Students with special needs intern at Istana

Murial Chua, 16, cutting kueh as she chats with President Halimah Yacob at the Istana kitchen, where the teen has learnt to make cookies and kueh over the past two weeks.
Murial Chua, 16, cutting kueh as she chats with President Halimah Yacob at the Istana kitchen, where the teen has learnt to make cookies and kueh over the past two weeks.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

They pick up skills in Istana's kitchen, Spice Garden; stint there a first for these students

After watching baking videos on YouTube, 16-year-old Murial Chua decided she wanted to be a baker.

"I was inspired by the colours and the decorations," said Murial, who has a mild intellectual disability.

She took a step towards fulfilling her dream when she landed an internship at the Istana, where she has learnt to make cookies and kueh over the past two weeks.

She is among seven Secondary 4 students from the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Katong School on an internship at the Istana kitchen and Spice Garden.

Over 10 sessions lasting 32 hours, the interns either pick up culinary skills from the Istana's chefs or horticultural knowledge from National Parks Board curators. The programme aims to boost their chances of getting full-time jobs.

Yesterday, President Halimah Yacob met the interns at their workplace and chatted with them over cakes and spring rolls they helped to prepare. Noting that it is not easy for APSN to secure such stints for its students, she called on employers to do more.

"Students really need these internships and it does not take a lot for (employers) to provide that kind of experience, knowledge and skills to them," she said. "You may need to modify the work processes a little bit here and there, but those are not insurmountable obstacles."

EMPLOYERS CAN DO MORE

Students really need these internships and it does not take a lot for (employers) to provide that kind of experience, knowledge and skills to them. You may need to modify the work processes a little bit here and there, but those are not insurmountable obstacles.

PRESIDENT HALIMAH YACOB

HIGHLY MOTIVATED

It's my first time working with students with special needs. They are not that different from other students. They may lack focus, but are way more driven to learn.

THE ISTANA'S JUNIOR SOUS-CHEF MUHAMMAD ADI REZZA FAUZILAN

It is the first time students with special needs are interning at the Istana, although there have been interns from polytechnics.

The Istana's junior sous-chef Muhammad Adi Rezza Fauzilan, 28, coached Murial and three other food and beverage interns. Instead of sticking to a rigid plan, he asked the students what they wanted to learn, and they chose baking.

"It's my first time working with students with special needs. They are not that different from other students. They may lack focus, but are way more driven to learn," he said.

The idea for the internship originated from Madam Halimah's visit to APSN's Centre for Adults last month - her first public event as President. After the visit, APSN Katong School's culinary trainer and job coach Han Xuan Chou, who used to work as a chef at the Istana, pitched the idea to his former Istana supervisor.

The school's principal Yazilah Amir said students apply skills like stamina and discipline during the internship. She hopes to lengthen the duration and involve more students, if there are future runs.

Horticulture intern Muhammad Solehan Hamid, 16, who has a mild intellectual disability, appreciated the chance to work independently.

One task he found challenging was transplanting herbs like holy basil into the garden, as soil must be packed carefully around the plants to keep them upright.

"But I just kept pushing myself to do better. I feel like I've improved a bit so far and I want to continue to learn more skills," he said.

Madam Halimah said that with guidance, students with special needs can contribute meaningfully.

She added: "I hope more employers will open their doors, open their hearts, and provide opportunities to our students, so that we truly mean what we say when we talk about being an inclusive society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2017, with the headline 'Students with special needs intern at Istana'. Print Edition | Subscribe