Mentally disabled students in 'Inclusive Space' brew coffee shop future

Lu Feiran
Students of the Huangpu Special Education Vocational School now take regular barista training, hoping to expand their job options in the employment market.
Lu Feiran

Shot by Yu Wenhao. Edited by Yu Wenhao. Subtitles by Lu Feiran.

Volunteer Tay Thien Hui from Malaysia didn't expect to see so many eager eyes in a classroom at the Huangpu Special Education Vocational School.

The mentally disabled children were so excited to see him and his wife, Amy Zhang from Singapore, at a barista training class, that they shook the duo's hands, showed them the best moves and couldn't stop talking about their favorite cartoon characters.

"I could feel the kindness from their heart, especially purity from their eyes," Tay said.

Mentally disabled students in 'Inclusive Space' brew coffee shop future
Yu Wenhao / SHINE

Spending a day with the students was a mind-broadening experience for Tay Thien Hui (left), a volunteer from Malaysia.

This was the first time that expat volunteers had joined the "iDEALCafe2022: Inclusive Space" project. Launched in August by Shanghai Daily, in collaboration with coffee shops and multinational corporations, the project provides vocational training to students with autism, Down syndrome and other mental disabilities in an effort to ease their transition into the workforce and societal integration.

"I got to know about the program from City News Service," Tay revealed. "Having been in Shanghai for more than 10 years, my life is mainly involved with work and business, but now I have a deeper understanding about the city after my experience with the children."

The training program at the school was launched in September from a classroom decorated to simulate a real coffee shop. After three months, 15-year-old Bian Xueyao with Down's syndrome is now able to make a perfect Americano and Latte.

Mentally disabled students in 'Inclusive Space' brew coffee shop future
Lu Feiran / SHINE

Bian Xueyao (second left) learns to make coffee with her best friend during a training session.

"Coffee is very delicious, and the happiest moment is when you present the coffee you make to the teacher," Bian said.

The students are expected to put barista on their job option list after the training. Last month, Yin Ming, the first student to benefit from the "Inclusive Space" project, earned the opportunity to become a part-time barista at Coffee Commune, a Shanghai supporter of Yunnan coffee founded by Eric Baden of Germany.

But, teaching students with mental disabilities is a great challenge, even for an experienced barista trainer like Chen Zeyu.

Before taking on the job, the trainer with MQ Coffee had designed two different teaching plans for the children, but in the first session itself, he found that neither of them actually worked.

Mentally disabled students in 'Inclusive Space' brew coffee shop future
Yu Wenhao / SHINE

Experienced barista trainer Chen Zeyu is especially patient with the students during the training sessions.

"We had to adjust the teaching plan immediately according to the feedback we got from the students as well as the situation that evolved during the first session," Chen said. "And we're still exploring."

But the students' passion touched Chen.

"I believe they're competent to do all this work and to realize their values, but they do need help from other people," he noted. "Our ultimate goal is to allow these children to integrate into society with a job, so that they can find their own value in their work."

Those interested in the volunteer program can scan the QR code below.

Mentally disabled students in 'Inclusive Space' brew coffee shop future

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