(First published in The Bush Chicken)
MONROVIA, Montserrado – iCampus, a shared co-working space focused on technology and social change, is adding another element to its campus, with the launch of an inclusive learning café. Luther Jeke, who manages the 4,000 square-foot campus, said the new addition is a café and a restaurant that will be exclusively managed by people living with disabilities and is the first of its kind in Liberia.
Jeke said the main objective of the café is to provide hard skills such as cooking and customer service, café and restaurant management, among others, to people living with disabilities. It will also help them find employment opportunities to sustain themselves and their families.
“As you know, we are social innovators. So, we realized that over the years, even people who do not live with disabilities do not often find opportunities to live better lives in Liberia. Then, what more if you talk about people living with disabilities?” he said.
“In our educational system, you don’t find classrooms that are accessible to people with disabilities. In our work environments, we don’t have opportunities for them. So, this is an innovative approach to how we can draw people with disabilities to come and be a part of innovative technology and make social change in [the] environment.”
He said the space will also be used for lunch and learn advocacy and awareness, where people of other institutions can buy food and listen to young people with disabilities talk about their skills. “That can encourage other organizations and the government and other institutions who don’t often include people with disabilities in their programming to change their mindset, so that, they can start including more people with disabilities in their programming,” he said.
Jeke further explained that the café would be used to build coalitions of organizations supporting and working with people living with disabilities that lead advocacy for reforms in the interest of the disabled community in Liberia.
With support from the British and Irish Embassies in Liberia, Williette Safehouse, an organization that works with people living with disabilities in Liberia will recruit and provide training in the café. Williette Safehouse’s CEO, Rita Stryker, explained that her organization through its Emancipate Fellowship, will recruit and build the skills of four individuals with disabilities every five months and make them ready for the job market.
She said after the training, fellows will be linked to employers and owners of prominent hotels and restaurants for employment.
The café will officially be opened in October and the first batch of fellows have already been recruited. “To be accepted into our fellowship program, you have to provide your CV, and then, we have different criteria,” Stryker said, adding that all fellows will need to be enrolled in college.
She said throughout during the five months, fellows would be taught by professionals in leadership, hospitality and hotel management, while also putting their skills into use at the café. One of the initial fellows participating in the program, Joretta Tokpah, who studies psychology and sociology at the University of Liberia, said she looks forward to gaining employable skills and earning money for herself while pursuing her studies.
Tokpah said she believes it is a fallacy that people with disabilities cannot gain employment in a normal working environment. “People who have that mindset have to change [it] because people living with disabilities can also impact society,” she said.
Michael Weah, another fellow who is visually impaired, praised the organizers and sponsors of the program. He said he and the other fellows would provide quality services, as is done at any standard restaurant around town.
Featured photo courtesy of Janet M Kamara