Cafe with a Conscience - Rachel Aside from Foreword Coffee, Rachael had work attachment stints facilitated by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore at other places. This included a supermarket, a laundromat, and a catering kitchen. She eventually decided to pursue her passion of working in a café and becoming a barista.

Cafe with a conscience

If you have ever bought a beverage or snack at Temasek Shophouse on a weekday morning, chances are, you would have been served at the counter by Rachael Lum. And if you are a regular customer, Rachael probably already knows your order by heart.

The 19-year-old is a part-time service crew member with Foreword Coffee, a social enterprise café that hires people from five disadvantaged communities: persons with autism, mild intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, deafness, and those in recovery from mental health issues. About 80% of Foreword Coffee’s 18-strong team is differently-abled.

Born with cerebral palsy, Rachael’s condition affects movement in the right side of her body. However, she is able to fulfil her cleaning duties with a diligent ease, proving that any barrier to performing well at work is often a case of mind over body. She is also very good at cashiering and provides great customer service. In fact, most customers are unaware of her condition when they are served by her behind the counter.

So what is a typical work day for Rachael like? Let’s find out…

7:00 AM
Rise and shine! Rachael gets ready for work. She had worked at various places previously –  from a laundromat to a supermarket – but enjoys her experience at Foreword Coffee the most. There is always something new to learn, which makes work fun.

Rachael is familiar with the route to work, although it wasn’t easy to remember at first. She was previously taught how to get to the café through the use of photos taken along the walking route, which helped a great deal. These days, she knows which MRT exit to take, and what landmarks to look out for in order to get to her workplace.

7:45 AM
Rachael’s first task of the day? Prepare the cash register. She counts all the notes and coins to make sure the base sum is correct. She remembers practicing how to count coins quickly and correctly during one of the company’s monthly meetings, when her boss brought a big bag of coins to test everyone’s counting skills. That day was really stressful!

8:00 AM
There is usually one or two other colleagues on the same shift with Rachael. Although she doesn’t know sign language, she communicates with her deaf colleagues by writing on paper. Her deaf colleagues even taught her how to sign her own name! Sometimes, her autistic colleagues get upset and need to go somewhere else to calm down. When that happens, Rachael readily covers their duties for them.

Rachael takes down customers’ orders using the digital cashiering system, which is designed with step-by-step processes to make sure she doesn’t miss out anything.

Laminated cards behind the counter helps to remind Rachael and her colleagues at Foreword Coffee of the processes.

Rachel decided to pursue her passion of working in a café and becoming a barista.

Aside from Foreword Coffee, Rachael had work attachment stints facilitated by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore at other places. This included a supermarket, a laundromat, and a catering kitchen.

Rachel decided to pursue her passion of working in a café and becoming a barista.

8:15 AM
The first customer of the day walks in. Rachael’s eyes light up; she remembers him and his signature long hair. She greets him, and asked if he would like his usual order of a triple espresso (yes, triple!). It can be tough trying to remember regular customers and their usual orders, but she gets a strong sense of satisfaction whenever she gets their orders right.

The rest of the morning sees more customers streaming in to get their caffeine fix. Rachael takes down their orders using the digital cashiering system, which is designed with step-by-step processes to make sure she doesn’t miss out anything.

When Rachael first started working at Foreword Coffee, she was painfully shy. She didn’t dare to speak to customers and repeat their orders to them.

Now that she has been here for more than one and a half years, it has gotten much easier. Sometimes, she still forgets what to say. The laminated cards behind the counter help to remind her of the processes and questions to ask customers. For example, if they want takeaway drinks or if they are eligible for a discount.

10:00 AM
The café quietens down, and Rachael takes the chance to practice her job responsibilities. These days, it’s learning how to use the credit/debit card payment system – something recently installed at the café. On-the-job refresher training sessions like these help her to be more confident and faster at work.

When she first joined Foreword Coffee, a lot of time was spent observing how her fellow colleagues work at the various stations. She also learnt a lot through mock scenarios during her training – including how to tackle complicated order requests! (For example, what she should do when someone asked for “a dash of milk” in their coffee!)

12:30 PM
Rachael prepares to close the cash register for her half-day shift. This is one of the tasks she sometimes struggles with – especially when there are big notes that require her to count beyond what she is usually used to. Once, she cried because the cash register’s closing sum did not tally with the receipts. No one reprimanded her; she was simply upset with herself for getting it wrong, and for giving someone the wrong change. She takes a lot of pride in her work.

1:00 PM
It’s the end of Rachael’s shift. She hangs up her apron and says goodbye to her colleagues. She looks forward to going to work again tomorrow. She hopes to take over the espresso station as a barista in the near future, and learn how to make her favourite iced white coffee by herself.

Want to know what it’s like to work with differently-abled persons? Head over to Foreword Coffee’s blog to find out more.

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