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Gazans with hearing-impairments run restaurant

May 12, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Several organisations in Gaza offer rehabilitation and psycho-social services in different fields to integrate people with special needs into society by providing them the necessary training to earn a living.

It’s no surprise that staff at a recently opened restaurant in Gaza are all young with a hearing-impairment or are deaf. The receptionist, waiters and chefs use sign language to communicate and to take orders from customers, offering a variety of meals and desserts. The team is made up of 12 workers, including males and females who show great dedication and enthusiasm.

“I’m very excited that I can work and earn a living, it’s a very interesting job; I did a cooking course. My colleagues and I learnt how to make different desserts and meals. I’m very proud to be part of this team, I work as a chef in this restaurant which is the first of its kind in Palestine,” Omar said using sign language.

The project, which is funded by a Swiss foundation, is called the Income Generation Programme for Deaf Youth in the Gaza.

A group of dedicated deaf people of working age at Atfaluna Society For Deaf Children, an NGO in Gaza city, were put through an intensive eight months training programme. The new cooks learned their skills in an environment where lessons were taught with hands rather than words.

According to the society, the main goal of this project is to empower the deaf population through training and providing them with jobs to prove that they are able, dedicated and professional workers. They also hope to become sources of inspiration for deaf people around the world.

“A restaurant entirely staffed by deaf people is a unique initiative in the Middle East. Atfaluna Society For Deaf Children aims, through this project, to assess and improve the quality of life and reduce the levels of poverty deaf people, especially deaf youth in the Gaza Strip, live under,” Dalya Abuomar, Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children.

Customers order their food by pointing to the number of the item they want, the waiters can also lip read.

The idea was welcomed by the community as deaf members of society found a way to provide a service instead of receiving help.

“We consider this restaurant to be a way to promote their ability and experience in the labour market and a way to break their isolation in society,” Abuomar added.

The staff showed that they were able to communicate with the community and faced no difficulty when it came to greeting customers.

“It feels good that I can depend on myself and support my family, at first when I started this job, I was very nervous, I thought it was going to be difficult to deal and communicate with the public,” Naji, a waiter at the café, said.

The success of this project was a big achievement for those who are deaf and their families, as well as for the society in Gaza, as their determination broken down barriers.

According to Atfaluna 1.5 per cent of the population of the Gaza Strip suffers from hearing impairments.

Atfaluna has been working with deaf people in Gaza for the past 20 years, dealing with people with hearing disability in the local community. It goes without saying, their life is far from easy and they have to endure a huge amount of suffering and isolation due to the communication barrier.

“My dream came true. I’m responsible for preparing desserts. Myself and my colleagues alike have the determination to make this project successful. I have got the support of my family and trainers at Atfaluna,” Masia said using sign language.

Being deaf is tough and frustrating but deaf people have always overcome their disability, integrate into society and become productive members of society.

People with special needs must contend with social stigma placed on them, more and more services are available from associations and centres; many grew up without the help of trained professionals and families with the knowledge and resources to help them.

Hand-made products ranging from embroidery, wooden and ceramic items are on display in a small corner of the restaurant, the products which are made by members of Atfaluna reflect the creativity of their makers.

Organisers say showcasing these items creates an income for disabled members of society who refuse to depend on donations from charities.

The high population density coupled with the ongoing siege imposed by Israel which has affected all sectors of society has made the Gaza Strip one of the most troubled areas in the Middle East. Most of the population survives on less than $2 a day and around 80 per cent depend on humanitarian aid assistance provided by international organisations and other NGO’s.

In spite of this, people with special needs in the Strip are challenging their disability; they say that they are producers not consumers.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.