Dignity KitchenTM is a social enterprise set up in 2010 with the aim of returning dignity to people with disabilities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. By training people who would otherwise find it difficult to obtain jobs by themselves because of the additional challenges they face, it aims to equip them with useful skills and empower them to sustain themselves through meaningful work.
Dignity KitchenTM is a both a fully-functioning food court and a training school in Serangoon New Town featuring seven food and drinks stalls, all manned by people with disabilities or folks from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Not only is it open to the walk-in public, it also accepts orders for pre-packed meals and confectionery (Think cookies, cupcakes and muffins!). In addition, Dignity KitchenTM works with social organisations like nursing homes and associations for the disadvantaged, which send their beneficiaries on a city tour before arriving at Dignity KitchenTM to enjoy wholesome meals.
Dignity KitchenTM is the first manifestation of Project Dignity, which was founded by Koh Seng Choon. Since the setup of the food court and training school in 2010, Project Dignity has established two other arms, namely Dignity Mama Stall, which is a bookstore manned by parents with handicapped children, and Dignity Cottages, a birds’ nest picking project.
Seng Choon, who is an engineer by training, originally mooted the idea of creating a social enterprise in 2006, when he had a chance encounter with a man suffering from polio while working on a project with the Restaurant Association of Singapore. The man had wanted to be a chef, however, Seng Choon knew that it would be difficult for a man with disabilities to find a job as one. He realised it might be easier to train him as a hawker instead and the idea of Dignity KitchenTM was born.
The going was extremely tough in the initial years, as he had to battle the double whammy of having to relocate the business repeatedly while contending with the unwillingness of the public to patronise a food court manned by his disabled charges. In all, he had invested $1 million into his social enterprise. It was not till 2013 when the business started to turn in a profit for the first time.
Since he took it upon himself to provide a solution for the unfortunate to create better lives for themselves in 2010, there has been no turning back for Seng Choon. Despite having the urge to give up many times over the last six years, he continues to do what he does because he feels a sense of moral responsibility towards the disabled persons under his care. Many have benefitted from Koh’s resilience and Dignity KitchenTM’s laudable mission. They are people who know life as we know it, except that they have been the victims of unfortunate incidents.
Chef Neo Ik Koon used to be a dim sum chef at an esteemed restaurant till the onset of a stroke. Faced with little prospect of finding a new job, he came to Dignity KitchenTM, where he had to learn how to pick up a knife again. Despite the steep learning curve, Chef Neo persevered and today serves happy customers at Dignity KitchenTM.
Uncle Peter Ong suffers from a hearing disability and while he does not take orders the way other waiting staff do, he is happy to note orders with sign language.
Like Uncle Peter, Madam Tay Ley Keng has hearing and speech impairments but this did not stop her from learning the ropes at Dignity KitchenTM. Today, she single-handedly manages the bakery stall and churns out delicious muffins, giant cookies and other baked products everyday.
With the support of Dignity KitchenTM, the unsung heroes are trying their best to adapt to the rigours of the working world and are able to earn their own keep. These standing symbols of utmost resilience certainly have much to thank the fatherly figure of Dignity KitchenTM for. Their unwillingness to bow to defeat is commendable and their unwavering spirit is certainly well and alive!
The tireless founder of Dignity KitchenTM got a big boost of encouragement when Project Dignity was invited to participate in a musically-themed community outreach event. Play Me, I’m Yours (PMIY) is a global movement initiated by British artist Luke Jerram in 2008. It has come to Singapore and while the event is aimed at giving the musically-inclined public access to pianos, with the help of pre-loved instruments from kind donors, there is a social element to it.
Volunteers work with social organisations to decorate the pianos and the beautiful works of art will be donated to the respective beneficiaries following the end of the public event. Other social organisations also benefit by having pianos delivered to them at the start of the event so the charges will have a chance to play and enjoy delightful music.
Dignity KitchenTM is proud to have a blue upright piano installed at its premises, tuned personally by Zhivko Girginov, a Bulgarian piano teacher and tuner. Zhivko has volunteered his time to tune all of the 25 pianos in the PMIY project up till its official launch. The Dignity KitchenTM visit was facilitated by Komala, Marketing Manager of Project Dignity and Girginov was accompanied by staff from ThePiano.SG that day. Having a piano at Dignity KitchenTM is not only a good gesture that benefits the people with disabilities, it also plays a big role in this organization by serving as an entertainment platform when elderly folks visit the kitchen for a meal treat on weekdays. It helps to serve as an additional medium of interaction amongst the public. For this reason, the piano is a very welcome addition to the food court.
It is hoped that with the piano, the public will be encouraged to visit the premises, have a meal, make music and interact with the dedicated staff at Dignity KitchenTM. The public’s support is of great importance in helping the people with disabilities stride relentlessly forward in their life journeys. The humble piano, with its ability to not only generate melodious music but also bond staff with disabilities and their paying customers, is a key component of this outreach effort.