Providing Therapy and Training to the Disabled in Sarawak
Heart Treasures, located in Kuching Malaysia, is a social enterprise that provides a ‘dignity-for-life’ transformation to young people with physical and intellectual disabilities with the ultimate goal of giving them the opportunity and a chance to lead a fulfilling life.
“According to a Sarawak newspaper, there are 46,096 registered people with disabilities (both 18 years old and below, and 18 years old and above) in Sarawak. There are only 44 rehabilitation centres in Sarawak and less than 5% of job opportunities available for people with disabilities,” said Kiew Boon Siew, founder of Heart Treasures Sdn Bhd.
How It Started
Heart Treasures was founded by Kiew Boon Siew and Bong Pei Fong in 2011. They wanted to create a space where people living with intellectual and physical disabilities can have the opportunity to participate in art therapy and develop communication and fine-motor skills.
“When we started Heart Treasures, we played around with the idea of recycling and protecting the environment. In our first year, most of our products were recycled and upcycled products, with added value to become a meaningful item,” said Kiew.
“For the disabled below 18 years old, they can go to the rehabilitation centres. After they reach 18, they can no longer go to those centres. Their parents or guardians think of them as a burden, and unfortunately don’t treat them well,” she explained.
Kiew started Heart Treasures because she was passionate about creativity and innovation, and cared deeply about the community, heritage, culture and environmental conservation. She has 17 years of corporate experience in finance and accounting.
Co-founder Bong Pei Fong started Heart Treasures alongside Kiew as she is extremely passionate about community sustainability and creativity. She comes from an arts background with 11 years of experience working with handicrafts and within the vintage industry.
“Each piece created at Heart Treasures is made by our artisans during their art therapy. Each item is created with upcycled materials. All proceeds from the sales go back into Heart Treasures so that we can continue to provide a safe place for our artisans,” explained Kiew.
Heart Treasures is a social enterprise which gives youths with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, down syndrome, slow learners and autism, aged 18 years old and above, therapeutic programmes in the form of art therapy. They are trained to improve their fine-motor skills. In doing so, they improve their chance of being employed. Special mothers such as depressed mothers and single mothers are provided with job opportunities as well.
“We are a pioneer in using art and craft for healing. Our angels are taught to roll paper bits to strengthen their nerve system. Eventually, they can even detect the thickness and type of paper. Before joining us, some of the angels can’t hold a spoon. Now after joining us, they can do it,” she explained.
“For most of the angels who come here, about 60% of their parents were already looking for a place to abandon them. That was why Heart Treasures was established - we uplift their skills and provide therapy to change their character and attitude. At the same time, we prove to the families that they are good - don’t throw them away and don’t abandon them,” said Kiew.
“How can a human being be almost abandoned and neglected? We transform them into meaningful people,” she said.
Growing the Social Enterprise
As recognition for its good work, Heart Treasures was selected to be a part of the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) Accelerator Programme, and a year later, it was conferred the Amplify Award. The social enterprise was also selected to attend an international leadership programme in the USA.
In addition, Heart Treasures is a part of the Pemangkin Usahawan Sosial Hebat (PUSH) programme, and supported by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and MaGIC. PUSH is a scale-up programme with an ambition to grow social enterprises and increase their social impact through a personalised capacity building and skills development training.
“We do a lot of research and development (R&D), therefore the challenge is to find the funding to pay for the R&D. We also realised that we needed to do a lot of marketing online,” said Kiew.
“PUSH helped us in three main areas - financial, networking and coaching. Many of the mentors gave us ideas on how to market internationally. We became an accredited social enterprise. We networked with Deakin University in Australia, and we established our own website in 2020. We achieved a lot. Through the PUSH programme, we know how to categorise, classify and train the angels,” she added.
How You Can Help
The public and companies are welcome to support Heart Treasures and its angels by giving donations and buying their products. There are accessories, jewellery, bags, stationery and toys for sale.
For more information, please visit their website and Facebook page.