Ra­bat restau­rant chal­lenges ex­clu­sion of men­tally dis­abled


RA­BAT: In a coun­try where nearly half of peo­ple with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties are un­em­ployed, one restau­rant in the Moroc­can cap­i­tal is part of a pi­lot pro­ject tack­ling the prob­lem.

When a cus­tomer en­ters the Hadaf restau­rant in the cap­i­tal’s busi­ness dis­trict, noth­ing in­di­cates that many of the staff are dis­abled in any way.

Take Amr, an en­thu­si­as­tic 28-yearold in a crisp white shirt and black trousers.

He scouts the street for prospec­tive clients as front of house staff add vases as the fin­ish­ing touches to ta­bles. “I first learned in the can­teen,” Amr said.

“Now I take or­ders from cus­tomers in the restau­rant — I like the con­tact with them, get­ting to know each other,” he added.

The ex­per­i­ment was launched by a lo­cal as­so­ci­a­tion cre­ated by par­ents to shake up prej­u­dices and serve as a spring­board for young peo­ple with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

The job­less rate for such peo­ple is 47.65 per­cent, four times the av­er­age in a coun­try, which has 2.3 mil­lion dis­abled, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished last year by the Fam­i­lies Min­istry.

Soumia Am­rani is on the board of a hu­man rights group and the co-chair of a dis­abil­ity-fo­cused col­lec­tive. She be­lieves the bat­tle to in­te­grate must be­gin at an early age.

“You can’t pre­pare chil­dren to be so­cia­ble and learn to join so­ci­ety if they stay on the mar­gins of that so­ci­ety,” she said. “They must be inside so­ci­ety to learn with ev­ery­one else."

In the kitchen at Hadaf, 28-year-old Moed, chef’s hat perched on his head, is de­lighted to have a trade after spend­ing just three years in pri­mary school.

“I have learned a lot from my col­leagues. I am very happy and my fam­ily is proud of me,” he said.

Morocco’s 2011 con­sti­tu­tion says those with dis­abil­i­ties should be able to “in­te­grate and re­ha­bil­i­tate into civil life.”

But things are dif­fer­ent in re­al­ity. Just 41.8 per­cent of dis­abled young­sters aged be­tween six and 17 go to school, and in the six to 11 range that fig­ure falls to 37.8 per­cent. An­other in­di­ca­tor that there is a prob­lem is that a third of home­less peo­ple suf­fer from some form of dis­abil­ity.

“This restau­rant? It’s a good thing for me and the cus­tomers,” said Moed as he chopped pars­ley for the salad of the day, all grown from the restau­rant’s own or­ganic gar­den.

Other young peo­ple bus­ied them­selves at the kitchen work sur­faces as skew­ers of meat siz­zled on the flames. The restau­rant is part of the Hadaf Cen­tre — Hadaf means “goal” in Ara­bic — that was es­tab­lished 20 years ago by a group of par­ents and friends of peo­ple deal­ing with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

To­day, it looks after 90 young peo­ple in the greater Ra­bat area, with more on the wait­ing list.

In ad­di­tion to the cater­ing busi­ness, oth­ers un­dergo train­ing in such di­verse ar­eas as gar­den­ing, jew­elry mak­ing, car­pen­try and sewing. Their stud­ies have to be paid for, un­less fam­i­lies are too badly off to af­ford them.

Amina Mes­fer is the driv­ing force be­hind the pro­ject. She has an adult son of 38 with men­tal and sight dis­abil­i­ties. “It be­came clear to me very quickly that I could not do ev­ery­thing on my own, but that get­ting a group to­gether meant we could work on so­lu­tions,” she said.

“There were care struc­tures in place, but only un­til they were 21 — as if a men­tal dis­abil­ity mirac­u­lously evap­o­rates at that age — and then our chil­dren were left to their own de­vices.”

The Hadaf Cen­tre also has a guest­house that pro­vides some in­come and gives the young peo­ple the chance to so­cial­ize, said Mes­fer.

Since 2016, a cen­ter funded by the Mo­hamed VI Foun­da­tion has pro­vided train­ing and diplo­mas.

Five stu­dents trained by Hadaf have al­ready been able to ob­tain cer­ti­fi­ca­tion there — ba­si­cally a pass­port to a job.

Which is ex­actly what Amr hopes will hap­pen.

“When I’ve learned my trade well, I’d like to work in a restau­rant or ho­tel,” he said, a great big smile on his face.

A woman suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness works in a restau­rant of Morocco’s Hadaf as­so­ci­a­tion on Sept. 26 in Ra­bat. (AFP)

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