Home / Entertainment / Malaysian mother of two starts home for people with disabilities during pandemic

In good and bad times, our ties with family and community bind and strengthen us. This Our Malaysia column celebrates how Malaysians care for one another and make this country better for all. Please share your inspiring Malaysian stories with us. Email us at lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

One might wonder why Celemie Phang, 37, started a home for the differently-abled during the Covid-19 pandemic when there were many restrictions and operations would be more challenging.

But the mother-of-two says that Pusat Kebajikan Chen Ai OKU (Chen Ai) was established due to a pressing need.

The pandemic had affected many breadwinners’ incomes, including those who have family members with disabilities or children with special needs, and they were unable to pay for daycare for their loved ones. Many special needs care centres were a

Malaysian mother of two starts home for people with disabilities during pandemic

In good and bad times, our ties with family and community bind and strengthen us. This Our Malaysia column celebrates how Malaysians care for one another and make this country better for all. Please share your inspiring Malaysian stories with us. Email us at lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

One might wonder why Celemie Phang, 37, started a home for the differently-abled during the Covid-19 pandemic when there were many restrictions and operations would be more challenging.

But the mother-of-two says that Pusat Kebajikan Chen Ai OKU (Chen Ai) was established due to a pressing need.

The pandemic had affected many breadwinners’ incomes, including those who have family members with disabilities or children with special needs, and they were unable to pay for daycare for their loved ones. Many special needs care centres were also closed during the movement control order.

Phang herself has an eight-year-old special needs child, so she understood how these families felt. When her income was reduced due to the movement control order, she could not afford to pay daycare fees for her daughter, who has a speech impediment and learning disability.

“I realised that there were many people in the same boat as me.

“These families needed a place where their loved ones would be safe and well-looked after,” she says.

Phang (left) helping to feed a resident at the centre.Phang (left) helping to feed a resident at the centre.So, together with six other friends, Phang started Chen Ai, which is located in Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya, in June last year.

“We provide a clean and conducive home, balanced meals and activities for our residents, and we don’t charge them or their families a single sen,” says Phang, who is usually at the centre everyday from 10am to 5pm.

They carefully review each person for eligibility before accepting them.

“This is to ensure that we have room for those who really need it.”

Chen Ai accepts individuals with mental or physical disabilities.

According to Phang, most people find out about them through word-of-mouth, social media or referrals from religious organisations.

Currently, the centre houses 23 residents – nine male and 14 female – aged between five and 77. The majority of them have learning disabilities.

“There’s this mother and daughter who both have a mild learning disability. Since the father passed away, there was nobody to look after them and they were brought to the centre. They are inseparable and every moment is spent in each other’s company,” shares Phang.

Saturday is massage therapy day for residents who are sedentary and need to improve their blood circulation.Saturday is massage therapy day for residents who are sedentary and need to improve their blood circulation.“We also have a five-year-old boy with Down Syndrome whose single mother has to work until midnight to support them. She can’t afford to hire a helper to look after him so she sent him to our centre.”

Another resident is a 21-year-old man who fell down and injured his head when he was a baby.

“Due to a failed brain surgery, he’s no longer able to walk, talk, eat nor drink by himself, and needs to be fed and bathed,” says Phang.

“There are also two uncles in their 50s who are bedridden because they had a stroke.”

Phang adds that group activities are planned for residents who are more mobile.

“We have group exercise sessions such as walking around the centre, cycling on stationary bikes, and even Zumba dancing,” she says.

“For residents who are sedentary due to stroke or physical disability, we arrange for a massage therapist to come every Saturday to help improve their blood circulation and flexibility.

“We also have a special needs teacher who comes to teach some of the residents how to lead a meaningful and active life,” says Phang.

A special needs teacher giving lessons to the younger ones at the centre.A special needs teacher giving lessons to the younger ones at the centre.The centre also takes residents who need medical care for their check-ups.

“Some of the residents need medicine for hyperactivity, diabetes, high blood pressure or other conditions, so we will get it for them from the government clinic,” she says. “(The medicine) is usually free, but we bear the transportation costs.”

Monthly rental for the centre’s premises is RM5,000 while utility bills run up to around RM2,500.

“This is mainly due to the household appliances. We need to run the washing machine five times a day to wash all the residents’ clothing and bed linens.

“Some wet their beds and we need to make sure the environment is clean and that there is no bad smell,” she explains. “We also have two freezers and refrigerators to store all the food for the residents,” she says, adding that there are three live-in staff at the centre to help with the cooking and cleaning.

Doing the right thing

Although this is the first time that Phang has started a charity, she is no stranger to charitable acts.

Blood pressure is taken every morning for older residents who are in the high-risk category.Blood pressure is taken every morning for older residents who are in the high-risk category.“Before we started the centre, my friends and I would often visit and send groceries and supplies to other charity organisations,” says Phang, who works part-time remotely for a freight-forwarding company.

“That’s why when the MCO happened and families were impacted, I discussed with my friends and said, ‘Why don’t we set up a centre to look after the disabled so that their family members can have peace of mind?’

“They can go to work and earn a living and not need to worry about their loved ones who’ll be in good hands,” she says.

When visitors were not allowed during certain phases of the movement control order, Phang says they helped family members keep in touch with the residents via video calls, as well as photos and videos sent through WhatsApp.

For residents who are more mobile, group exercise sessions such as dancing are organised at the centre.For residents who are more mobile, group exercise sessions such as dancing are organised at the centre.

Although it’s a relief that movement restrictions have now been lifted, she says they still need to be vigilant, especially when accepting visitors because the residents are in the vulnerable group.

“Visitors need to be fully vaccinated, and of course, masks, hand sanitising and social distancing are a must,” she says.

Phang, who used to work in the accounting line, says that her background has influenced how she runs Chen Ai.

“I’m rather particular about how I manage this centre. We not only want to make sure that we’ve enough for the residents, we also want to make sure there isn’t any excess so that there’s no wastage from spoilage or expiry of food or other perishable items,” she says.

“If people wish to donate, we hope that they’ll call first to find out what the centre needs because we’re accountable for the donations received, whether in cash or provisions, and we want to manage it well.”

If they receive extra fresh produce or perishable items, Phang believes in paying it forward and shares them with others in need.

“We’ve sent vegetables to other homes for the underprivileged and toiletries to the low-cost flats in Kelana Jaya,” she says.

Phang says there are many more people in need.

“A lot of people have requested our help to take care of their loved ones, but I’ve had to turn them away because we don’t have any more room. I need to make sure that our existing residents live comfortably and that the rooms aren’t overcrowded,” she says.

Visit facebook.com/chenaimalaysia/ or chenaimalaysia.org/ for more info.



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