SINGAPORE - It is lunchtime on a Saturday and Madam Malliga is bustling about serving piping hot bowls of laksa and mee rebus to customers.
But Sedap Cafe, where she works, is no ordinary eatery.
It is located in one of the wards at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where the 62-year-old, who has schizophrenia, has been a patient since 2011.
The cafe, which was opened by Punggol East MP Charles Chong on Saturday (Oct 26), is currently run by six IMH staff, and three long-stay patients, including Madam Malliga.
Such patients stay in IMH for over a year, with some remaining there for up to 20 years, said senior nurse clinician Aziz Abdul Hamed.
In 2015, patients in this category were regrouped into various categories based on their ability levels, as part of efforts to design specialised programmes tailored to their needs.
Those with good potential for rehabilitation, like Madam Malliga, undergo a slow stream rehabilitation programme which aims to help them regain their confidence, improve their functioning and independent living skills, gain employment and eventually reintegrate to the larger community.
Aside from working in the cafe, patients under the programme can also learn to make and sell products, participate in gardening activities, and even undergo vocational training to take on simple jobs as part of IMH's kitchen and cleaning crews.
Mr Aziz, who oversees the programme, said: "We want to start to build their resilience by starting them on part-time work."
He added that more than 60 long-stay patients have been discharged since the programme started in 2015.
The cafe will operate on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 12noon, and will serve only IMH staff and patients.
Patients running the cafe need to first pass a Workforce Skills Qualifications course, and undergo further training and guidance on the days they are not working. They are paid a token sum for their work.
And the training appears to have paid off. Madam Malliga, who previously did not know how to cook, now helps to prepare laksa, mee siam, lava cakes and beancurd at the cafe.
"I am happy to see my friends at the cafe. I am very happy, very thankful," she said.
An IMH spokesman said that there is potential for more patients to work at the cafe after they are trained.
The cafe was opened on the sidelines of a mental health carnival held at the IMH campus on Saturday.
Attended by over 1,000 members of the public, the carnival focused on the theme of therapy and rehabilitation, allowing visitors to experience various therapeutic activities such as music therapy, art therapy, and horticulture activities.
There were also activities such as photo-taking with horses and feeding them, and workshops on dealing with mental health issues.
Student Denyse Chua, 12, said: "It's fun interacting with the patients here and it's not bad talking to them and hearing about their experiences."
Mr Chong told The Straits Times that there are still a lot of misconceptions about mental health issues and events like the carnival can help to dispel the stigma.
"Patients are part of the community, and the community is a part of them... The more interaction the public has with them, the better the understanding will be," he said.
He added: "When the day comes that there's completely no stigma against mental health issues, that will be a good day."