Less-abled learn to regain self worth in Mong Kok

Local | 4 Dec 2020 1:57 pm

Located in the middle of  bustling Mong Kok, Dignity Kitchen offers an array of mouthwatering Singaporean fare — from piping-hot laksa (noodles in a spicy coconut milk broth) to fragrant slices of chiffon cake flavored with the essence of pandan leaves.

But what sets Dignity Kitchen apart from other restaurants is that it is a social enterprise, almost entirely staffed by employees with reduced physical or mental abilities. The restaurant trains them to prep food and cook, as well as serve customers.

“It’s important to help the disabled or the disadvantaged people, because they are at society’s bottom of the pyramid,” said the restaurant’s founder, Koh Seng Choon,  61, who launched the restaurant in January.

“They are the people who need help. If we can get them a job, they will be out of the poverty cycle.”

At the claypot rice stall, an employee with autism — who, according to Koh could barely communicate with strangers before his training — enthusiastically introduces the dish to customers who ask about it.

“We used to prepare a script for him,” said Koh, smiling proudly. “But now, 8 months, 9 months later, he can’t stop talking.”

Ming Chung, who less visually-able, found employment at Dignity Kitchen as an administrative assistant. Using voice-to-text technology, Chung co-ordinates with other organizations and handles email as well as phone inquiries.

“Director (Koh) told me that he doesn’t care about our disabilities, he only focuses on our abilities,” Chung said. “This really inspired me and touched my heart.”

Others, like Carol Wong, who is mildly intellectually less abled, has picked up knife skills at the restaurant that could eventually be transferable to food preparation roles in the industry.

“At first I was afraid, but since I started working in this restaurant, I’ve become unafraid of chopping food,” she said.


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