Saturday, June 25, 2011

Project Dignity

Today we do a Chinese New Year lunch treat for the elderly. 80 elderly from a nearby home. This is the first time we do 80 elderly and all vegetarian. Challenging. But I always believe with challenges the process and the people get stretched and hence more learning. With every new challenging event, stretches the skill base and abilities of the team. I got a good team and they have come to accept that what we do is unique and the sky is the limit. They are setting the boundaries. With every challenges it boost their self confidence. Now we do 80 elderly the next is 120 elderly......

My students are shy and not communicative. Their disability inhibit them to open up and socialize. I am not just talking about physical disability alone. I have an idea on how I can get young and old to overcome their shyness and be more vocal - get them to sing in public. The idea comes from watching the students from S P Jain dancing and singing without any inhibition. How can they do it.... because they work in group. I guess if you know why you are doing something, you can overcome any self inhibition. First must train the blind boy to sing and entertain and if he can do it then he can get the rest to do it as well.

The sponsors are great, there was gifts and ang pow for the elderly.

Our teaching approach has to change to adapt to these intellectual challenge kids. The class room approach of lecture did not work. They just do not understand. I know they tried. They take notes and when I check their notes, it is all scribbling and marking. They are trying from some of the characters they noted. The cooking class is also too difficult to comprehend. We need to breakdown the teaching into smaller bite. The approach has also to be one to one and use practical and motivational approach. The carrot and stick method. The stick is their $30 allowance and the carrot is the praises. They do well we praise them and when they don't we take away one red ($10 note) piece of paper. Take away one piece get them angry, take away two pieces make them cry.

Case of the spoon amd fork - Using ordinary cutlery to teach addition and subtraction. One fork is 5 cents and a fork and spoon is 10 cents. For division and multiplication we use cutlery and a serving tray, for example there are forty person coming for lunch we use a tray and to divide and multiply to get the number of serving per table seating. Sound complicated.... it is not.
Case of the coin drawing - We teach bythe students drawing the coin on their exercise book as we believe that by drawing they can remember and it work. So if we write $1.50, the students will draw on the paper different combination of $1.50. Somehow it connect with the brain better by hand motion (drawing) than just looking at the coins and linking from the eyes (sight) to the brain. It works after two weeks and with student KH, he go home and practice.

Case of the finger counting - Go back to basic. Two hands is one dollar, one hand is 50 cents and one finger is 10 cents. Folded finger is 5 cents. Sound complicated..... it is the calculator. This method still need sound fine tuning, as we still need to link the wording on the coin to the fingers.

Today we have a no show of elderly coming to lunch treat. First time for us. Very disappointed. The home just called to said that they are not coming. Our lunch treat for the elderly program is still very new and some of the homes we approached are not so receptive to the idea of organizing their elderly to go out. An outing for the elderly required a lot of logistics like from getting the elderly ready, bringing the essential required for the outing (pampers, spare cloths, medication etc) to having enough volunteers to help out. Some of the home either they do not have the resources or cannot be bother to do it. Many of the elderly in homes across the country do not always get a chance to go out excursion and have a good time. Some of these homes only have outings once or twice a year. The better organised home have at least once a month. It has all to do with the organisation and the person in charge.Today's just has poor management.... Unfortunately for us, we have to pay for the bus and the wasted food.

It is about time that I need to consider giving a formal contract to my few trainers. At the moment they are like the students on $30 per six hours work. I need to have a team of trainers and these few person which are well trained to manage the stalls will need to go on salary basis. One of them has to go, reason is limited funding and do not have enough budget to take all five of them. Must talk to them on the terms and conditions. Start formal employment on 1st March.

