Yap Leng Kuen talks to Sharayna Radhakrishnan of Gem and Bread about how MCO 2.0 deals blow to Gem & Bread. This second round of the Movement Control Order (MCO) period has made it very hard for not only small businesses but also schools for people with special needs, like Gem & Bread.
Gem & Bread, which has been running for six years, will temporarily close its premises but will continue baking cookies for Chinese New Year orders.
This repeated MCO period has made it very hard for the center to be sustained, as the sale of bread and cookies, which used to pay for the rental of its premises, has slowed down.
Moreover, classes are now online and founders Sharanya Radhakrishnan and Teresa Tan are making plans for online fund raising for future use especially when the center reopens.
However, the Covid-19 situation has to first regain some stability, to avoid confusion among students who are now taking online drama classes under Sharanya, a drama teacher herself.
While the center is closed during this MCO period, teachers Teresa and Adrian Chee, who have letters to go to work, are doing the baking.
Donations also come from parents; whatever money is being collected is used for utilities and tokens for the staff, besides rental.
Baking had remained the main fund raising activity since the first partial lockdown last year; with only three teachers – Sharanya, Teresa and Adrian – running the Gem & Bread project, there was no time to undertake another fund raising activity..
“The biggest challenge for us now is Covid-19 which arrived so suddenly and completely disrupted our progress and efforts,’’ said Sharanya.
They have to deal with the frustration and panic of not knowing when they can fully open again, and the concern that their students will regress from not being able to come to the center and continue their education.
On the daily Zoom classes, teachers focus on the creative arts – drama, dance, art – as it is a more adaptive form of learning.
During a time like this, it is important to engage the students in social skill activities, which is also part of their self-development.
“The most difficult part is that we are unable to conduct any job training,’’ said Sharanya, who believes that adults with special needs should be equipped with work skills and jobs that are meaningful and bring happiness to them.
Gem & Bread provided in-house job training in quill art card making, café training, baking and beading, for its 15 members aged between 18 to 43.
They would be assessed every step of the way, in the hope that they would be put into jobs that are suitable for them in future.
When the center reopens in a more affordable location, all these activities will be resumed.
There are students who have done impressive artwork at home and also interesting Tik Tok videos; the teachers are trying their best to engage them on an online platform.
Gem & Bread has students with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebra palsy, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Happy Puppet Syndrome and slow learners.
Over the past six years, Gem & Bread is proud to see the improved levels of confidence, social skills and overall happiness of its students.
“Students with cerebral palsy who came to the center not being able to put on gloves, are now able to cut vegetables, cook on their own, make bracelets with ease, and even do detailed art and craft such as quill art card making,’’ said Sharanya.
A particular student, Raveena Sivakumar, had chosen to be trained in baking, quill art card making and café training; she did well in all three areas from the end of 2018 till the end of 2019, and was working as a baker before the recent Conditional MCO period.
Having seen the students’ progress, Sharanya and her team hope that everything regarding Covid-19 will settle soon, and they can go back to doing what they do best – teaching and most importantly, learning from their students.
By Yap Leng Kuen, Chief Storyteller, The Artisans Haven.