cross the world, persons with disabilities take on a plethora of challenges, but the real ‘disability’ is how often society defines these people by their disability.
At anakkita.cookies in Perak, the guiding principle for its owner, Intan Hazlina Shamsul Badri, 43, is to make her bakery a workplace that is responsive to persons with disabilities (OKU) as well as a workplace that ‘enables.’
From humble beginnings in July 2020, baking several types of biscuits under anakkita.cookies brand at her house in Kamunting, Intan Hazlina was steadfast in her resolve to help OKU feel empowered to network, learn and grow.
Today, the Ipoh-born entrepreneur enjoys brisk sales for her quality and savoury biscuits from her bakery at Jalan Tupai in Taiping, with overwhelming demand from customers, including those outside the state.
A former special education teacher at a secondary school in Kamunting, Intan Hazlina was fuelled by her passion to help her own disabled students, to succeed both academically and in life, like others.
But it broke her heart to know that her students were subjected to discrimination especially when seeking jobs after completing their studies.
Intan Hazlina, who brings with her 14 years of teaching experience at the school, said that her students comprising those with learning disabilities, syndrome down, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as well as deaf and mute, were not only having difficulties in getting employed, but were also victims of discrimination.
Those employed, she shared, were not fairly treated, not respected and were also faced with stigma issues, not only from employers but also colleagues who regarded OKU as incapable or producing their best.
“They often complained of being bullied and in most cases, none of the employers were willing to hire OKU, and some employers did not pay their salary. On that premise, I was determined to take the initiative by providing a place for them as well opportunities for my former students to learn and work,” shared Intan Hazlina, who now resides in Taiping when contacted by Bernama.
QUALITY NOT SYMPATHY
Sharing her life’s journey, Intan Hazlina recalled that her decision to venture into business was triggered by a dark episode in her life when her fourth child, who was then one year and 11 months old, succumbed to some health issues. But she later persevered and bounced back from the doldrums.
“Praise to Allah, there are 20 OKU fulltime trainees at my bakery, that is, 14 men, six women aged 17 to 36 years old and they are staying in Taiping. I hope to own the first factory fully hiring OKU employees,” she said.
Her life’s journey was not without its challenges. At the onset of running the business, response to her products was rather lacklustre due to the hurdles arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Intan Hazlina recalled that she had just paid her three-month rental and utility deposit for her shop before the Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced nationwide. After three months there, she then decided to operate from her home to avoid losses given that she had already bought raw materials for her biscuits.
Albeit the challenges, Intan Hazlina soldiered on as the major driving force behind her mission was to help her OKU students whom she believes, should not be disabled in spirit as well as physically. Today, she is the proud owner of a bakery, with her OKU staff as her pillar of strength, with her success piquing the interest of a popular social media influencer.
“Since then, I was overwhelmed with large orders from the surrounding areas, government agencies and the private sector. We also received orders from outside Perak through online sales.
“Due to the large orders, my own friends, including teachers have also volunteered to give me a hand,” said Intan Hazlina, who started her business with a RM50,000 capital through personal loans from her family.
The mother of five siblings, who produces various types of biscuits including signature cookies, sea salt choc chips, kuih bangkit cheese, cranberries cornflakes, bread and cakes, said priority is given to quality to ensure her products are appealing and meet her customers’ expectation.
In fact, Intan Hazlina, who does not want the public to buy her biscuits out of sympathy, said she has set her mind on changing the stigma that is labelled on OKU products as ‘low class’ while there are some who are cynical and regarded her as taking advantage of the disabled to generate profits.
While satisfied with the growth path achieved by anakkita.cookies, Intan Hazlina admitted that it was not easy handling OKU workers as a high degree of patience is needed in teaching and training them.
In fact, there were challenging situations when all biscuits were damaged, uncooked and not fluffy as some workers switched off the microwave oven earlier assuming that it could save electricity.
intan Hazlina Shamsul Badri.
There were also some who were overly committed to work that they did not take leave and did not return home after working hours, but Intan Hazlina, managed to deal with the worker-related issues, calmly.
“There were teething problems such as workers who could not understand instructions, did not ask questions, acted on their own, slow at grasping information and could not use common sense. As a result, I had to suffer losses in terms of raw materials, human resource, problems related tantrums and health.
“I was also confronted with productivity issues when they could only afford to produce less than 20 biscuit jars within eight working hours, as this is based on the ‘buddy’ concept practised at the workplace. Parents would also be called for a discussion when disciplinary cases affecting their children are involved,” she said.
According to Intan Hazlina, the buddy concept was introduced to hone the workers’ skills with the efficient group playing the role as mentor to the weaker colleagues.
The workers would usually undergo two years of training until they are fully skilled in their respective tasks, said Intan Hazlina, who is assisted by a fulltime supervisor at the shop for management duties and biscuit production, adding that they have yet to acquire the skills for packaging work.
Intan Hazlina’s determination to help this group with special needs caught the attention of two renowned business icons, namely Mydin Managing Director Mydin Mohamed Holdings Bhd and Tuu Dia Paktam Founder, Ruslin Ibrahim, who gave a space for anakkita.cookies to be promoted at their premises.
OKU AND RIGHTS
"Our products are marketed at Mydin during festive seasons and they are also available at Tuu Dia Paktam cafe outlets in Selayang and Putrajaya Hospital.
“Our mentor is celebrity chef Anne Idris or better known as Siti Saleha Idris, who injects motivation as well as provide business guidance during her visits to the shop,” she said, adding that anakkita.cookies has also been appointed as training provider at the Pusat Aspirasi Anak Perak (PASAK) for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme for OKU. Looking ahead, Intan Hazlina is optimistic of her business prospects and hopes to get her products under the anakkita.cookies on the shelves of supermarkets nationwide.
She also expressed hope that more people would take a similar route by providing opportunities and a platform for OKU to gain employment, and hence, helping to ease concerns among the parents on their children’s future.
People with disabilities, she said, should be given their rights to employment, independence and they should be accepted by the people, noting that community stigma towards them should also be removed.
“Despite the achievements, I can’t afford to rest on my laurels. While many OKU have applied for work, I have not been able hire them due to constraints at my bakery.
“What I can do is to inform other parties such as the Member of Parliament for the area, agencies involved to help ensure the OKU are given a place to pursue their training or career after completing their studies,” she added.
Translated by Salbiah Said