Our Stories: Rising to every challenge in school and work

Rising to every challenge in school and work


Looking at Muhammad Asyraf Bin Abu Zarim, 21, confidently serve customers at a major food and beverage (F&B) chain today, one might not have guessed how his journey was like.

Asyraf, who has intellectual disability (ID), had always been a quiet and reserved individual during his schooling days in MINDS Woodlands Gardens School (WGS).

Shy and soft-spoken, he hardly spoke up among his peers or with his teachers for fear of making a mistake — a common trait among students with special needs. He is also easy-going in nature. For instance, if classmates asked Asyraf to do favours like helping to collect items for them, he would gladly oblige without any complaint.

Former Woodlands Gardens School student Asyraf pictured with his teacher Adilah

While these traits made Asyraf an endearing student, his teachers were concerned for his future in the workplace. “Our biggest concern was if this keeps happening and he doesn’t speak up, he may get bullied or taken advantage of in future,” says his former teacher Mdm Noor Adilah Bte Ngadi, 40.

WGS teachers thus created opportunities to encourage Asyraf to become more assertive and hone his leadership skills. He was later appointed as the school’s head prefect, and Adilah proudly shares how Asyraf “bravely rose to the challenge and tried to learn as much as he could to improve himself.”

Through his responsibilities as a head prefect, such as rearranging classroom settings, setting up chairs in the school hall for events and overseeing other students, Asyraf gradually became more comfortable in speaking his mind and taking charge. He was awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Exemplary Student Award for students with special needs and was the top graduate in WGS in 2019.

Knowing that Asyraf was interested in pursuing a job in the F&B sector after graduation, his teachers and job coaches began training him in skills relevant to the sector, like hard floor cleaning and food preparation.

To better help students like Asyraf integrate into the workforce, teachers also organise role-play sessions in the classroom. The students would act as servers, take orders, practise speaking clearly and confidently, and learn how to handle difficult customers and situations. Part of this training includes teaching students how to deal with negative comments and criticism while remaining professional.

Asyraf cleaning tables at work.

With the School-to-Work (S2W) programme, Asyraf worked as a part-timer at a major F&B chain, who ensured that Asyraf could continue with one more year of support.

Initially, Adilah says they were hesitant to match him with such a role as it can be a “high-intensity and stressful” environment, given the F&B chain sees a lot of diners that come in huge numbers.

Thankfully, Asyraf adapted well to the demands of his workplace.

With Asyraf’s willingness to learn, pleasant and quiet disposition, and the hard work and dedication he put into the job, Asyraf proved himself as an asset to his employer, Adilah shares. Impressed by Asyraf’s work ethic, the company offered him a permanent job.

Asyraf continues to be happily employed as part of the service crew with the F&B chain’s outlet at Causeway Point. The teachers at WGS regularly drop by to check-in on him, and are heartened to see that he is doing well. Recognising his work ethic and contribution, his employer gave him a promotion recently.

The journey of growth and maturity never ends, even in the workplace. An avid football fan, Asyraf recently floated the idea of switching jobs to his mother as he is often get assigned the busy dinner shift, and stays up late to watch football matches. This makes him tired the next day.

The passion teachers of students with special needs is also a long-lasting one. “We told him that even if he changes jobs, it will still be tiring,” Adilah states in a matter-of-fact manner. Adilah and Asyraf’s former teachers are taking the chance to remind him how this is a lesson in resilience and perseverance.

Singapore, including employers and customers in the F&B sector, is becoming more inclusive of persons with special needs. For Adilah, an inclusive Singapore looks like one where employers are patient and open to hiring Persons with Intellectual Disability (PWIDs), especially with current trends in the labour market.

Working together with her fellow teachers and job coaches, WGS has successfully matched students with other large F&B chains.

“I’m proud of Asyraf for being able to take on this challenge, and I would love to see more people like him having the chance to join and be part of mainstream society,” she concludes.

As MINDS celebrates its 60th anniversary, we would like to encourage more individuals and organisations to join us in creating an inclusive and diverse workforce.

Learn more about the framework and road map towards an inclusive workforce here and partner us in creating meaningful and lasting job opportunities for PWIDs 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