It takes a special group of people to bring something unique to life, and that is exactly what the Special Projects Team was set up to do. Two key members of that team are Pei Yi, a Project Executive, and Amutha, the café coordinator for Seeds. Pei Yi puts her business background to good use, dealing in everything from procurement to logistics, communications and even social media. Amutha, on the other hand, used to work in events and fundraising for a non-profit organisation, and that was where she found a love for the culinary arts, and jumped at the opportunity to be a part of running a café. She manages both Seeds and the students, drafts SOPs, makes sure everything is in order, teaches the children how to make and serve the food and drinks, and develops the menu. What the both of them didn’t bargain for, however, was everything else they learnt on the job. For Pei Yi, that stemmed from a strong sense of fulfilment from helping the less fortunate; for Amutha, it was discovering that the special needs children at Seeds are smart in their own ways—even outsmarting her on some occasions. We sat down with both of them to find out a bit more.
How was the Special Projects Team built and what are some of its roles? What about the café?
P: It was formed sometime in May last year, and that was when I came to this team. This café was the first project under this team; it was conceptualised by the upper management as a platform to train the students. When we first started out, it was just me and Jimmy, my supervisor and we worked on the forming, planning, and necessary preparatory work to get the café started. After on, we went on to recruit Amutha, the café coordinator for Seeds.
How is it like working in a Special Education school?
P: I came into Rainbow Centre wanting to contribute but I discovered, in the course of my work, that the students I came to help are the ones who are doing me good. My interactions with them have made me more human, and to be appreciative of the little things in life, be it a smile or thank you. The teaching staff also never fail to amaze me with their attentiveness shown towards the students and dedication to their work. All of them exude so much compassion, patience, and human warmth.
A: Honestly, I thought that it was going to be sad and solemn day every day but I have never seen so much happiness in one place as I have seen in Rainbow Centre. No matter what these children go through, they are so happy even about the smallest and simplest things. I can only say that working here, I feel empowered and thankful every day.
What drives and inspires you to continue to do what you do, day in and out?
P: There are so many different people that I work with and I’m always learning from them, be it their passion, skills, or knowledge. I feel inspired to do better because I’m surrounded by people who are authentic and real, and who care deeply about what they create and do. A big motivation is creating something that has a positive impact on people. I feel so fulfilled whenever I see the students doing something they love, be it making coffee or painting art pieces. It really is a feeling that never gets old.
A: I would like to say the students but I think it’s more of a selfish reason that inspires me to do what I’m currently doing. I feel appreciated, needed, and most of all, I get a sense of accomplishment that is unmatched by other careers. It’s rewarding to know that I’m able to help them on their way to future independence. I want to be a catalyst that helps get them there.
What are some of the joys and challenges in your work? How have these experiences shaped you guys?
P: I’m quite the extrovert, so I love being in the company of people and connecting with them on a regular basis. Whether it’s having a casual chat in the hallway or a work discussion with them, I derive joy from nurturing these connections, which I am thankful that the nature of my work allows. One thing I have yet to figure out, though, is how to handle the delicate balance between work and personal life.
A: I know that I’m making a difference every day when I go to work. I’m proud to be a part of building a brighter future for these children. Disabilities sometimes mean that Seeds is not able to operate at a pace comparable to other cafés. It may take longer for the students to serve or prepare an order. However, I have learnt that quality, not speed, is more important. It’s a learning process for both me and the students. I have learnt to be patient and see joy and great accomplishment even in the smallest task.
What are each of your favourite parts of the café?
P: I think it’s actually behind the counter, at the kitchen prep area because I think that’s where everything is taking place—the training of and helping out with different students. I think that’s the most exciting part of Seeds café.
A: I have several but I love sitting in front of the coffee counter. I have a good view of my café crew and the students. When I sit there, I talk to them, and ask them how’s their day or if they have a girlfriend. (laughs) That’s my favourite part of the day. I find that every day, I’m adding new conversations and topics and that brings us closer—not just the students but the crew. We have currently one crew member and we’re going to hire two more part-timers.
Share with us some of your hopes and dreams for the café.
P: I wish that Seeds will be a platform that provides our students with equal access to opportunities as their peers, and that it grows their confidence and sense of self-worth—they are amazing and I want them to know that. I also hope that the authentic interactions within Seeds motivate more to speak up for our students, who are born with different abilities yet have so much potential to excel with the right opportunities and exposure.
A: It’s not easy to make a living, especially when one is challenged with disabilities. My hope is that these children will one day be able to use their gifts, passion, talents, and experience in a job that allows them to contribute to their community. My dream would be for more cafés to be set up for these special children to give them opportunities so that they, too, can make a stand in society.
What are some of your biggest takeaways from this project?
P: That the “heartware” of being more open, inclusive, and respectful of those with different abilities is as important as the “hardware” such as support, platforms, and systems. There is always more to be done for our students. With the right opportunities, they will be able to shine and grow.
A: Setting a foundation of good team ethics with the Special Projects Team has been largely accountable for the smooth running of our projects. The team consists of a variety of personalities, ages, and cultures, which brings creativity and a broad range of ideas. I realised that everyone is able to offer their own experience and knowledge that others may not possess. Working in Rainbow Centre has helped me to become more patient, compassionate, and understanding—the more time I spend with these children, the more adept I become at seeing through their eyes. These students are outspoken, tell the truth, and try their best. They are definitely the coolest people I know so far. At the same time, every day I see children having seizures, or needing to be fed through a feeding tube. Some can’t walk and many can’t talk, and at that moment you realise just how lucky you are to be healthy enough to work with them. I have learnt how to live.
This is a special Shentonista project for Rainbow Centre and the Seeds café, run by the school. Artwork from the students have been incorporated into and are showcased in the space; the café also provides students with disabilities or special needs the training and experience in skills that can serve them after they graduate.
Seeds café is located in Rainbow Centre, 501 Margaret Drive, S(149306), and opens from Mondays to Fridays from 07:30AM to 4:00PM, and Saturdays & Public Holidays from 08:30AM to 5:00PM.