There isn’t much Subhan says without a smile. When he starts talking about the family he’s found at Wisma Cheshire, he’s beaming. When he explains how the vocational training facility for people with disabilities arranged English-language classes for him at Wall Street Institute, he dons a confident grin.
And even when the conversation turns to how he ended up at Wisma Cheshire, he looks down at his legs and begins the story about how two years ago, the 25-year-old was riding on the back of a friend’s motorbike when it smashed into a car, paralyzing him from the waist down. He juts out his chin and somberly nods.
But Subhan has many more reasons to smile. As the assistant manager of the Wisma Cheshire’s woodshop he’s in charge of doling out paint, nails and other materials to residents who assemble unique doll houses, castles and toy boxes that are sold at bazaars to help pay the wages and fund the activities at Wisma Cheshire.
“I really like living here,” Subhan said. “I feel like I have a family here. I feel independent and I have access to all these experiences and all this education, like going to Wall Street Institute and this August I’m enrolling at University of Swadarma to study management and accounting.”
But there are 31 other residents like Subhan at Wisma Cheshire, located in Cilandak, South Jakarta. Thirty-one individuals who all have their own responsibilities as part of a team that creates some of the most unique and inspiring woodwork and handicrafts in Jakarta.
The volunteer-run organization, which has educated citizens and lobbied the government on behalf of people with disabilities since 1974, is determined to see its residents move out and move on.
Wisma Cheshire works with local businesses and organizations to provide those living in the residence with the skills they need to find work. Some former Wisma Cheshire residents have started their own businesses, while some have moved on to jobs at places like HSBC bank and the professional firm Ernst & Young.
Wisma Cheshire works hard to break down old stereotypes, stop alienation of the disabled, and gives residents the skills they will need to rejoin the workforce.
Doing your part
If you wish to help Wisma Cheshire and its residents, there are a number of ways to get involved. You can buy products made at Wisma Cheshire, volunteer your time, advocate for equal rights or even hire a person with disabilities to work in your office.
“Don’t treat disabled people the old-fashioned way,” said Petty Elliott, the former president of Wisma Cheshire, who now serves an umbrella role as supervisor, running individual development programs for residents. “The people living here are just like everyone else, we shouldn’t say ‘Oh, kasihan [too bad for them].’ They’re not sick. We need to give them opportunities and challenges just like everyone else. Give them these opportunities and they will blossom.”
Two of Wisma Cheshire’s residents who would love a challenge, table-tennis-wise, are Tarsilem and Namin. But be warned, they are both crack shots.
Tarsilem, who has been with Wisma Cheshire since 2001, will be representing Indonesia nationally in 2013.
“I’m going to Riau at the end of this year for the PON [National Games] and then to Myanmar in 2013 to compete in the Southeast Asian Games,” Tarsilem said. “I started to play it here at Wisma Cheshire four years ago and I became an addict.”
Namin has his eyes set on London. “Hopefully I’m going to the Olympics Games in London for the table tennis competition,” Namin said. “I’ve already won at the Southeast Asian Games level, a silver medal in the singles category and a gold medal for the doubles category.”
Wisma Cheshire might be most famous for its handicrafts. Most residents make their living in the residency’s sewing room or the woodshop, sanding or painting the sought-after doll houses or sewing one-of-a-kind table mats, napkins, coasters and embroidered towels. The products are sold on-site and can also be found at bazaars and markets around the capital.
Wisma Cheshire also recently launched a new mission, the Young Voices Project, meant to inform people, especially young people with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 25, about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by Indonesia in 2011. The convention focuses on the right to employment, education and accessibility for the disabled. However, just because it was ratified doesn’t mean it has been implemented.
“We want to train young people so they know their rights,” said Mudi, the national coordinator for Young Voices. “Once the members of Young Voices know their rights they can campaign for [the convention] by informing the media, government and other stakeholders.”
Each month Young Voices gathers to discuss topical issues and see what progress has been made in relation to the practice and implementation of the convention.
“We also help one another find jobs by talking about vacancies for disabled young people,” Mudi said.
The newest piece of good news for Young Voices happened on Thursday. The group was given a new minibus, specially outfitted for disabled passengers.
“The minibus is very important for Wisma Cheshire,” said Mahmudi Yusbi, the national coordinator of Young Voices. “Previously we always had to rent a bus when we needed to take people with disabilities to do activities … More importantly, the minibus will also help Wisma Cheshire when it comes to loading the handicrafts and woodwork products when we participate in bazaars sponsored by women’s clubs in Jakarta.”
While Young Voices is fighting to get the word out, volunteers are also doing their part to bring attention to Wisma Cheshire.
Volunteers like Rachel Jackson breathe much-needed life into the organization. “I found out about Wisma Cheshire while I was attending expat bazaars, seeing the products made by the people at Wisma Cheshire, then by meeting other volunteers,” Jackson said. “I started to get involved because I love the idea of people making items, selling them and then getting back the profits.”
For volunteers like Petty and Jackson, it’s easy to make time when you know the effort you’re putting in is changing the world around you.
“There are many ways to do charity work even though so many of us lead busy daily lives in Jakarta,” Petty said.
Count Me In is a volunteer initiative intended to change and impact lives, one story at a time. If you know of a volunteer organization you would like to see profiled by Count Me In, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tel. 021 769 2059
Petty Elliott: email@example.com
Laksmi Pratiwi: firstname.lastname@example.org