BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequality for people with disabilities as they grapple with limited access to services and job opportunities.

Noorsurainah Tengah, board member of social enterprise An-Nur Harapan, said while the coronavirus does not discriminate against who it affects, it has increased inequality among marginalised groups.

The world’s one billion population who are living with some form of disability are particularly more vulnerable to be displaced, she said during a graduation ceremony for differently abled youth who completed their training at An-Nur Harapan.

The UN reported that the world faced record-high levels of inequality even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and people with disabilities are often the poorest and most vulnerable.

According to government data, just 130 people with disabilities are employed in Brunei’s workforce, although recent surveys identified 480 who were able to work. A total of 9,282 people with disabilities are registered with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports to receive welfare assistance.

Last month, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah had said many employers were not keen to hire special needs individuals despite the provision of training programmes.

All special needs centres were forced to close in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which had caused a setback in An-Nur Harapan’s training.

The social enterprise launched its new training centre in September following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham (3rd R) and chairman of An-Nur Harapan Pg Hj Salleh Ab-Rahaman (6R) pose for a photo with UNIKLEARN’s trainees. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/ The Scoop

UNIKLEARN trainees complete internship

Seven UNIKLEARN trainees have completed their year-long training, including a three-month internship at several eateries.

Funded and managed by An-Nur Harapan since 2018, UNIKLEARN is a life skills and training programme to help youth with disabilities live independently and secure employment.

UNIKLEARN also celebrated the graduation of its first three female trainees in a ceremony at the Ministry of Health on Friday.

The apprentices learned community participation, social, independent living and vocational skills.

An-Nur Harapan general manager Melline Jaini said the UNIKLEARN graduates will either continue their internships, look for gainful employment or pursue further studies.

The UNIKLEARN programme started its pilot scheme in 2018 with five trainees and welcomed another seven apprentices last year.

Three trainees from the first batch and another four from the second batch have managed to secure jobs.

Melline said the programme’s goal is not just to secure employment for trainees, but to equip them with the skills needed to fend for themselves.

“We are not just looking at statistics… people keep asking how many success stories [we have].

“The trainees still have to perform and learn, we give them intensive training and soft skills for them to be able to entertain customers, be on the frontline, teach them how to conduct themselves in an interview as well as their body language,” she added.