Disabled children learn life skills at Hà Nội cafe

Doctor Đỗ Thúy Lan has dedicated her life to helping children with disabilities.

A "special" waiter is serving clients in the cafe. - VNA/VNS Photo Hùng Vũ

For more than nine years, she has run a cafeteria in a small lane off Hoàng Đạo Thúy Street in Hà Nội’s Cầu Giấy District, as part of the Sao Mai (Morning Star) care centre for disadvantaged children, the Vietnam News Agency reported. It is the first day-care centre in Hà Nội providing support for children with mental disabilities. 

The centre was first funded by a Dutch organisation. When the funding ended, the director sought other financial and non-financial support, but eventually decided to ask parents to pay for their children’s tuition.

Several children at the centre are from middle-income families from other provinces. So that they can take their children back and forth from the centre each day, they rent rooms and find work in the city. Families facing financial difficulties are supported with reduced tuition fees.

The cafeteria is also part of the centre’s programmes. All staff members are children with mental disabilities. They are equipped with basic life skills to help them become financially independent.

“The café is a venue to help the children to practice life skills after being taught by teachers,” said Dr. Lan. “In the café, children are taught to do simple work, such as washing dishes and glasses, arranging chairs and tables, making tea, or serving clients.”

“This is easy work for normal people, but for the children with mental disabilities, these are really hard jobs,” the doctor said. "Working in the café is a good environment for improving communication skills as well as gradually integrating them into society.”

The café is small. It opens from 8am to 4.30pm from Monday to Friday. There are two children working each shift. There is also teacher instructing the children during their working time.

Since opening nine years ago, the café has helped hundreds of children with mental disabilities and autism integrate into society. 

One student, Loan, 14, has impaired hearing and low mental ability. She has been taught at the centre since she was four. After learning and working in the café, she is now able to perform basic skills by herself and she found a job.

Hoàng Văn Cương, father of Hoàng Anh Thắng, another student at the centre, said working in the café was very helpful.

“My child was more confident and could help his mother with cleaning floors, washing dishes or cooking,” he said.

However, the café is now was facing difficulties.

Lương Thị Hoa, a teacher at the centre, said in earlier years, the café was always full of clients because there were few cafes in the area.

“But in recent years, more and more cafeterias have opened. So only loyal customers come to us,” Loan said.

The customers go because they want to support the special staff at the café, she added.

In fact, the café has not been profitable in recent years. Many people want to rent the location for other businesses, but Dr. Lan refuses.

 “The café cannot bring money anymore, but it has educational benefits for disadvantaged children,” she said.

Source VNA