>By Anis Ibrahim
MALAYSIA - People would be forgiven for ignoring an old bungalow next to the English College in Johor Baru, but what a shame it would be to do so.
The only thing that seems to announce its presence is a signboard in Jalan Sungai Chat with the word "Jaro" on it and an arrow pointing left.
Jaro stands for Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation, a charity which manages workshops for the physically and mentally challenged. Here, workers learn tailoring, bookbinding and basket weaving skills to earn a living.
The workshops not only give the physically and mentally challenged a new lease of life, the skills they acquire are meant to prepare them for proper jobs outside. In the meantime, the workers receive a salary, meals, travel allowances and also earn Employees Provident Fund and Socso benefits.
Those in the tailoring and basketry workshops are ultimately able to produce items such as clothing, pencil holders, storage baskets and even polo goal posts. And their quality of work has not gone unnoticed, even by royalty. Recently, the Tunku Mahkota of Johor, Tunku Ibrahim Ismail, submitted orders to Jaro for goalposts for the Royal Johor Polo Club.
On the same floor as the basketry workshop is the book-binding workshop which, according to Jaro manager Abdul Karim Yahya, is the organisation's most profitable workshop.
"We receive numerous orders from universities, public libraries, medical libraries, law firms, even the Singapore Library, to bind books, law reports and journals.
"Apart from these regular customers, we also receive individual orders to bind theses, reports, photo albums and scrapbooks."
Karim said since its inception in 1952, Jaro has trained around 650 PWDs, or "persons with disabilities".
"We have 45 workers now. Eighteen are physically disabled, 15 are speech and hearing impaired, 10 are intellectually challenged and two are blind."
As to the future of Jaro, Karim hoped that it could become a complete training centre for PWDs.
"We hope to have skilled trainers one day. We also hope that Jaro will be able to issue certificates to workers who have received adequate training.
"Our workers are meant to be well-equipped for jobs outside, but employers won't know what skills they possess without a certificate. How then are they supposed to gain employment?"
Karim also intends to expand Jaro's premises, allowing for larger workshops and the training of more PWDs.
"There were 27,000 registered PWDs in Johor as of last year. I hope to reach out to more people."
Jaro's products are available at the organisation's office and at outlets in Johor Baru City Square and Holiday Plaza.
For enquiries, call 07-224 5632 or visit www.jaro.org.my.