Improving Rights and Opportunities for Citizens and Youth with Developmental Disabilities in Malaysia

Children’s laughter, coloring time, puzzles, math worksheets, and outside exercise… the activities, sights, and sounds of school.

April 20 I visited Wings Melaka, but this “school” was different  – Wings Melaka is a Center for Developmental Disabilities.  The youth at this center are special needs, and the teachers and staff are dedicated professionals and parents working to provide learning opportunities to bring out the youth’s full potential. In a country where rights and opportunities for those with disabilties barely exist (there is even a stigma against recognizing the issue), Wings Melaka’s staff and parents are joining together to petition for the govnermnet and community to recognize the basic rights of citiizens with disabilites and to provide education, training and opportunity for their futures. Wings is also creating best practices for special education and promoting special needs education and support in the major school system. Upon arrival in Melaka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I was greeted by Executive Director, Dr. Boon Hock Lim, at the bus station.

Immediately we departed for Wings Melaka’s location to visit staff and experience Wings first hand. I toured the facility, seeing all of the toys and resources available for parents and the youth. Their resource library was full of dvd’s, books, trainings, educational toys, and more for not only the teachers but also for parents to be able to rent and take home for after school is over.  I was able to observe and help out at Wings’ School Age Programme observing the class and spending time with the kids. The teachers were committed, patient, and creative making sure each student was busy completing his and her activities for the day. Some of the students’ favorite activities were coloring and some were puzzles. Many of the students in this class had autism and other development disabilities.

Wings Class in Action

Wings Class in Action
Class activities and resources -organized on a “tasks for the day” basis practicing focus, structure, and then reward for completion

Physical Education time – stretching and running races

Next, I visited the Young Adults Programme. Run by two of the orginal founding parents, this provides life and skills training for 18-25 year olds and teaches everything from cooking meals and cleaning, to employment and job training.   I met 3 of the current youth program attendees – all young men learning and practicing together the basic skills of life and even breaks for physical exercise.

This woman is one of the founding parents of Wings Melaka. Her and her husband now run the Young Adults Programme – and are so inspiring. Their son is one of the students in the program.  She explained that often there are little to no services for job placement, so after experiencing the lack of opportunity, Wings Melaka expanded its services. Speaking with this family was incredibly inspiring – despite their struggles they find solutions and are hopeful creating change both in the lives and on a public level for those with development disabilities.

At the end of the day, I sat in on the weekly Parent Support meeting (Coffee Session) where parents can share struggles, experiences, and questions to support each other raising children with special needs. Some of their children were autistic, some hyperactive, and some had very rare developmental diseases.  The parents opened up and began to share their experiences both with Wings and their children for example when they found out their child had a form of developmental disability like Autism and then the process of finding the right support and education. All of the parents shared the improvements they have seen with their children after being at Wings. There were tears, laughter, and encouragement.

A unique aspect of Wings’ program that inspired me was that at least 1 parent/guardian is required to attend sessiona and practice with their kids. This is because Boon Hock explained to me that the learning process only BEGINS at Wings, but in order to make progress it must be continued at home consistently. Wings Melaka is providing the tools and training for the youth and their families for a brighter future with options, possibilities, and hope when before it was a future full of questions and fear. Also, it was wonderful to see kids, staff, and parents from all backgrounds, languages and cultures – all seeking a better future for their children.

At the end of the day, Wings staff and parents provided this “Thank You” award and card to me and GlobalGiving on behalf of the support for Wings Melaka.

GlobalGiving InTheField Representative | Texas

Jacqueline is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving and is now making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

For more information about GlobalGiving, click here.