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