Autism Café Project (ACP) is a labour of love that was borne out of a father’s concern for his autistic son and his future independence. For people on the autism spectrum, socialising is an elaborate task with more exceptions than rules. To them, working in a normal office poses an insurmountable challenge, where guesswork becomes prevalent and misapprehension turns into a norm.
At first, founder of ACP Mohd Adli Yahya only wanted to provide a space for children with special needs to discover a sense of purpose in their daily lives. But ACP has now morphed into a humble platform to train autistic youths into entrepreneurs.
ACP had been operating from a café at Komuniti Kantin, Headstart Academy, in SACC Shah Alam before relocating to its new premises at DaMen Mall in USJ just three months ago. The café, which serves an array of dishes such as honey glazed chicken rice, curry puffs and toast bread, is now run by boys aged between 18 and 25, and a few volunteers.
But as luck would have it, the Full Movement Control Order (FMCO) took place just two months after, forcing the newly launched café to shut down temporarily.
Missing social contacts and altered daily regimen have put a severe toll on youths with developmental challenges, who have always relied on a consistent routine. Although Adli is keen on restoring a sense of normalcy, it is more important to keep the youth as well as volunteers safe during the pandemic.
“Due to Covid-19, anxieties manifest in sleeping or eating problems among the kids. To prevent that from happening, we try to instil a sense of purpose among them by giving them tasks. Even though they can’t work at the café, we’re asking them [with the help of their family members] to contribute remotely to our frontliners. This way, they can find meaning or a sense of consistency in their daily routine again.”
For families who can cook, they’ve been asked to cook different dishes such as kuih, fried rice or curry to be assembled into lunch packs for frontliners. Even though ACP’s physical store is closed at the moment, kind samaritans have been donating money to the team, which goes into buying ingredients for the lunch packs. For the past few weeks, ACP has managed to assemble at least 1,000 lunch packs for frontliners of Hospital UKM, Hospital Shah Alam and Hospital Sungai Buloh.
"It's times like these that the marginalised or vulnerable get left out and forgotten. I want the kids at ACP to feel included, to be able to contribute to the society especially during this pandemic in their small, meaningful ways. I'm very proud of them."
Donors can sponsor RM15 per meal, or contribute raw ingredients to ACP's meal packs.
Another way to pay it forward
The employment arm of NGO Dignity & Services, Bake with Dignity, has trained and employed individuals with learning disabilities to bake tarts, cakes, pastries and cookies using only the finest ingredients. But with the recent implementation of MCO 3.0, Bake with Dignity has had to halt operations to ensure their bakers’ health are not compromised. As such, it has rolled out a food voucher system to allow customers to redeem baked goods to support its cause in the meantime.
“We are very thankful that people are still believing in us and supporting us and trusting that at some point, we will honour our promise to fulfil their orders,” says job coach Pang Hin Yue.
For companies who want to support Bake with Dignity, Pang suggests to order goods from them instead of simply donating money. “By giving us steady demand, you keep us going,” she says. “Journey with us this way, buy up the vouchers and let us cater to your corporate meetings, birthdays and events. It will be good morale for the bakers [to know] that they’re not a charity case and to show corporations what they’re capable of.”
Purchase Bake with Dignity’s food vouchers here or call 010 288 1203.