When her sister Gayana was 14-years-old, Nipuni Wijewickremas (Nip) became worried about the lack of employment opportunities available to her, as a person with Down Syndrome.
“I wanted her to do something different, to live her own life and have a bit of responsibility.”
With her stepmum Geetha’s help, Nip made the decision to leave full-time work to start a family business: GG’s Flowers, a socially sustainable florist that employs people with special needs.
“We had no idea what we were doing but I left my job and trained as a florist and we made it works,” says Geetha.
“We started in the spare bathroom, and three and a half years later I’m proud to say we have moved all the way to the back shed,” says Nip.
“Gayana’s role is to deliver the flowers with a hug. She tells you you’re cute, and if you need to paint your nails.”
Nip says she’s never been more overworked and tired but is grateful. “I think it’s so important for Gayana’s friends to feel the same empowerment she feels every day.”
But her hard work has paid off. In 2016, Nip won ACT Young Australian of the Year for developing the socially sustainable business model, and for changing the way Canberrans think about inclusion. The business employs eight people, all with special needs.
Nip says she has many families contacting her to ask if GG’s Flowers will hire their special needs family member, and her heart breaks that she can’t hire everyone.
But, she says, “The more flowers we sell the more people with disability we can hire.”
Article originally published by The Feed SBS Viceland Reporter Una Butorac here.