Had a long conversation with a visitor today. He asked why Dignity Kitchen is not registered as a charity. As a charity he can donate and then can claim for the tax. This issue crossed my mind from the very beginning when I conceptualize this social enterprise in 2006. Project Dignity is not registered as a charity neither it is by guarantee or as a society. It is private limited company. The decision was a tough one. It was a long story.
My first consideration was to have Project Dignity formation as a public company limited by guarantee - has no share capital, no shareholder just members and has a very complex reporting format annually. I drop the idea because I was not able to convinced people to take up the membership. Even though it has tax exemption there are certain restrictions and also the issues of "profit" in term of definition and distribution. I also drop the idea of Project Dignity as a society because it is not a society structure. You need 10 people to register a society. I have also considered a co-operative formation. Finally a charity trust, this is an expensive option and the regulatory requirement will put me back by thousands of dollars before I can even think of setting up a social enterprise. By the way getting trustee (the people that look after your trust) for the charity trust are not free and they want to be paid.
Most people misunderstood that the definition of "charity status" and "Institution of Public Characters" (IPC) which is a non-profit organisation (charity trust, guarantee company or society) with a charity status. Even getting IPC is a completed process and process control needed will require resources that small start up social enterprise ill afford.
At the end of the day it has to do with TAX exemption.
For Project Dignity as a Private Limited company, I have plan for the future which if everything work out as planned will be a more interesting path which other social enterprise can emulate .......

Project Dignity

Three people down with flu. This is important when you are dealing with food and critical when it involves people with disabilities. They have to rest.

KH and QA training is not as easy. There are three primary role in a hawker stall - cooking, serving and cashier. The most difficult for the two of them is cashier's role. They are good with the POS machine and to them it is like a gaming console. Their weakness is their sense of money. They cannot differentiate and do simple arithmetic. In terms of differentiation they can differentiate the dollars notes but not the coins. Addition and subtraction is difficult when you cannot differentiate the coins and as a hawker you need to do it and do it fast. We innovate in terms of teaching aids to help them. For the money issues we went back to basic and use hands and fingers to teach. For the arithmetic we use forks and spoons, one spoon or fork is 5 cents and two is 10 cents. Later we progress to division and multiplication using trays and fork/spoon. We even got the other hawkers to help out. Both KH and QA have to use cash to buy their food, not allow to use cards purchased from the Centre management. The ladies at the drink stalls even took time off to teach boys when they buy the drinks.

Last day for V and R. They are our first dropouts. Two reasons. One is hawker work is not for everyone and two is that they did not tell us about his epileptic fits. It will be difficult to be in a hawker environment when you have fits. My learning from this episode in terms of training is that better managing of people with disabilities especially those who suffered their disabilities when they were abled at one time. If you are born blind from young you do not experience the sighted world and hence you cope with the disability. When you however are disabled in your 20's or 30's, there is a phase of acceptance and training have to be very different, more time consuming. It remind of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's Five Stages of Dying - Denial / Anger / Bargaining / Depression / Acceptance

Looking at the accounts. There a state of equilibrium when the outlay/spending balance off with the income generated. If you draw a graph of money(vertical axis) vs time (horizontal axis), the curve of your investment will keep falling until a stage where the curve will stablise around a certain figure- this is the state of equilibrium. From this stage you have to make the curve goes upward. This mean that your business entity is generating a reasonable income. You are still bleeding but at least it is slower. Not hemorrhaging :-)

Chinese New Year coming, it is time to thanks many people who has help us from the beginning. Bought several boxes of oranges and barbecue pork and personally deliver to those people who has help us.

Conducted the interview for elderly for this next batch of students. In the selection of these students (unlike the intellectually challenged), the main criteria is attitude. Not experience or age. Interview of 11 elderly ranging from 60 yr old to 82 yr old. How do you tell attitude? It is the way they ask question - the mindset of wanting to learn more and the willingness to work on it. I am not worried if the question centers around money as I believe I pay better than McDonald. They do not want to work shift, want to work with friends, the travel distance cannot be too far...... selected 2 out of the 11 for the next batch

Team building is not a one off event of climbing trees and felling off into the trusted arms of your colleague. Cheapest is dinner celebration like christmas lunch and reunion dinner. Treat your employee like family.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Project Dignity


Not so good news, the government agency does not see the need for a hawker training centre and will be difficult to support. I will have to think of another way to get the training center approved. We have people interested to come to come for hawker training but only if there is a subsidy from the government agency.

Batch 1 recruitment starts with an newspaper article and over 300 telephone enquiries. In the first batch with have a wide spectrum of students with various disabilities and challenges - single mother, blind, long term unemployed, ex-prisoner, elderly, polio et al. All in the adult group

For batch 2 we decided to work with children with disabilities.

