Spe­cial cafe run by spe­cial peo­ple

Stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties train to cook, serve food to public


At first glance, the Spe­cial Hands Café seems like any other com­mer­cial cafe in Metro Cebu.

It has a dis­tinctly na­tive, re­laxed am­biance as seen in its white chairs and neatly ar­ranged ta­bles cov­ered in brown and white fab­rics and hand­i­craft on dis­play at a shelf on the side.

Cus­tomers are usu­ally greeted by Yas­min, the cafe's 27-year-old wait­ress who flashes a sweet and con­fi­dent smile as she hands them the daily menu.

“Your food will be served in 15 min­utes. Please wait,” she would say.

And in his deep, yet friendly voice waiter An­drew takes and de­liv­ers the or­ders to the cus­tomers who are stu­dents of var­i­ous schools, mem­bers of or­ga­ni­za­tions and the par­ents of the cafe's staff. Train­ing ground Yas­min has Down's Syn­drome while An­drew has a de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­ity.

Both are among the more than 20 stu­dent staffers of Spe­cial Hands Cafe with Down's Syn­drome, autism and in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties.

The Spe­cial Hands Café at F. Ramos Street, Cebu City was set up by Stages Cen­ter Inc. and serves as a train­ing ground for its stu­dents with spe­cial needs.

“We de­cided to open the café so our stu­dents have the venue for train­ing. Here, we can teach them how to work like other nor­mal peo­ple do,” Marie Ma­casero, head of Stages Cen­ter, Inc., said.

Ma­casero said the cafe isn't open on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

“We al­ways make sure that our stu­dents are ready to work in the café. We train them or do sim­u­la­tions be­fore let­ting them do the ac­tual job,” she said.

Each of the cen­ter's stu­dents are as­signed to spe­cific tasks, de­pend­ing on their skills and tal­ents. Ea­ger stu­dents As a wait­ress, Yas­min is more in­clined to deal­ing with peo­ple while Fran­cis Niño's writ­ing and math skills qual­i­fied him as cashier.

Fran­cis sits in­side a kiosk at the right side of the café.

“I love writ­ing. Look! I wrote my com­plete name here,” Fran­cis said, point­ing to a pad of pa­per filled with scrib­blings of his name writ­ten in his clean pen­man­ship.

Ma­casero said the stu­dents were quite ea­ger to learn how to work in the cafe ever since it opened last Au­gust 17.

“We are proud to say that these stu­dents pre­pare the in­gre­di­ents of all our food prod­ucts and they cook them. They also pre­pare the drinks and ev­ery­thing we of­fer,” Ma­casero said. Rou­tine The stu­dents are guided by the teach­ers to avoid mishaps.

The café of­fers sand­wiches, pasta, cakes, chips and dif­fer­ent kinds of bev­er­ages.

“Our earn­ings from the café goes to the stu­dents as well, for their projects, for the café’s main­te­nance and for the pro­grams we have ini­ti­ated for them,” Ma­casero said.

Ma­casero said the cen­ter re­ceived pos­i­tive feed­back from or­ga­ni­za­tions and schools that dined in their café.

“It has even be­come a rou­tine that af­ter our cus­tomers eat, they ask for a group pic­ture with the café staff, and we take that as a pos­i­tive sign that our stu­dents did well,” she said. Con­tri­bu­tion Three ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dents of the Cebu In­sti­tute of Te­chonol­ogy-Uni­ver­sity who vis­ited the café once said they were in­spired just by look­ing at the café staff.

“It just re­ally feels good to see that these peo­ple, even if they have lim­i­ta­tions, they are do­ing their best. I find it very touch­ing,” said Mary Eunesse Mon­tene­gro who has a brother with spe­cial needs.

Mon­tene­gro and her two class­mates are mak­ing a the­sis study on the ap­pro­pri­ate struc­ture and build­ing forms for peo­ple with spe­cial needs.

“Af­ter see­ing the peo­ple here in Spe­cial Hands, we

are get­ting more ideas on what the out­come of our project would be. And we want this project to be our con­tri­bu­tion to help­ing peo­ple with spe­cial needs,” Mon­tene­gro said.

A month af­ter they started op­er­a­tions, Ma­casero said the cen­ter sees great po­ten­tial from the stu­dents and looks for­ward to giv­ing stu­dents more op­por­tu­ni­ties in tak­ing big­ger work re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Happy peo­ple The Stages Cen­ter, Inc., is co­or­di­nat­ing with fast­food chains and restau­rants for the pos­si­bil­ity of hir­ing these stu­dents.

The cen­ter is also ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Tech­ni­cal Ed­u­ca­tion and Skills De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (Tesda) for more in­ten­sive train­ings for the stu­dents in food and bev­er­ages ser­vices.

Through Tesda, Ma­casero said the stu­dents can se­cure cer­tifi­cates that can help them land jobs in restau­rants and sim­i­lar es­tab­lish­ments.

“It is re­ally our goal to let these stu­dents go out and be part of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion. We want others to see that even if these peo­ple have in­tel­lec­tual and phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions, they can ac­tu­ally do a good job, ” Ma­casero said.

When they're not work­ing or study­ing, the cafe staff also visit malls and parks for their weekly com­mu­nity train­ings. They also watch movies and go to mu­se­ums.

On Fri­days, the stu­dents make lanterns and other hand­i­craft for dis- play in the café.

“Aside from their de­ter­mi­na­tion to fin­ish the projects and ac­tiv­i­ties we as­sign them to, we can see that they are happy peo­ple,” Ma­casero said.

With sup­port from the cen­ter and their fam­i­lies, Yas­min, An­drew and Fran­cis may see a bright fu­ture ahead of them.

‘ We are proud to say that these stu­dents pre­pare the in­gre­di­ents of all our food prod­ucts and they cook them. They also pre­pare the drinks and ev­ery­thing we of­fer. ’ — Marie Ma­casero, Stages Inc. chief

Spe­cial needs stu­dents work side by side with their teach­ers to serve cafe cus­tomers with sim­ple fare they helped pre­pare and cook.

The Spe­cial Hands Cafe is not open to the public on a reg­u­lar ba­sis yet, but has drawn fa­vor­able re­sponse from its clien­tele of stu­dents and or­ga­ni­za­tions.

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