Cafe run by people with special needs opens in RI

Social enterprise café, Professor Brawn, was officially opened in Raffles Institution (RI) on July 18, 2018. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung and president of the Autism Resource Centre Denise Phua trying out the Nets Flashpay machine at Professor Brawn in Raffles Institution on July 18, 2018. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Raffles Institution saying it has a professor on its school ground may not surprise many.

Except this is about Professor Brawn, the first social enterprise cafe under the Autism Resource Centre (ARC), a non-profit organisation dedicated towards serving individuals with autism.

The school now has a Professor Brawn Cafe located at Block B, offering everything from burgers and chicken truffle, to Taiwanese bubble tea chain Gong Cha's popular drinks such as Earl Grey Milk Tea and Mango Green Tea. The cafe, which is run by 10 employees, officially opened on Wednesday (July 18).

RI principal Frederick Yeo said that the school is honoured to bring the cafe to its campus.

"We strongly believe in building an inclusive society where everyone, regardless of his or her background, has a place and can contribute something of value to the community," he said.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung made an appearance at the event and toured the new cafe.

Among those working there is special needs employee Tanat Pruetthipunthu, 35.

Mr Tanat, who has high-functioning autism, said it has not been easy securing and holding on to a job because of his condition. He had prior stints at a fast-food joint and a bookstore but because he seldom speaks, it led to misunderstandings and eventually, arguments with colleagues.

But the cafe at RI, where he is one of five employees with special needs, allows him to work alongside those who can empathise with his condition. He said it gives him a "greater sense of belonging".

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The special needs employees first received training at the Employability and Employment Centre under ARC, where they were equipped with the skills to prepare them for work.

Professor Brawn Cafe was a private social enterprise cafe before the founders donated the brand and know-how to ARC to enable the organisation to expand the enterprise to benefit more people.

Ms Denise Phua, president of ARC, said: "People with autism and other special needs can lead productive lives. They, like the rest of us, want to work and enjoy financial independence."

Ms Phua, who is an MP for Jalan Besar GRC and was at the cafe's opening, said she hopes that the ARC will be able to partner more schools, employers and community partners to bring Professor Brawn Cafe to more locations across Singapore and "give dignity of work to people with special needs".

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