I made a visit to Movement of the Intellectually Disabled (MIND) school and interviewed the students. Selected two students from MINDs with learning disability. The interview was not so much the talking or question and answers but more to see them working and performing tasks. The first student KH is the head prefect and he was tasked to moved some speakers to the main hall. The second student QA was tasked to collect some keys from one person to another. There was another two kids I met but not so appropriate for Dignity Kitchen at the moment. I was looking for Social skills, able to Articulate and Mobility in action, we term it as SAM approach.

I met with QA's mother in the interview. I have come to understand that to recruit children with disability, it is always wise to interview the mother first. Why? Firstly to explain to the parent but more importantly to get the support of the parents in working together for the program to succeed

Today KH report to class. Very quiet and reserve the first few hours. It has to do with the strange place. The mother was present and we have to sent her back. No distraction.

We did our normal orientation briefing. Then by lunch time he starts hugging me and rest of the trainers and later the elderly that comes for lunch. Initially it was not worrying but when he starts hugging complete strangers, I was concern. I called the vice principal for advise. One of his school teacher spoke to him Eventually we compromise that he is not allow to hug anyone other than the few trainers and if he wants to to hug he can lean his head on their shoulder. According to the teacher, KH hugs partly because of affection but also for insecurity in a strange place and meeting strangers, performing different tasks.

There was an invite to a networking function tonight. Surprising many people have heard of Dignity Kitchen and the story of the blind hawker. This is good. We do not have advertising budget and any publicity is good for us.

I finished all the Dignity Kitchen names cards in one evening. By the end of the day, I realise that to sell Dignity Kitchen one need to see it in operation. Not so easy to explain. people needs to watch the lunch treat,the disabled cooking and serving and participation of the sponsors.

QA starts work today and my fear was the way he speaks, very gangster like. Something he needs to change.

I estimate that in the last few months, the lost is averaging $1000 per day or there about. Am I worried, the answer is Yes. There is no turning back. It will depend on starting the education side of the business.With government agency approval as a training center and able to tap government training grant for the courses, I will be able to breakeven soon.

Till today I still have no business plan, just a cash flow projection but this is slow at the moment as I under estimate the volume of business when I design the chart of account for Dignity Kitchen. November and December 2010 accounts is till not updated. I know I am losing money but just not sure the exact losses......

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Project Dignity

Walk into the school today and spend some time cleaning up the classroom.

Just dawn on me that everything in the classroom is second hand. The chairs which are mismatch is complimentary from a scrap dealer. Preferred somethingwith a writing board. In the classroom there is an electronic whiteboard and a white screen from my old office. The projector is from my manager's previous office. There is also a rack from a factory clearance. Cost of setting up is minimal.

Start of the new year and my first mistake for the year is that I have no cook...... Of the 11 in batch 1, two will be back to the Deaf Association to work, two will be going to Resort World, one is going to Wendy's and one will be starting on his own.

We started with another blind man V and his wife R. In this case love is great. R sacrifice her career to help her blind husband to work together. They must spend the next two weeks getting used to the place.

The OCD did not turn up. What a blessing

An ugly incident today at the dessert stall.

The stout looking man stood at the dessert stall and shouted at my ex-cancer boy. "I gave you $10 and this is the wrong change." the ex-cancer boy looks lost for word and could only stare at the man. "Give me the change NOW" The man continued. The ex-cancer boy replied timidly "It was a $5, you gave me."
The commotion caught my attention and I approached the stout looking man. Something tell me that my ex cancer boy is right and it was a $5 note that he was given. I got a feeling that the man is trying to cheat my ex-cancer boy whose memory following a brain operation is very low. I trust my ex-cancer boy.
I turn towards the man and said "If it is a $10 I will apologizes and the food is free, If not I will request that you move on and we shall forget this incident" I pointed towards a camera that is at the top of the stall.
The face of the stout looking man suddenly changed and he turn and walk away without uttering a word. I open the cashier machine and noticed that there was no $10 note.

Why do people cheats on people with disabilities?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Project Dignity

Todays mark the end of lessons for Batch 1 and individually they have a small test. Every one of the student has to cook a dish as a final assignment. The kitchen was frantic and the examiner is a very tough one who has spend the last four weeks working with the individual students. frankly I was quite surprise what they have come up with for their examination piece. It was good fun.

