New Sunday Times Special La gourmet ® NASOM Articles – Sunday 9th November 2014

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AN online Nielsen survey released this June revealed a telling aspect of new age buyers: 55 per cent out of 30,000 consumers from 60 countries said they would be happy to spend more money on services and products as long as they were from companies making positive social or environmental impacts. In an era surrounded by a myriad of consumer choice, value has translated to what we can give, not what we can get.

Kitchenware company La Gourmet International is one of the many striving to change the way we view value. Their new collection, Art Speaks For Me by Akhtar, is an effort to raise funds for the National Autism Society of Malaysia (Nasom). Akhtar is a 15-year-old autistic boy whose art decorates this collection.

HIDDEN TALENT

An active member of Nasom, Zuai, whose son Daniel is autistic, was the first to pitch the fundraising idea to Katrin BJ, the company which distributes La Gourmet.

“It started off as a charity project to raise funds for Nasom,” says Jean Yeap, managing director of Katrin BJ. “However, while working on the project, Akhtar’s drawings stirred something in our emotions,” she adds. “His sketches were so original and there was a great innocence behind his depictions.”

Then news broke that Nasom was to host the Asean Autism Conference & Games in May 2015. “We knew Nasom would need a lot more money than we could give them personally to host something as big and important as this,” notes Yeap. So her team went full throttle and hand-picked La Gourmet International to partner them. “We wanted his art to be on products that were environmentally friendly and also easy to use.”

Ten major retailers and two banks signed on to support the project. “They saw it as a shared responsibility to help make the future of autistic children better,” Yeap says. The banks and retailers lowered their margins, which means consumers get to enjoy savings of up to 60 per cent when purchasing anything from the collection. “All in, we have made the mechanics of sales in such a manner that all parties gain in the process of sharing,” she explains.

THE GAMES OF THEIR LIVES

“This will be the first time we will be staging a Games!” says an excited Dr Teh Beng Choon, the vice-chairman of Asean Autism Network. “Teams will comprise an autistic person and his/her non-autistic sibling or parent. These teams will compete against each other and we hope everyone will realise how they can win by working together as a team,” he points out.

Dr Teh also reveals that they are working towards bringing in autism experts as speakers. “We recognise that the communities in Asean are culturally diverse — we speak different languages but we have a strong common bond in aspiring to build supportive communities and services for autistic children.”

STROKES OF HOPE

“It is truly satisfying to bring Akhtar’s work to the world, and the world to Akhtar,” confides Dr Teh. “People with autism are often misunderstood, frowned upon, pushed aside in our busy daily lives, or worse, abused,” he says, citing low levels of awareness about the disorder.

In 2012, researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University found that 63 per cent of American autistic kids were being bullied at school. Autistic children in Malaysia don’t escape that either.

“People with autism develop differently. They view people, events and situations differently and therefore may respond to these in ways that we don’t normally expect. Therefore, we need to seek to understand them first, and then teach them to understand us,” adds Dr Teh.

For La Gourmet and Katrin BJ, the collection is the bridge that links people like Akhtar and the public. “Having autism didn’t stop Akhtar from producing beautiful, endearing art which can be transformed into a commercially viable project,” says Yeap, who mentions another important reason for the fundraising — the Nasom Skill Development Fund.

A portion of the sales will go to the fund which will see professionals training autistic kids and developing their skill sets to increase their chances of being gainfully employed in the future. “Instead of giving them fish, we teach them how to fish,” Yeap says, explaining why Katrin BJ decided to kick-start the fund.

Dr Teh concurs: “We are glad that part of the proceeds from the sale of the products will be channelled to developing skills and talents of autistic children, and perhaps create more opportunities for them, like what we have done for Akhtar.”

Yeap agrees: “They may be different, but they certainly are no lesser.”

The Art Speaks For Me by Akhtar collection is available at Aeon, Cold Storage, Isetan, Living Quarters, Parksons, Robinsons, Sogo and speciality shops of House of Presentation and Kitchen Shop.

Click HERE to purchase from our online store houseofpresentation.com