Many youths with special needs aged out of Special Schools at 18 with limited opportunities and training. They are less adaptive to open employment due to their varying degree of sensory and behavioral challenges. Societal understandings of how they are differently able also limit the available avenues for them. Stretched resources in terms of time, money and family support added to the odds against this group of individuals. As a result, most are left at home or enrolled in Day Activity Centers. If not purposefully engaged, these individuals will regress and lose skills acquired over the last 10 years of training in school. Furthermore, they will become our societal problem 20 - 30 years later when their caregivers are no longer around. At Mustard Tree, we aim to engage these individuals who have fallen below society's radar, train them in skills of industry standards so that they are better placed to be gainfully employed or be stay at home entrepreneurs, with support from their families. We believe in creating an environment whereby their abilities, no matter how small, are celebrated. Their sensory and behavioral challenges are embraced as these are what make them uniquely different from you and I. Each of our apprentice is exposed to a variety of craft training like sewing, jewelry making, card making, decoupage, etc. We will identify their individual gifting, upon which we will help them to build up their skills. Our experience as parents to an Autistic child also inspired and motivated us to be active advocates and champions for differently able persons. Our retail store goes beyond a brick and mortar outlet. It is a venue which showcases the talents of apprentices. It gives authenticity to each of the product you see, as it is made and produced right before you. The shop draws together a community of support for our cause, and gives us the opportunity to share with others the challenges faced by this group of differently able individuals. Many people have stepped forward to offer their skills, time and resources to us. Our corporate video is one such project. It is sponsored by The Fat Farmers - helm by renowned photographer Bob Lee. We also have 2 weekly workshops where volunteer help to train a group of youths in craft skills. Yet there are others who frequently stop by to give our team members encouraging words and prayers. We are truly blessed in mind, body and soul! In addition, we are constantly on a lookout for opportunities to connect individuals who want to play a bigger part in this community. Recently, an Austrian Children's book author collaborated with one of our clients and published 5 books - all illustrated by the artist. More projects will be in the pipeline. At Mustard Tree, we aim to engage, empower and enable differently able individuals to lead a purposeful and dignified life - to be the best that they can be.
Soek Ying Koh