Siting in one corner is someone who has been visiting Dignity Kitchen for the past two weeks. he will come to sit in one corner and just stare. After a few time I got to notice him. "I want to join the school." said the man in his late forties."I can cook and I want to be a hawker" iWe got talking and I discover that he suffer from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). He has been out of work for ten years. I did not know what OCD was and what was his disability.

Today is Christmas Eve and it is a tough decision whether to enrol him or not. The thought of Dicken's Christmas Carol came to mind. The man took out his medicine box and by the look of it has not been clean since he bought it. There was something like 7 - 8 tablets and pills in each compartment marked with the day of the weeks. "When I took my medicine I an alright for 6 to 7 hours. Please." He requested."I need the work."

Time for consultation. I called two doctor friends and a head nurse. The action was for him to produce a doctor certificate that he is able to work in a hawker stall.....

In the evening we will close the account and also clear the remaining food for the day. The leftover food is either given it to the cleaning staff or transport to a nearly elderly home. Tonight we went to a new elderly and was told that there is a policy in the home that does not received food for fear of food poisoning. Went to another home and they accepted wholeheartedly. Another home was even more interesting, they were selective on what we give them. Only the kueh but not the sandwiches.

First of several interviews for student placement. The hearing impaired preferred to leave as hawker not for him. It is fair as he has worked hard and know what he does not like to do. He find the heat tough to bear and we are happy for him. The job opportunity include manning a stall in Burlington Square. The other hearing impaired does not work shift and turn down an offer from Kopitiam not keen. The elderly got a job and very happy. He will be going to work for Wendy's

Just realize I make a mistake of letting go early and there s no students to ensure the food quality is in place . What a mistake. It will be a while to train someone....

We got our first delivery order today for 100 packet for old folks home. This is another revenue model. It was not easy to persuade anyone to give us a home delivery. We explain that in our lunch treat only a certain number can enjoyed our food. There are those who cannot come for various reasons and it will be great if we can deliver to them. Our first delivery.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Project Dignity

Children has always been my passion and I come to realise that most of our children do not get to interact with disabled people. One incident which happens when I first started Dignity Kitchen was to find a group of young girls standing in front of my blind cashier giggling away and another incident of a boy staring at the my polio man as he was walking and when the polio man slip and fall, the boy ran away. I guess this has to do with the lack of exposure and interaction and that is where the idea come to start a program called "Children working with the Disabled"

Today we had out first launch of "Children working with the Disabled" We worked with an organisation called Janus Education, who groom young children to be writers. The company managed to get about 16 children of various age and what we do is to allow them to interact with the disabled in four work stations.

Station 1 - singing with sign language with the hearing impaired
Station 2 - making spring roll with the physical handicap
Station 3 - dessert decoration with the intellectually challenged
Station 4 - braille math challenge with the visually impaired

The children will go from one station to another, performing various tasks with the disabled at the same time interacting with the disabled. The program ends with lunch for the children with the disabled.

Today also see several newspaper coming over to visit and interview our students. This is great. We need the publicity.

"If the children of today learn to interact with the disabled, the adult of tomorrow will be comfortable working with the disabled"

Friday, January 21, 2011

Project Dignity

The success of Dignity Kitchen depends on the placement of its students.

The first interview was for the ex-con and the graduate with an Indian Restaurant, that did not turn out well as the expectation between the restaurant and the candidate is very far part, taking into consideration the student's background. At the end of the week, the two students got a trial period with one of the integrated resort in Singapore and we hope they settle and stay with the job.

For the unemployed and two hearing impaired, came the opportunity to start up a food stall in town. The deal was great-the funding is from a company director, Dignity Kitchen will help with the setting up and the start-up get a below market rate rental opportunity. Will leave the decision to the students. The issue here is the hearing impaired, they are not keen.
The Elderly student got an interview with Wendy's Fast Food restaurant this week and we hope too he gets the job.

We are a school, we are to train people and after training place them but to keep the school running we have to keep some of them. We are keeping Ms Single Mother / Mr Blind / Mr Cancer / Ms Partial Blind / Mr Polio

For the school to find job opportunity for the students is not difficult, the difficulty is managing the student's expectation. For people to have been out of work for some time you would have expect them to take the first job that comes along. This is not generally the case. They have either financial expectation that is unrealistic or the job scope does not meet with their status or outlook. I guess sometime is a question of how desperate you want the job.

