As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. This is the premise for Dignity Kitchen, a food court by social enterprise Project Dignity.
Dignity Kitchen, which Singapore Land (SingLand) is proud to support, functions both as a public food court and a training centre for the differently abled. Here, people of different disabilities and those who are socially disadvantaged are trained to cook over a 22-week programme and given a daily allowance while they are at it.
At its latest 10,000-sq-ft facility at Boon Keng Road, whose renovation SingLand contributed funds to, the stalls manned by trainees sell an array of authentic local fare ranging from rojak and laksa to chicken rice.
“It took us about two years to write the curriculum for the hawker training programme — the only one of its kind in Singapore,” says Project Dignity founder, Koh Seng Choon. “It doesn’t matter what they cook. The important thing is the skill — how to fry, blanch, chop. We teach them, even if they’re one-handed.”
There is even special equipment to help them such as a machine that allows trainees to cook claypot rice with the push of a button and a noodle-cooking machine for perfectly cooked kolo mee.
“We hope to change the mindset of the public about them — to not look at their disabilities, but their abilities.”
– Koh Seng Choon, Founder of Project Dignity
Eventually, trainees either move on to work with one of the social enterprise’s F&B partners or continue working at Dignity Kitchen.
To date, 2,000 persons who are either differently abled or socially disadvantaged have undergone training at Dignity Kitchen. The majority of them have gone on to be gainfully employed at establishments like cafes, hawker centres and hotels.
For Mr Koh, Dignity Kitchen is a powerful medium through which the marginalised can be integrated into society. “The general assumptions are that people with disabilities are unable to work, that their work efficiency is low. But here, we have people with physical, mental and intellectual disabilities, and also the socially challenged like the poor and needy, and they all play a part in operating the food centre. We hope to change the mindset of the public about them— to not look at their disabilities, but their abilities.”
“As a company, we believe that there is strength in diversity and that everyone, regardless of their background, can bring something unique to the table.”
– Teo Hwee Ping, Head of Legal
In addition to what’s sold at the food court, Dignity Kitchen partners with corporate sponsors to deliver up to 300 meals a day to the underprivileged, including residents of nursing homes. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at SingLand took the opportunity to sponsor over 3,000 meals for healthcare workers as well, with our staff helping with deliveries.
Teo Hwee Ping, Head of Legal, who led SingLand’s partnership with Dignity Kitchen shares, “As a company, we believe that there is strength in diversity and that everyone, regardless of their background, can bring something unique to the table when presented with the right opportunities. We were glad to have the opportunity to help such a meaningful cause and will continue to champion efforts that encourage a more inclusive society.
“Even on an individual level, we believe that we can each do our part, even if it’s as simple as patronising a stall run by a differently abled person.”
If you ever order your favourite kopi-o siew dai at Dignity Kitchen, know that it may involve some impromptu learning of sign language or the use of picture cards. But when you’re done, you’ll likely be walking away with not just a solid version of your go-to brew, but also a heart warmed by the hospitality of the hearing-impaired servers at the stall.