BG Coffee Project for the Disabled

Believing that they should teach people with disabilities ‘how to fish,’ Beautiful Gate (BG) Foundation is helping its members to process coffee beans for sale.

While the coffee beans come from Chiang Rai in Thailand, selection of the beans as well as roasting, grinding and packaging are all done locally by the disabled.

“Every sachet of coffee contains the toil and hard work of the disabled as they move forward in anticipation of a better life,’’ said acting executive director Ivy Pua.

Plans to expand the BG Coffee project include starting a home-based BG Café initially at its PJ SS2 center; if successful, a physical café may be set up.

To increase sales of its coffee product, BG is approaching cafes and corporates as well as recruiting angels for help.

Various promotions include, among other things, providing limited editions and seasonal packaging of the coffee products.

Besides coffee from the beans from Chiang Rai, BG also plans to sell coffee from other types of beans this year.

BG Coffee is sold online on The Artisans Haven, Lazada, Shopee and the BG Facebook; offline, it is sold at BG centers mainly in Petaling Jaya (PJ) SS2, PJ Maxwell Pharmacy and Graze Market in PJ.

Besides coffee sachets, other products offered on The Artisans Haven include wire art and handmade greeting cards.

There are plans to train disabled people to use the live platform to sell BG Coffee and other items, as well as share positive and motivational messages with the public.

The idea of starting this project came from a coffee workshop held in July, 2019; among the participants were disabled people and volunteers.

Follow-up to that, BG held monthly master coffee training sessions to teach them roasting, brewing and barista skills.

Currently, there are 15 members including some staff members, who are involved in the project.

“Due to our lack of experience in marketing, BG’s coffee sales are still low; we have not yet reached our target, and are not able to create more income for the disabled,’’ said Ivy.

Moreover, some trainees were unable to continue with the training, due to their disabilities in learning and physical movement.

“Nevertheless, we will look for more avenues to increase our coffee sales,’’ said Ivy.

BG has not much experience in selling overseas, there are locals who buy BG coffee as gifts for their overseas friends.

The highlands of Chiang Rai, located at 1,450 metres above sea level, has fertile soil and a humid climate, which are suitable for growing coffee.

In this ‘coffee paradise,’ the ethnic minority people called ‘Akha’ who used to farm opium, have been planting coffee beans since demand for coffee had soared in Thailand..

The coffee from Chiang Rai is known for its ‘sparkling acidity with a balance of caramel and chocolate sweetness, as well as almond nuttiness.’

Meanwhile, the home-based BG Café providing delivery of home-cooked food, coffee and other drinks as well as cakes, will likely be started in July.

“We want to teach the disabled how to fish, rather than provide them with the fish,’’ said Ivy, who herself had become paralysed at the age of 16 due to a blood clot.

A former expert in taekwondo, she had struggled to adapt to a new lifestyle where at one point, she had even contemplated suicide.

In 2001, she was introduced to BG, following which she furthered her studies at college and gained an Advanced Diploma in Computer Studies.

Ivy has represented Malaysia in, among others, the Commonwealth Paraplegic and Asian Para Games, and has taken part in leadership training courses.

She has travelled to over ten countries and in 2018, was made a councillor in the Petaling Jaya City Council.

At BG, Ivy is responsible for managing all its eight centers throughout Malaysia.

BG has assisted more than 2,000 persons with disabilities and their family members through its programs and services; there are 120 stay-in trainees, and a few hundred service users and day care trainees.

Helping the disabled to rise up

[Photos Wong Yoon Zhen, Hee Sin Chee and Grace Tan]

Beautiful Gate (BG) Foundation aims to create more opportunities in employment and entrepreneurship for the disabled.

Through the skills they have learned, they can hopefully, be self-reliant and remove the negative perception of the public towards people with disabilities.

“I want to cultivate more disabled leaders and help more of the disabled to rise up, live independently and be fully integrated into society,’’ said acting executive director Ivy Pua.

BG had received a grant from a bank foundation last year to help it carry out the BG Coffee project.

The wages currently earned from BG Coffee may not be much, but the participants get a sense of hope that they can also secure jobs outside.

Among the participants, Hee Sin Chee, has been involved in the sealing of coffee drip bags and packing, for the past one year.

She is able to manage the money she earns, which helps to meet her personal needs, and feels that she can live independently if she is able to get work outside.

Hee had been learning some computer skills, Chinese composition and picking up on basic education.

Before the Movement Control Order period, she was selling goods in SS2.

Previously working at the Kenny Rogers call center, Grace Tan’s job now is to insert coffee powder into drip bags and packing.

Having worked at BG Coffee for the past one year, Grace feels that she can be useful to society especially if she can secure a job outside.

Wong Yoon Zhen has been involved in weighing and packing of the coffee powder for the past five months.

So far, she feels encouraged by the work, and hopes to get a better job to sustain herself and serve in the community.

Wong is also learning some computer skills, and has another job sorting invoices and packing of other items.

With BG’s plans for expansion, these participants will a brighter future with further support from the public.

By Yap Leng Kuen, Chief Storyteller, The Artisans Haven.