Empowering Youths with Special Needs Through Artisanal Craft: Q&A with Yeo Hwee Khim, Founder of PLove

Personalised Love (PLove) was founded in Oct 2014. Established both in the private and public sectors for corporate gifts as well as corporate team bonding events, their programs and products are channels to promote inclusiveness for this group of special needs youths.  Their clients include, Ministry of Education, NTUC, DBS bank, Cordlife, SMU, SBS Transit, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, etc.

Philosophy of PLove, is to Embrace , Empower and Celebrate. They believe in the abilities and gifts of each individual, despite of their disabilities. And that every individual deserves a chance to be developed to one’s fullest potential.

LadyBoss caught up with Yeo Hwee Khim, founder of PLove.

Q: Tell us more about Personalised Love (PLove). How long you’ve been doing it, and who are your clients?

A: Personalised Love (PLove) was founded in Oct 2014 on the belief that each special needs individual is gifted and we embrace each individual’s talent.

Currently for the youths graduating from SPED (Special Education) Schools, there are limited choices for further training or open employment.  Personalised Love filled a gap in the current pathway by providing customized training and employment for these special needs youth.  It is a pathway, which is a dignified career choice with opportunities for further training and upgrading.

Q: What is the inspiration behind PLove? What’s the idea and mission behind it? 

HweeKhim

Personalised Love (PLove) was founded in Oct 2014 on the belief that each special needs individual is gifted and we embrace each individual’s talent.

A: I was a practicing architect and urban planner for more than 17 years when I decided to take a break from my career to do some volunteering works. I was looking for ways to use my design and management skills to give back to society.

Back in 2013, I have known Grace Orchard School (GOS) through my church, so I decided to volunteer at GOS. When I first started volunteering at GOS, the school gave me a group of about 20 special needs youths who were 15 to 17 years old, a mixed of MID and ASD Students. I started conducting craft lessons with them; the types of crafts we tried included felt sewing, beading, floral arrangement and paper cutting. I try out a range of crafts to understand the abilities of the group of youths, and realized that MID students and ASD Students have very different challenges. I was inspired to tap on their natural abilities and gifts to produce good quality artisanal products of good quality.

Q: Why did you choose to develop the skills of this niche group – the students with special needs?

A: As I volunteered with the special needs school and also interacted with parents and teachers over the months, I began to understand their situation.

The group of students with me are students whom the school cannot find any work engagement or opportunities for. They have very limited vocational options once they graduate from the SPED school in one to two year’s time.  Their plight greatly affected me.

I am a mother of 3 teenagers, I cannot imagine how bleak it will be if my child graduate from the school system and have no work opportunities or ways to further develop their gifts.  By then, I had accumulated a wealth of volunteering experience to know that these group of youths can achieve more than the current education system can develop them.  It is about finding the right type of work to tap on their abilities and find creative ways to train and develop them.

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We realised that as a Social Enterprise, we cannot comprise on quality, we must be able to compete with competitors on the market in order to survive.

Q: You recently participated in The Best of You social movement. How do you think the values of The Best of You social movement is in line with PLove’s vision?

I think the values of the Best of You movement is very much in line with the core beliefs of PLove, we believe that the personal stories of our special needs artisans needs to be told, and the Best of You’s focus on the individual’s story, is an appropriate platform, which in my opinion is inclusive too.

The stories of our artisans are usually written by their parents or sibling, as they are not able to do so themselves, these are stories of daily struggles and challenges, of how they themselves as well as their families overcame the daily challenges with grit, determination and optimism.  These stories are not only inspiring but may also encourage others who are facing the same battle with disabilities in their daily lives.  Thus, we are glad that we are a part of this movement.

Q: What are the common misconceptions about social enterprises?

A: When we first started, we were met with many rejections, from corporate gifts to retail products; it was difficult for us to find the right customer mix.  Some rejections were due to the misconceptions that products from a social enterprise is of inferior quality, the other misconceptions are that we are a charity, some would rather donate money to us rather than buy our products. These rejections made us rethink our products range and pricing strategy as well as marketing strategy.

We realised that as a Social Enterprise, we cannot comprise on quality, we must be able to compete with competitors on the market in order to survive.  We must not operate with a charity mentality, expecting donations and free services, we must operate a business which is sustainable, just like any other businesses.

Q: Tell us about some programmes / initiatives / events that PLove participated and organized?

 A: We have a social integration program for team bonding where the special needs artisans will be engaged as the facilitators of the program, this not only helps these youths to gain confidence in interacting in a social and communal setting, they are also empowered to show off their abilities in artisan crafts.  The special needs artisans we engaged fall under the following categories:

-MID – Mild Intellectual Disability

-ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder

-Downs’ Syndrome

-Cerebral Palsy/Multiple Disabilities

Q: Where do you see the future of PLove?  Any plans in the near future? 

A: Having recently returned from Milan for a 3-months leather bag- making course from Ar Sutoria School, a renowned shoe and bag making school in Italy, I am very much inspired by fine Italian craftsmanship as well as the good quality leather and skins.   I am in the processing of using the knowledge and skills I have learnt from the Italian masters to create a new product range for PLove, which we are targeting to launch in later part of the year.

The Best of You is a social initiative by Julie’s Biscuits running in both Singapore and Malaysia that aims to create a positive change to the community we are living in. Since its inception in 2014, the movement has collected and shared thousands of inspiring stories from the public, artists as well as social organizations. Visit The Best of You’s official website to be part of this meaningful cause.

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