Hush, it's a reflective tea session for busy executives

Mr Irshad Abbas practising mindfulness at a tea session organised by social enterprise Hush, which employs 25 deaf tea servers.
Mr Irshad Abbas practising mindfulness at a tea session organised by social enterprise Hush, which employs 25 deaf tea servers.PHOTO: HUSH

Commodities trader Irshad Abbas rushed in late for a tea- drinking session aimed at getting busy people to slow down and embrace silence two weeks ago.

Though he was in no mood to sip tea, after back-to-back meetings all day and then being caught in traffic in a taxi on the way in, the meditative experience moved him to tears.

"It became an emotive moment as I drank the tea and began reflecting on past memories," said the 26-year-old.

"The atmosphere transcended the reality of living in Singapore and, in that relaxed state, I could take stock of life and be myself, so I wasn't self-conscious at all," he added. He also surrendered his two mobile phones during the two-hour session, to minimise distractions.

Mr Abbas is one of 700 executives who have participated in tea- drinking sessions held in workplaces by social enterprise Hush.

The social enterprise hires deaf tea servers who use sign language to guide participants through tea sessions where they practise mindfulness and self-reflection.

Participants perform tea rituals in silence and reflect on their experiences by penning their thoughts on paper, composing a poem or dipping their fingers in tea to create artwork on rice paper.


After about an hour of uninterrupted quiet, they are encouraged to share their experiences with their colleagues or Hush staff.

When Hush was first featured in The Straits Times Causes Week last December, it had 10 deaf tea servers and had just completed its first session with 50 executives from DBS Bank.

One year on, it now has 25 deaf servers and has taken its "silent tea bar" concept to more than 13 organisations, including the Ministry of Transport, Parkway Cancer Centre and the US Embassy. Other sessions will be held soon for staff at 15 other organisations such as the Tsao Foundation, Credit Suisse and Singapore Cancer Society.

To spread the word on this concept and inspire others to start their own projects, the Singapore International Foundation is making a short film on Hush for international distribution at the year end.

There are also plans to turn Hush from a social enterprise into a cooperative, so that its deaf staff and members of the public can own the business jointly and get a share of the benefits.

"This cause has taken off beyond all my expectations because, initially, I was worried that people would find the new idea of introducing silence to workplaces as just some hocus pocus," said Ms Anthea Ong, 47, a social entrepreneur and life coach who founded Hush last year with the help of her sister and four friends.

Causes Week returns for the fourth time, from Dec 7 to 13 this year. More than 150 people wrote in to share information about their causes last year.

Anyone with a story or cause to share for the betterment of society can write in for these stories to be featured in this newspaper. The hope is that more will be inspired to step up or contribute to the causes highlighted.

Said Ms Ong: "I hope to keep Hush going as long as possible and expand it beyond Singapore, because I deeply believe in grooming happier workers by managing workplace stress and empowering the hearing-impaired through employment and interaction."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Hush, it's a reflective tea session for busy executives'. Print Edition | Subscribe