Initiative: DIGNITY KITCHEN
The Dignity Kitchen is a bit hidden among other buildings. It took us quite a few minutes to get to the right place. But once we entered, we had no doubts it’s a place of change. In a big room they organized a food court with many stands selling different kinds of food and drinks. In the middle lots of tables. In the corner, office desks with people working in front of computers or going around to meet others. And in the most visible wall just one question: Did You Had Your Dignity Day?
I trained over 400 people with disabilities – says Koh Seng Choon, founder. We offered over 40000 lunches to elderly people in the last 6 years. As entrepreneur, I provide employment for 60 people. The biggest success is the transformation of disadvantage people who start to earn money, make a living. They get their dignity. Their own money to spend. And they also come back and pay for lunches for elderly. They understood the logic behind this place. It’s very touching.
The logic is simple: people with different kinds of disabilities: physical, mental, social, participate in trainings and are employed, getting their own salary and, above all, dignity. In the first stand of the Dignity Kitchen food court, you can buy your coffee, served by deaf people. In another stand: a single mother works together with a person with mental disability, selling main courses. In the next, one worker has no left arm, another worker is without the right hand, but together they are a good team preparing wonderful desserts.
The biggest challenge is not money. The biggest challenge is empathy. People’s perception of those with disabilities. When I started I gave people badges where it was written: “I’m blind”, “I’m mental”. What happened? There were zero buyers. Clients got scared: mental people cooking? For two weeks we had no sells, everybody run away. Finally, one guy even told me: you have to be mental yourself to make mental people cooking for us. He thought it’s funny. But it was not. The mental guy cried in the backroom. What did he do wrong? He just wanted to make a living. And just because we show others they are mental or blind, people don’t buy. He cried. I cried. We took out the badges. That was when I learned that the biggest challenge is empathy. Everywhere, not only in Singapore.
Today, thanks to Dignity Kitchen and other similar initiatives, empathy slowly comes back to society. The food court is full of people. Clients, organized groups, elder people who after the city tours created by Dignity Kitchen, can come here for lunch instead of spending the all day close in their houses. The number of projects designed for those who were excluded from the society is constantly growing. But everything started very small.
Why I do this? Few years ago I started to think: why there is no homeless people in Singapore? Why in a 6 million people country there is no disabled people in the shopping centers? Where are they? I decided to figure it out and once I did, bring them back to society. My mum, daddy always told me: when you are 0 to 25 years old you have to learn: get degree, qualifications. From 25 to 50 years old you earn, earn your money and your reputation. After 50 you give back. You must give back. You come to this world with nothing and you will be gone with nothing. I want to give back before I’m gone. I’ve started with very simple idea: I was doing something good for one day per month. Just one day. Nothing more. I did it for 7 years: taking old people for a tour around, working in prisons. Just one day. Then I decided to build something bigger and I created Dignity Kitchen. You should try it yourself. Look around in your own country and help, just for one day per month. Do you like animals? Help in the shelter. Do you like trees? Plant some just one day per month. Find something you like to do and do it.
Why? Kindness is the answer.
Kindness has no religion. Kindness has no politics. Kindness is blind with the color of your skin and the nature of your disability. Kindness cannot be preach, it comes from the heart.
More about Dignity Kitchen: dignitykitchen.sg