Our Stories: How working with plants helps our clients blossom

How working with plants helps our clients blossom

MINDS Farm trainee Wei Xiang happily works in the garden.

It started off as a budding idea by the MINDS staff, who were enthusiasts in cultivating greens. They had experienced first-hand how gardening could be restorative to the soul, through being exposed to the fresh air and sunlight while working with one’s hands.

That planted the seed for the idea to do something bigger. Why not introduce it to the clients they work with?

That was how MINDS Farm was born, a social enterprise geared at creating work and learning opportunities for MINDS trainees with the MINDS Idea Employment Development Centre (IEDC).

First, greenhouses and planter beds were set up, and the trainees were tasked to care for the plants. Once the produce flourished into batches of edible greens, it was sold to neighbours around the estate during IEDC’s annual farmer’s market. The experiment proved to be a great hit among staff and trainees.

But an upcoming renovation meant that available land was limited, and the farm production stopped. It threw a spanner in the team’s plans. They sourced for other ways to continue to engage the trainees meaningfully through growing plants.

Then another brainwave came.

Instead of just growing vegetable produce, the team experimented on potted household plants and reintroduced terrarium-making to the trainees, recalls IEDC training officer Joy Sit.

How plants bring out one’s creativity

Among them was trainee Ong Wei Xiang, 32, a client with Down’s Syndrome. Possessing a green thumb, he has always been good with plants and is known to take care of them whole-heartedly.

From initially knowing nothing about terrarium making, Wei Xiang soon mastered the art of making a beautiful eye-catching terrarium.

Today, he can carry out nearly all the steps in terrarium-making independently with little to or no assistance from his training officers. On top of that, he loves to exercise his creative flair in designing his own terrarium – which he communicates to Joy through a terrarium poster.

In fact, his terrariums have become so sought after that many of them were “snatched up by customers during bazaars that we participated in,” recalls Joy.

True to his helpful nature, Wei Xiang has guided his friends at MINDS Farm when they struggle with their terrariums. His outgoing personality makes it easy for the other trainees to interact and learn from him.

“Under supervision, he is also able to accurately pinpoint the aspects or steps that would need improvement, and model the correct steps,” she said.

Rabbit Open Terrarium by MINDS Farm trainee Ong Wei Xiang.
Rabbit Open Terrarium by MINDS Farm trainee Ong Wei Xiang.
Stories-MINDS Farm-Wei Xiang designing terrariums
Wei Xiang designing a terrarium.
Stories-MINDS Farm-Dragon Airplant Terrarium
Dragon Airplant Terrarium by MINDS Farm trainee Benjamin Wong.

As soon as Wei Xiang learnt terrarium-making, he was eager to learn more. That is when he started learning how to make kokedamas (moss balls).

But tying the kokedama ball and securing it is not as easy as it seems, especially as Wei Xiang has shorter fingers due to his condition.

Despite the challenges, Wei Xiang diligently kept at it, which saw him improve his fine motor skills. Today, he excels at tying kokedamas effectively and independently.

Stories-MINDS Farm-Kokedama - round moss ball feat. money plant
Kokedama design.

“He is nothing short of inspiring, for in the face of so many changes and challenges, he took them in his own stride. He was quick to adapt to changes and found ways to overcome his challenges. Once he sets his mind on something, he will do all he can to achieve it,” said Joy.

On why Wei Xiang is so motivated, his answer is simple: “I like to garden because I love plants.”

Today, MINDS Farm offers terrarium-making workshops and hosts bazaars for the public to attend.

He is nothing short of inspiring, for in the face of so many changes and challenges, he took them in his own stride. He was quick to adapt to changes and found ways to overcome his challenges. Once he sets his mind on something, he will do all he can to achieve it.

Ms Joy Sit
Training Officer, MINDS Idea Employment Development Centre (IEDC)

How plants give people a voice

Apart from developing employability skills, other trainees have also slowly blossomed into more confident, sociable and optimistic individuals.

When training officer Joy first met Fhulha Bte Mohd Ramli, she noticed that the latter was “shy and quiet”. Fhulha barely spoke, avoided eye contact and preferred to keep to herself.

Things completely changed after Fhulha, 35, was sent to work at the North East CDC’s community garden.

Over that one year, Joy was surprised to see the complete transformation in Fhulha. It turned out that being immersed in a completely new environment worked wonders.

Fhulha became more outgoing. She would initiate longer periods of eye contact to keep the conversation going. She also replies to Joy in a chirpy tone and readily strikes conversations with her friends. She even cracks jokes and teases her friends when they are forgetful.

“Having an assisted employment opportunity allows clients like Fhulha to experience the ‘outside world’, which exposes them to life outside of their norms and usual social circle while still being supported by their training officers…  I am elated to see her progress and I hope that we can continue to help Fhulha flourish as an individual,” said Joy.

A growing force for good

Stories-MINDS Farm-Valentines Day gift idea
Valentine’s Day gift idea.

Today, the programme has been pivotal in shaping MINDS’ trainees’ employability skills and personal development. On top of that, the proceeds from sales of the trainees’ terrariums and kokedamas go towards their allowance.

In addition, the trainees are taught on farming innovations to keep up with urban farming trends, thanks to partnerships with community partners including tertiary institutions. From there, they are placed to work at various community gardens in Tampines, as part of an inclusive employment collaboration with Northeast CDC.

In a way, the initiative will soon come full circle, as the trainees enjoy the fruits of their labours. This is thanks to a new farm-to-table concept, where the trainees will get to dine on produce that they have grown themselves and processed at the in-house kitchen for everyday meals.

“To see the trainees’ growth and perseverance to learn something that could be completely out of their comfort zone is inspiring and pushes me to learn from their resilience,” said Joy.

As MINDS celebrates over 60 years of serving the PWID community, we would like to commend our clients who have flourished through our programmes.

Idea Employment Development Centre (IEDC) established in 1992, serves over 300 clients and is actively involved in collaborative work with corporate partners and the community.

IEDC is one of three Employment Development Centres (EDCs) that provide a holistic environment for adults with intellectual disabilities to develop the vocational skills required to live fulfilling, independent lives. Learn more about EDCs and the programmes they offer here.

The sale of Social Enterprise products such as terrariums and cookies go towards providing allowances and sustaining training and development programmes for adults with intellectual disabilities. Support PWIDs by purchasing MINDS Social Enterprise products here.

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NOTICE OF THE 59TH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF MINDS: NOTICE is hereby given that the 59th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) will be held by way of electronic means as follows: Date: Saturday , 18 September 2020 Time: 9:30am (Registration starts at 8:30am) Venue: Online via ZOOM MINDS members will be receiving an email on the notice of AGM and are strongly encouraged to register your attendance to facilitate the verification process on the day of the AGM. For enquiries regardingthe AGM, members may email to agm@minds.org.sg or call 849607358