On pirates and disability
Sao Paulo | Brazil
Chefs Especiais – a cooking school for people with Down syndrome and a cafeteria – started because Simone and her husband felt the urge to give back something to the world and express their gratitude for having healthy children, jobs, house… things which many of us just take for granted.
We started to research what could be done – says Simone -. Twelve years ago there were quite a few organizations working for poor people, but for those with disability nobody. We chose to work with them. We started with people with Down syndrome and we’ve basically never stopped. At the beginning we just approached people on the street, inviting them to our activities. Some came, some didn’t. Today we have 300 students per year and we have a long waiting list.
Simone’s approach worked out, although (or maybe because) it is very different from the customary one.
I have always moved independently, I didn’t want to do things the usual way. For example people ask: do you have a psychologist? No, here we don’t have any psychologist. This is a gastronomy school. We need chefs to teach, not psychologists. I think that’s why we get good results. Here we don’t help people, we empower them.
Empower and create inclusion.
The trademark of our social business is a skull. We put on it a chef’s hat and a cup of coffee. Why a skull? The skull is the symbol of universal equality. The skull has no color, has no religion. It’s plain. You are fat or thin... You still have a skull. We all have one. We work on inclusion and equality for everyone. Also for those with Down syndrome, as they have a skull just like any of us.
Equality and inclusion means the same rights, but also the same duties.
When I travel for TV programs or such a thing I always take with me two students. We never go for priority lines. If I had somebody sick I would, but that’s not the case with them. Once one of the kids kept telling me “There, there! There is our queue”. I told him we fight for inclusion. So, this is inclusion. We queue with all the others.
The same rules apply in our school. Here there’s no room for those who are not motivated. We have a place only for those who want to do their best. In the kitchen and in their life alike. We point this out a lot to them. And the families feel the difference, they tell me that their kids are different when they leave this place, and they bring this change to those that live with them.
To do your best and change your life you need to believe in yourself first.
We work a lot on their self-esteem. I have a student that says all the time: „I don’t manage”. And we keep repeating “Yes, you do”. At home they learnt they are not able. We tell them they can manage, and if they don’t - they try again and again till they make it. We are here to help them. And celebrate their successes! They start to feel valuable. In these 11 years here, the majority of those who came had never opened an egg before. The mothers don’t let them do it because they think they would mess up. You know how many students dropped an egg? One, out of all those who passed by and never opened an egg before. Because they are careful, and we are there leading them. This makes the change. We also push a lot on the mothers. It cannot be that here they cook and then they get home where they are not allowed to do a thing. We need the support of the families as well.
Chefs Especiais works with people with Down syndrome, their families, but also all sort of other people, who step by to visit their café.
For me inclusion is inclusion. Inclusion is for everybody, not only for those with disability. We opened the first inclusive café in Brazil; all the waiters are people with Down syndrome. It is on one of the main streets of Sao Paulo, where all kind of people pass by: ladies, children, gays, people full of tattoos, bikers. Anybody. The weirdest kind of person you can imagine, you find it here. That’s what I want, I want it to be a place of true diversity. And we don’t want to do anything others already did. We always try to be different.
Be different and get out of the comfort zone.
I think that people don’t need to keep waiting to win the lottery to get the money to start and do something. We people have this habit of escaping, finding excuses to avoid stepping out of our comfort zone. When we started we worked with community support. I’m not rich. I was using my own money, my own resources, I was asking friends… and we always managed to do what we wanted. We borrowed places and when we didn’t manage I was doing things at home. It’s all about being really willing to do what you want to do. About taking the first step. That’s the most difficult one. Once you did it, it flows. Even in the most difficult situation here I don’t despair, because I know something is going to happen.
More about Chefs Especiais: chefsespeciais.com.br