Leavening Positivity at MINDS Bakers
When Mr Esmond Lou Wee Kang joined the SIA-MINDS Employment Development Centre (EDC) in 2017, it was clear that he was less than enthusiastic about the tasks he was first assigned. Being very shy and introverted added another layer of difficulty – Esmond struggled to adapt to his new environment. It was not long before his attendance, along with his morale, flagged.
5 years later, there is a vastly different story to tell. Geared up with spatulas, scoops and spoons, we now see a confident, motivated young man who enjoys his work with his peers.
Recognising a smart cookie
“Esmond is one of our leading figures,” Training Officer (TO) Mr Mohd Rohaizat Bin Amat (or Zat) declares. Zat has been working with Persons with Intellectual Disability (PWIDs) at MINDS since 1998 and envisions an inclusive society “where they can contribute to the best of their abilities”.
Recounting Esmond’s journey, Zat, 53, describes a withdrawn youth who took little interest when he was first introduced to MINDS Bakers, having been coaxed back to the EDC after a brief period of absence. Scooping cookie dough onto baking trays, Esmond remained reluctant to participate fully. Despite his indifference, the TOs had more in mind for him. Being literate and having a good concept of numbers, Esmond was quickly put onto tasks requiring a higher competency. “The responsibility boosted his confidence and interest,” Zat says.
Determined to help him bloom, the TOs encouraged him to do more.
Moulding a leader
Esmond began assisting the TOs in pre- and post-production activities. A deft hand at taking attendance, weighing pre-mixes, packing and labelling, he also became group leader, helping his peers of differing abilities manage their work.
It is a role which Esmond is sometimes a little tentative about. Zat, however, has no doubt Esmond will grow more comfortable in his role as a peer leader just as he has with other special responsibilities like taking care of the oven, maintaining the storeroom, tracking orders on the iPad and entering temperature data in the desktop spreadsheet. Esmond has, too, completed the Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) Basic Food Hygiene Course.
Constant chats with his TOs have been sources of support and assurance, building up his self-belief and sense of purpose; along the way, a bond of trust and camaraderie has also grown. The TOs usually manage to tease Esmond out of what Zat refers to as his “passive mode”. These days, the 24-year-old is a daily presence, and does not hesitate to remind the TOs about details which may have been overlooked.
“He is an asset!” Zat affirms.
Whipping up excitement
MINDS Bakers, where Esmond works, has seen a transformation of its own since its humble beginnings in 2010 as a therapy programme to hone motor skills and boost teamwork. 2 years later, it evolved into a fully operational kitchen to prepare clients for employment in the food and beverage sector.
A decade on, MINDS Bakers caters to large corporate orders and weddings through online retail, and has even participated in the 2020 President’s Challenge Families for Life NDP campaign.
In 2021, the MINDS Bakers facility was upgraded, with an expanded space encompassing new features and equipment. “Like moving from a flat into landed property,” Zat quips. The clients were all excited, not least Esmond.
However, the renovation posed a challenge for the trainee-bakers, who had to adapt to working in a smaller, unfamiliar area in the interim. But Esmond, as group leader, took pride in supporting his peers through the disruption. He may be shy, Zat notes, but he is friendly and always willing to offer a helping hand, lifting the team’s morale.
Over the years, Zat has seen Esmond grow into a more positive individual with the courage to take on new challenges. He is comfortable with his peers, with pressure and with the intensity of the work in MINDS Bakers.
He is happy. Having discovered a passion for what he does, Esmond has set himself the goal of becoming an assistant chef one day.
“My hope for Esmond is for him to be happy and confident wherever his interest takes him,” Zat says. “It really is a privilege to work with him and his peers.”
As MINDS celebrates its 60th anniversary, we invite the community to nurture and celebrate the potential in every PWID.
MINDS Bakers aims to create employment opportunities for PWIDs and support the upgrading of their skills. Pick up our popular baked goods, with personalised packaging for any occasion here.
Check out our other social enterprise projects like MINDS Craft and MINDS Shop here.