wooden chairs made by ACSNS for children with cerebral palsy. The item is being sold at a very affordable price,” she said.
Next to the resource store is a laundromat where Home Program interns will sort, wash, dry, iron and fold linens and bedding.
“We plan to open a consignment laundry service soon. The public can drop off their laundry here and we can service them for a fee,” she said.
Wong said at the back of the building is a recycling unit where recyclable items such as plastic, paper, glass and aluminum cans will be sorted by their interns.
“Trainees who have completed their training here will either be enrolled in our sheltered workshop or a Department of Social Welfare job-coach scheme. They have to go out and find a job outside. We send them to look for a job outside with the supervision of our teachers from time to time.
“MCC did it, but of course we have to give them proper training. We also need to build close relationships with potential employers and only then will employers be willing to hire them.
“One of the former trainees now works in a café. Like a normal adult, he earns his salary and lives alone. It’s good because it’s an achievement that we want to see,” she said.
There are 20 ACSNS staff members, including supervisors who are trained and have over five years of special education experience in the new building.
Learn from experience
Cynthia Cathrina Joseph is one of them. She has four young adult interns under her supervision.
Three of his students have been diagnosed with autism and the other has Down syndrome.
The Iban girl studied nursing before taking up her post at ACSNS in 2017.
Cynthia has five years of experience caring for children with special needs from the age of six months.
“When I was first given the task of caring for young adults about a year ago, it’s very hard to say because each profession has its own challenges. I didn’t know what to do especially when they had their meltdowns. There was a time when one of my students knocked on the table and raised his voice at me.
“I asked other teachers to help me calm the student down. As people have said, experience is the best teacher and I learned to deal with them,” she said.
Cynthia loves her job.
“Teaching them a very simple task like sweeping the floor and making the beds is not child’s play.
“It’s not just telling them to sweep the floor and then they will. We also have to demonstrate to them because we can’t expect them to have the ability to think like normal adults do” , she said.
Under MCC’s sheltered workshop program, young adults are trained in a variety of jobs such as packing spices, working in the kitchen and cafeteria, and washing cars.
According to MCC President Soon Kong Tiong, the spacious working environment in the new building gave the trainees the comfort to practice their skills.
“They receive training without any specific time frame. As long as they want to come, we will train them. They need a lot of time to understand and do a simple task. That is why we need extra efforts to guide and train them,” he explained.
Soon, MCC had 23 supervisors who signed up to train and mentor 80 adult trainees at the center.
“We divide them into part-time and full-time groups. This is due to transportation issues.
“They receive an allowance throughout their training. Most of them want to be here because it’s the place where they can meet their friends and they feel comfortable with this type of work environment,” he said.
Meanwhile, MCC supervisor Wong Kee Wei said the lack of manpower was the main challenge for MCC.
“We need more supervisors who are committed to guiding and caring for these special adults who have their own character, strengths and weaknesses,” she said.
One of the MCC interns in the new building is Rudy John, 35, who commutes daily by motorbike from Sibu Jaya with his younger sister.
His daily job is to weigh and pack spices and salt for a local company contracted by MCC.
Rudy, who has not finished his studies, is happy to be with his friends at the center.
Rudy’s friend, Amy Ting, 28, enjoys cooking at the MCC kitchen for her fellow interns.
Ting has been in vocational training at MCC for eight years after leaving high school.
Another trainee, Welson, 22, prefers making drinks to packing spices and salt.
He previously worked in the packaging department, but later moved to help manage the coffee operation of MCC.
Welson also cooks delicious burgers.