Cooking school gives confidence to the disabled

Harun teaches a student to set a table during a training session at the academy. — Picture from Kagumas Culinary Academy
Harun teaches a student to set a table during a training session at the academy. — Picture from Kagumas Culinary Academy

BANGI, Nov 15 — Nur Elisya Amanda Ahmad Ridzuan may be physically restricted but that has not stopped her from leading a normal as possible a life as someone without any limitations.

The 19-year-old, who is unable to walk and has limited use of her arms, yesterday graduated from the Kagumas Culinary Academy here where she undertook a course in food and beverage training — and emerged a more confident person than ever.

“I was very withdrawn initially but how we do things here has helped me overcome my shyness. It started with singing... I was very happy when my fellow students and trainers clapped their hands for me.

“Later, I was taught how to bake muffins and when the testers liked what I had made, I was overjoyed,” she said.

Nur Elisya is just one of many individuals the founder of the academy, Harun Nordin, has helped.

A desire to help those with physical and mental disabilities have an equal chance at success in life led Harun to set up the academy.

Where others would be discouraged to train those with disabilities, Harun is emboldened to prepare them for the real world.

“There is no such thing as a useless human being. As long as one is willing to learn and ready to work, earning a living is easy and success is possible,” he said.

“I want to provide a platform of equal opportunity for those considered ‘not normal’ or ‘slow learners’, as some would call them; those who sadly don’t have a place in our regular education system.”

Kagumas focuses on skills development to help students become self-sufficient and independent.

“We have a weekly karaoke session and a monthly birthday event to give the students the space to express themselves and build their confidence. This has been hugely effective as a training method.”

Harun said the importance of creating hype over a graduation ceremony for the students as a confidence builder could not be understated, adding it provided them the “complete experience”.

“We have their families come over, have them dress up as graduates, and conduct a proper presentation of their papers. The effect on them and their families is priceless.”

Harun added the training the students received at the academy is far from informal: the school is affiliated to the City and Guilds of London Institute, a skills development organisation founded in 1878.

Students are taught culinary arts, pastry making and practical English and communications skills to help them overcome low self-esteem.

“We are 100 years behind the West in providing an equal opportunity platform for those with learning and physical disabilities, but it is not too late.”

Students enrolled at Kagumas are from a variety of backgrounds — some have been referred to the academy by their respective secondary schools, and others are from shelter homes and or without any formal qualification.

The academy started out as a food catering service in 1995, supplying food at major events such as the prime minister’s Hari Raya open house before it took in its first batch of students in 2009.

The students range from 16 to 50 years old with various physical and mental disabilities.

“Those unable to continue studies due to their disabilities have turned out to be the most creative and enthusiastic people I have come across,” Harun added.

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