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Wed Jun 29 07:28:14 CAT 2016

Have a cup with compassion

Aarti J Narsee | 08 February, 2016 00:18
Brownies and Downies opens its doors employing 23 staff aged between 15 and 37. Their conditions include Down's syndrome, foetal alcohol syndrome and autism. File photo
Image by: Thinkstock

A little magic arrives in the lives of intellectually disabled people today with the opening of a coffee shop in Cape Town dedicated to giving them jobs.

Brownies and Downies, which will run as a non-profit organisation, also aims to train special-needs people to be employable in the hospitality, service and retail sectors.

The shop, the first of its kind in South Africa, is based on a Dutch concept launched by chef Teun Horck and Thijs Swinkels, who worked in a special-needs school. After noticing how few people with disabilities were employed in the hospitality sector, they now have close to 30 shops in the Netherlands.

Dutch social worker Wendy Vermeulen, who brought the idea to Cape Town, said: "In the Netherlands, and especially in South Africa, people don't acknowledge people with intellectual disabilities."

Brownies and Downies opens its doors employing 23 staff aged between 15 and 37. Their conditions include Down's syndrome, foetal alcohol syndrome and autism.

Ashley du Preez, 19, has been turned away from 17 schools because of her autism.

"They don't want someone with autism at normal schools. She has worked at a lot of places. She gets stressed and then they fire her," said Vermeulen.

Her guardian, Susan du Preez, took Ashley in because she had an abusive mother and ended up living on the streets.

"She has got absolutely nothing. It was hard in the beginning, but she pushed through," said Susan.

"This coffee shop is wonderful. It gives everyone a chance to do something. It's all these kids ever need, just a little push."

Tineke Ganz-Malan, director of Down Syndrome Association Western Cape, said the concept was fantastic.

"It is not easy in South Africa. People with intellectual disabilities who come from lower-income and disadvantaged communities are often relied on for their disability grants as an income. They don't get a chance to leave home and work," she said.

Ganz Malan, who has two children with Down's syndrome, said at Saturday's launch that the Long Street shop provided an opportunity to integrate people with intellectual disabilities into society.

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