Three of the most common statement I come across in the last few months are
"Why you do it?"
"Are you christian?"
"You must be rich"

As for the answers .....

After my answer if I do try to explain and their response is always the same...."You will go to heaven" :-)

Today a lady from Hong Kong propose the setting up of Dignity Kitchen in China.

When a concept is simple and practical, I believe people will buy into them. In history they are many such instances like fast food, instant noodle etc. I guess the concept of a hawker school for disabled is one of them.

The proposal is to build another version of Dignity Kitchen in Dongguan in South China but sponsor by Hong Kongers. I am keen as it is always been my vision to have the school in three countries in five years and Hong Kong is one of them (personal reason)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Project Dignity


We have two issues that need some innovative thoughts.

The first is credit cards. The blind boy has been offered a job to work as a cashier in a restaurant. I was delighted. Then it dawn on me that in the restaurant you need to deal with credit cards and the blind boy is not able to differentiate the different type of cards.Operating the cashier machine will not be a problem but when you come to do the credit card billing, it may be difficult as the variation of cards and its machine is huge. The challenge is how to get a blind person to differentiate credit cards.

The second is communication. In my school there is hearing impaired and blind person. For example the blind is the cashier of one stall and looking for change. The customer just given him a big note and he has no small change. He approach the deaf/dumb of the other to ask for change to a $50 note to pay the customer. It was a struggle as the blind know the deaf/dumb is near his stall but is not able to get the attention of the deaf/dumb. When they do make contact, the deaf/dumb has to struggle to tell the blind what denomination of change do the blind wants........

How do a dumb and deaf person talks to a blind?


A man came to us today and wanted Dignity Kitchen to provide food for his foreign workers. The deal was cooked food for their foreign workers and the budget is $1.15 per day for 3 meals. The number of workers is 300 and can increase to 2000. This is a regular catering and possibilities of further expansion with the increase in construction projects.

Can it be done and still make a profit?

The answer is yes..

For a start you will need the facilities, a central kitchen with big pots and pans and a preparation area. (I am talking about doing it legally) The raw material is the tricky part. You need to get cheap rice bits from suppliers, vegetable will have to buy from Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market late in the afternoon. In a typical worker fare, it is a lot of rice, plenty of gravy and minimum vegetables plus some chutney pickles.

We cannot do it and do not want to do it.......

The most challenging Lunch treat for the elderly is when we take on Category 3 / 4 type of elderly. Those that are wheel bound and bedridden. The challenges was how to bring these Cat 3 / 4 elderly out of the home and them take them out for a city tour.

After some pondering we decided to do it afterall the objective of the program to to give these elderly a good time. This is the first time anyone every do it. First the transport, we were told that there was a special vehicle that transport these elder but it is expensive. The vehicle belongs to a handicap association and when we approach them they do not offer any discount and subject to their availability. Transport cost is $200 for the 2 hours trip.

There was 8 elderly and 10 helpers from the home, that was the extend of the logistics. When they arrived at Dignity Kitchen after a city tour, you can tell they were ecstatic. One of them told me that this is their first outing in a very long time. He will always be in bed...... waiting to die.....

Someone was telling us to prepare some meal in low salt and also in porridge. Surprising all the elderly wanted the real original stuff.......

By the time they go home, one of the elderly (one that was very quiet throughout the whole day and said "Can I come again?".......

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Project Dignity


The school gets visitors every day. Since the notice board was set up in the front of the school. We get passer by esquiring about the school and its objectives. There was a teacher from Germany, a martial art exponent who has a school to teach disabled children, a social worker from Hong Kong who is keen to replicate Dignity Kitchen in China, a Malaysian princess who also want to do this school in KL, among the many local people who come to the school. This is before we publicise the school. Some of them heard of the from friends while others are people who stays in the hotel around the area.

The question is "Is Dignity Kitchen scalable?" The answer is yes.

The business model caters to the poor and the disabled based on the concept of food on a common platform of food court. Every country in this region has poor and disabled who revolves their lives around food (most of them do) and goes to food court for their meal.

There are plan for expansion but this will be another blog......

A lady called today with a complaint. A boy working in my Dignity Kitchen was very abusive toward her last night. The boy who is autistic stared at her and when she ignored her stare, he shouted at her. She got frightened and walk away.

