Car wash more than just a job for Minds trainees

For 15 years, Ms Lim Sock Leng, who has intellectual disabilities, has been travelling from her home in Woodlands to a car wash in the southern part of Singapore for work. The trip takes her more than an hour, but she looks forward to seeing her friends at the car wash each day.

"The customers buy drinks and food and I've friends here. I'm not bored," she told The Straits Times, a big grin on her face.

Ms Lim, who is in her 30s, is one of 30 trainees with intellectual disabilities who have found work at the car wash opened by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) in 2001.

Minds chief executive Keh Eng Song said: "I think it is very successful that we've sustained Minds Wash for 15 years."

This is something that the voluntary welfare organisation could not have done without the support of SPC, which provides Minds with the car wash facilities, he added.

Minds Wash was started in 2001 at a BP petrol station in Pasir Panjang with funds from Merrill Lynch.

Three years later, SPC acquired BP's retail network in Singapore.

In 2007, SPC moved Minds Wash from Pasir Panjang to Telok Blangah "where the station is more prominently located and in clear view of the customers", said SPC managing director Xia Hongwei.

"Since 2004, SPC has been providing the venue to Minds Wash at no cost, with the aim of helping them integrate into society and encourage their development as independent and self-supportive individuals," he said.

In 2001, the aim of Minds Wash was to increase public awareness and social acceptance of the group. Then, the car wash serviced 14 cars a day on weekdays.

Today, it services an average of 70 customers a day and Minds Wash project officer George Koh estimated that 80 per cent are regular clients who come by with food and drinks for the trainees with intellectual disabilities.

This helps Minds pay the trainees allowances of $250 to $350 per month. Any leftover funds are channelled to the other 1,100 trainees in Minds' three vocational centres.

Retiree Yat Ah Kwok, 66, has been visiting Minds Wash weekly from his home in Punggol since he stumbled upon it four years ago while pumping petrol. Now, this is the only car wash he visits because he wants to support the cause.

"I won't go to other places. These people are all my friends. I've also told my friends who live nearby to wash their cars here," he said.

Asked if Minds will consider opening another car wash, Mr Keh said he would do so if any other kiosk wants to provide Minds with the space. He said Minds wants its trainees to go out of the sheltered workshops if possible.

"And if you ask me, this is much better than public education, public awareness, exhibitions and roadshow. You actually experience people with intellectual disabilities doing the work, you experience their capabilities," he added.

"That's why we always remind them to smile!"

The manual car-wash service is available at the SPC petrol station at 616 Telok Blangah Road, from 9am to 7pm on weekdays, and 9am to 5pm on weekends. A wash costs $8 for cars, between $4 and $6 for taxis, and $12 for vans. All proceeds go to the workers with intellectual disabilities as their wages.

This article was first published on Feb 2, 2016.
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