lifestyle

M'sian Opens Bakery To Provide Employment Opportunities For The Local Deaf Community

Many Deaf individuals who have been fostered through Silent Teddies Bakery's system have gone on to successfully integrate themselves into working culture and earn a sustainable living.

Cover image via Poskod.MY & Silent Teddies (Facebook)

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Cindy Leong, the founder of Silent Teddies Bakery, is passionate about assisting the Deaf community and has big dreams of making a difference in the lives of Deaf people

Image via Poskod.MY

Speaking with SAYS, Leong said she grew up watching her mother help Deaf individuals and always welcomed them with open arms.

Seeing her late mum's passion and selflessness for Deaf individuals, she was inspired to pursue the same path and continue her efforts to make a difference in the Deaf community.

Leong was trained in special education and has been involved with the Deaf community for over 40 years and counting. Trained in sign language, she has interpreted for the Deaf community, both locally and internationally. She has also previously interpreted for RTM News, and has been advocating for television news to be inclusive of the Deaf community.

Despite having done so much for Deaf individuals in Malaysia, Leong decided to take her work one step further and provide education in life-skills for Deaf youths

Leong believes that young Deaf people need more than just accommodation from society. In line with the 'teach a man to fish instead of providing him with fish' philosophy, she wants to empower them and provide them with free vocational education. This is in hopes of giving them every chance to succeed in life as they may face more future challenges than most.

Leong reminisces on how she had set up some tables and chairs for her students in Ampang 27 years ago. She told SAYS that the size of her class started out with two students, but soon grew to 50 students.

Leong's life-skills lessons were soon established as an education centre called the Community Service Centre for the Deaf (CSCD) in Kuala Lumpur, which provided free vocational training to Deaf students.

But Leong still believed that there was more work to be done for the Deaf community.

After realising that the Deaf needed more than just education, she went ahead and founded Silent Teddies Bakery in 2004.

She realised that the Deaf needed more than just being taught life-skills, they needed an avenue to be employed somewhere they could then apply the skills they had learned.

"Even with an education, it is difficult even for our 17-year-old deaf students who have just graduated to find work in the corporate sector. I felt that vocational training might be the answer to providing a better future for them," said Leong.

She also realised that her cause of helping the Deaf community couldn't rely solely on the public funding and donations — it needed to generate its own independent cash flow to sustain itself.

By setting up the Silent Teddies Bakery, Leong is not only able to provide employment opportunities for the Deaf community, but is also able to reach out and benefit more Deaf individuals.

Leong helping package baked goods that were made by the Deaf employees at Silent Teddies Bakery.

Image via Cindy Leong (Provided to SAYS)

Despite the success and progress that came from Leong's efforts, she admits that it hasn't been an easy journey to get her cause and business to where they are today

According to Leong, getting funding for Silent Teddies Bakery to begin operations was tough. The venture was met with lots of discouragement from the public, saying that it was a waste of time and that it was going to fail.

However, with the help of supportive organisations and individuals, Leong managed to prove the naysayers wrong and trailblaze through the criticism to bring her vision to life.

She also credits the hard work she and her colleagues have put in to get Silent Teddies Bakery off the ground.

"In life, nothing is impossible to achieve when we have enthusiasm, optimism, confidence, and commitment. We always keep faith in ourselves to keep going and to stay strong," the Deaf community activist said.

Many Deaf individuals who have been fostered through Silent Teddies Bakery's system have gone on to successfully integrate themselves into working culture and earn a sustainable living.

The Silent Teddies team busy packaging orders.

Image via Silent Teddies (Facebook)

Delivering orders to IDS Medical Systems.

Image via Silent Teddies (Facebook)

As Silent Teddies Bakery gained traction, the cause began to expand and provide various services that would help push visibility and awareness for the Deaf community

Aside from creating working opportunities for the Deaf community, Silent Teddies Bakery also provides services such as Malaysian sign language (BIM) classes, sign language interpretation, and counselling.

Silent Teddies Bakery went on to earn awards such as the MaGIC Amplify Award (2016), and was granted prestigious accreditation such as the Social Enterprise Accreditation Status by the Ministry of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives (2019).

As Silent Teddies Bakery currently caters to the local market in Malaysia, Leong hopes that one day the bakery can break into the international market with the help of digital marketing and exposure on social platforms.

That way, Leong believes that the bakery will be able to help more Deaf individuals, especially those from the B40 sector.

Leong teaching sign language to 21 children from Charis Shining Stars during the School Holiday Baking Camp at Silent Teddies Bakery.

Image via Silent Teddies (Facebook)

Silent Teddies Bakery has come a long way since its humble beginnings, and Leong hopes to keep the ball rolling with the help of fellow Malaysians

The Deaf community advocate told SAYS that she hopes that Malaysians can extend a helping hand at Silent Teddies Bakery in whatever way they are able. Whether it is through volunteerism, donations, or even promoting awareness of the Deaf community, she believes that a little help goes a long way.

Leong emphasises the importance of creating opportunities for the Deaf community, wherein the deaf should be given a chance to work, integrate into society like regular people, and succeed just like anyone else, whether they are hard of hearing or not.

She also hopes that more establishments and companies will be willing to hire Deaf employees and create an accessible and friendly environment for them to work, which can be as simple as learning a little sign language to communicate with them.

"A company giving back and supporting social enterprises creates a cycle of social impact that is sustainable," Leong said.

Silent Teddies Bakery's team building, sign language, and baking workshop.

Image via Silent Teddies (Facebook)

All this month, SAYS will be featuring inspiring stories of extraordinary Malaysian changemakers in collaboration with Wiki Impact

Wiki Impact is an online platform dedicated to the impact industry. They share stories and data on issues that matter, highlighting impact-driven organisations and changemakers on the ground. Categories include poverty alleviation, social justice, gender equality, healthcare and education for all, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, impact influencers, and more!

Find out more here.

Image via SAYS

Lucy Lim, who is a sign language interpreter, is also no stranger to making a change for the Deaf community:

A F&B employee encouraged fellow Malaysians to start learning sign language after he served a deaf customer:

Read about how Starbucks opened an outlet in Penang run by a team of deaf employees:

Check out these other #SAYSWikiImpact100 stories about inspiring changemakers on SAYS: