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Catering to Food and Change: Inclusive hiring of a Food joint In Nairobi, Kenya.

For all creative minds out there, finding things or spaces that spark or trigger creativity is an absolute priority (I guess even for those who may think they are not as creative too -I don’t know). A kitchen is not such a space for most of us. To some, it is unimagined that putting together a meal is inspirational. This is not the case with Feisal, the Pallet cafe owner. To him, kitchens are creative spaces where great food, love, and good vibes are created and shared. You’d be quick to dismiss it as what anyone who runs a food business would say. This one is different. 

Pallet cafe does not only make and serve great food, they are creating and serving change too. It is a reimagined space where eco-friendliness, inclusivity, and what most millennials would call, “good vibes” co-exist effortlessly and brilliantly. We’ll be celebrating Pallet cafe during this year’s International Deaf Awareness week, for their incredible work on inclusivity, where the majority of their staff are hard of hearing. 

I drafted this article enjoying some great coffee. Feisal was quick to point out, with pride, that the coffee is roasted inhouse. Jackline, one of the waitresses there, who is full of positive energy, was kind enough to serve it fresh-hot, just the way I like it. She went further and taught me a few words in Kenyan Sign Language such as “thank you” and “welcome”. It would be easy for anyone to note her confidence and passion towards her duty. Her empathy towards my inability to communicate in sign language is what I noticed most. She put in all the effort required for us to communicate. Jackline is hearing impaired, just like 70% of all staff at Pallet cafe. 

Next time you are out to grab a meal, I encourage you to try out Pallet cafe, Lavington. You’ll be met by one or more of Feisal’s team, mostly hearing impaired. It would be difficult to miss them, in their dark T-shirts, marked “I am deaf”. Given that most staff are hard of hearing, their alertness and responsiveness left me in awe. The opportunity the cafe has afforded these guys is rare. Most people with disabilities are not only discriminated against but they are explicitly denied opportunities. Feisal has built a space where attitudes are changed, both on how we all perceive persons with disabilities and how persons with disabilities view their capability.

The cafe, led by Feisal is a good reference for all. He is helping all of us face up to the reality that it is an extraordinary opportunity to enable an equal world. After spending some time with him, I think it is not out of character for him to show the way. A fast-spoken, afro-rocking gentleman, who isn’t shy to point out hard truths. I could sense how important the staff and space are to him. He attributes his past working experiences in the humanitarian sector as one of his inspirations to start the cafe’s hiring model. He knows that every employer can adopt it, and encourages them to try it out. I’ll remember him by his boldness and his laughter, beyond his amazing creations – change and food. Adam, his General Manager, is equally passionate about changing how businesses create opportunities for persons with disabilities. As a team, their goal is to empower the staff for growth. They were quick to point out that new roles are filled internally and the team is constantly developing. The environment has fostered self-growth for the staff, particularly those who are hearing-impaired, that Adam has promoted them according to such growth. Extremely low turnover has been a good cue of the smart investment they continue to make by hiring inclusively. According to Adam, it has also reflected on the bottom-line. 

Both Feisal and Adam believe that everybody has potential and that everyone can contribute to the change needed, especially when given an equal opportunity.

To raise sign language awareness, International Sign Language day is celebrated on the 23rd of September. Since the early times of Deaf Awareness Week, that dates back to the 50s, the last full week of September presents as an incredible opportunity to promote the Deaf community, social inclusion, and organizations supporting those that are hearing impaired. 

In 2020, the World Federation of the Deaf is running the Global Leaders Challenge to test and advance the utilization of communications via gestures. The challenge can be tried out by all, whether hard of hearing or not. 

My huge thanks to Feisal, Adam, Jackline, and the amazing staff at Pallet cafe for their incredible work and delicious food. We wish you all the best and keep spreading positivity and good vibes. P.S. we love your coffee! 

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