The experience must have disturbed her badly. She called wanting to make a complaint but I told her we do not have an autistic student at that moment. I told her I will investigate and revert back to her. It turns out that the boy is the son of one of the cleaner. As he is not doing anything at home the mother decided to bring her to the food court to help her.

There is two sides to this story, which I will not elaborate. But why this sharing. This is to explain people's reaction to autistic children when their behavior become disturbing. How do you react? The answer is to stay calm and compose. Aggressiveness only aggravate the situation. If their parents or caregiver are around, they are the best people to calm them down.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Project Dignity

The question I came across from foreign friends who visited Singapore is "Why are they no beggars in Singapore?" Like any major cities in the world there will be destitute and poor people who are at the bottom of the pyramid. In some cities, you can see them on the pavement begging and some even sleep in park and shopping center.

The answer is Yes, there are beggars in Singapore, but they are not so apparent and as visible as in some countries. In Singapore they are provided for and cared for either by religious groups and various government agencies.

In the Lunch Treat to Elderly program I get to meet many of these destitute and disadvantaged people. Let me share some of the experiences.

In one of the lunch treat, an elderly lady passed me a paper scribbled with a telephone number. She said "My daughter told me that I will be here for three days, now it is already three months". I smile as if should not be a problem contacting the daughter. I called and was told by the operator that the number do not exists. Looking to the care giver who explained that she too have tried but to no avail. "It is not use, the daughter dump her to the old folk home." She paused. "The daughter will not come over to visit her at all. If she does, the old will get her IC number and will sent her a bill for looking after her mother. The bill will be based on her mean salary." She paused again looking at the elderly lady. "If she do not pay up, the home will sent her mother back to her." There was another long paused." It is a very sad case."

In conversation with one of the elderly.
"I received $220 per month from the government. $30 goes to the rental of my flat which I shared with another elderly. $20 goes to purchase a card for the electricity in the flat. I have about $170 left for my monthly expense. Once a week we go down to the local community center for a free buffet lunch or sometime packed lunch. So far I am well but when I am unwell, the medicine will eat into my monthly money. I do not have any saving......"

He was all smile when he sat on the dining table. It was the first time he has been out of the elderly home for 8 years. When you look at him you will understand why. An accident caused the brain to be dented in and saliva dripping down his left side of the mouth. He sat in a wheel chair, a blip around his neck before food is served. He looked at me and smile. Teng Ci (Waiting to die in Chinese) was his first word. "I lied in bed at the elderly home, they clean me, feed me and talk to me." Addressing the care givers helping to cut up his food of nasi lemak and chicken wings. He refused soft noodle wanting his first taste of real coconut rice, solid chicken wings and chili. Depressing..... "Waiting to die".

An Indian man came up to the elderly and start shaking their hands....supposedly give the guy the blessings ......

Project Dignity


We organised a class today on the legal requirements of hawkers and peddlers. It is rough based on the hawker and Peddlers Act 1985 and I got an experienced trainers to do the teaching. Not only do all the students attended the course but also staff of the other stalls wanted to attend. I guess everyone wants to learn just that they do not have the opportunities even the hawkers.

One of the key to successful implementation of any project is communication. and more so with your landlord. We rented this place from Banquet Group and though it is very spacious and has a classroom for what we want to do, it lacks the crowd.Frankly the landlord like any shopping mall's landlord in Singapore has to play a part to generate the crowd. Communicate, communicate and communicate and if fails ........

Need to form a team. I need a operation person who can help me manage the day to day operation of the three stalls. I need a marketing person who can help me market the school and carried out the events, so as to generate income for the school. Finally I need a trainer, someone who has the culinary skills to train my students. I recruited the final person to the team, a trainer who Nitec, WDA Abta qualification. The team is complete.

Business is about managing the people that manages the system/process

Christmas is coming and time to put up the Christmas trees......

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Project Dignity


The lunch treat for the elderly is a challenged in itself. Inviting elderly to lunch is not a problem. For I realized that many of these home,for the elderly going out is a very special occasion for them. Actually many of them preferred to go out than to have visitors coming to their home and singing song and entertaining them.

One of lunch treats many challenges was to invite a group of blind to come for lunch. How do you feed a group of blind elderly. As usual we serve them on the table but after 5 minutes no one touches the food. All the blind elderly stood quietly and politely waiting. We realise we need to instruct them. We collect all the plates of food and standardise the location of the food item that is on the plate. Then we distribute them back to the blind elderly. This time we tell them what is on the plate, like 2 o'clock is the rice, 4 0'clock is the chilli, 6 o'clock is the chicken etc. This time they start eating their food. By the way we have to do the explanation in several dialects and languages.

There are also lunch treat where the demand is for certain type of food like low salt and no coconut on the rice just some examples. We tried to accommodate as much as possible after all, the objective of the Lunch Treat for the Elderly is to give them a decent meal. Unfortunately there are the odd case of elderly who keep ordering the different food, just taste it and reject it. Then there are the ones who complain about everything, from the chili being tasteless, to the coconut rice not fragrance enough. I guess you cannot pleased everyone even when the food is free.

Tonight I sat and watch the video clips. These clip was recorded when the first few trainees join the school. It shows their dream and wishes. very touching. Watch it on

My plan for the next six months is as follows. Month One get the food right and I did that. Month Two gets the Process/System Right and today we received an envelope from National Environmental Agency.

We were graded "A" for the two stalls. For the first time since I started I really felt very good and happy. You see to achieve a grade "A" is very difficult and the assessment by the government agency was a sudden visit.

We were not inform of the assessment. Coming into our Dignity Kitchen you will be impressed by the cleanliness and also the orderliness of the workplace. (If you read the earlier blog I mentioned that we want Changi Prison standard as the prison cooks maintain a very clean and orderly workplace). Fortunately we have two very good students who are very disciplined. Achieving a Grade "A" for hawker is very slim especially so if it is a startup and actually cooking food. If you go around the food court and hawker center in Singapore, most of the Grade "A" is selling drinks and not actual cooking of food.

A good piece of news today, the Graduate's wife give birth to a baby girl :-)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Project Dignity

Week Beginning 7th Nov

Create a good environment, give the right tools and treat people with respect, I believe people even socially and physically challenged will do well.

After the first month, I can see the changes in the working environment. There are good sign and there are bad ones.

The good sign is ownership. Give the people the owner to manage the stall the way they see first. Let them create the stall identity. With ownership comes motivation. I went out to buy some plants from Ikea and decorate the stalls. For stall One, flowers and figurine decoration for the Nasi Lemak stall starts appearing. Ownership starts with installing physical entities but motivation comes with verbal recognition. I praise and encourage the students a lot. Some of them are even working longer hours

The bad sign is the disagreement between the abled and disabled. The concept of having abled to work with the disabled is the foundation of Dignity Kitchen and as such matching them and getting them to work is critical and paramount to the success of the school. I match the Mother (abled) with the blind son. I matched the polio with the elderly (abled) and I matched the hearing impaired with the ex-prisoner (abled). The issue is raised with the remuneration they get. If the abled who work at a faster pace and gets the same money, is it fair the disabled who is slow and at time clumsy gets the same amount of money. Quarrels ensued. Initially I ignored it. Furthermore these disabled and disadvantaged do come with their own personal problems. Eventually things got very bad and I have to sit them down and explain the consequences of their dispute.......

On 11 Nov, the government agency recommended a mentally challenged young man to the school today and he is younger than I thought. He has cancer at a young age and has been operated several time. he jovial and has very good attitude, only problem is due to his many operations, his memory retention is low and that is a major problem. What can he do behind a hawker stall. Let him do something that is simple and repetitive and keep training him to do the same thing over and over again. I have my operation manager to thank for helping the mentally challenged boy. every morning for the first week, he put him to the same task of setting up the dessert stall and simplifying the process every day till the mentally challenged boy can do with instructions. When the setting up of the stall and closing the stall routine is settled by my operation manager, my task for the following weeks is to train him to serve the customers. It is done is six word posted behind him - SMILE, GLOVE, SCOOP, CLEAN, SERVE, SMILE. Repeated the same task over and over again and guess what he passed his basic food hygiene based on this six words.....

On 12/11 the first stall hits $100.

Today 15/11, we have full training force. Total 11 trainees - the ex-prisoner, the old man, the polio man, two deaf men, two blind, single mother, the graduate, one machinist and one mentally challenged