By Rania Zanoun
Damascus, Jul 24 (EFE).- When Aya started working at Damascus’ Cafe Soset, she not only found herself, but also made friends and found love after many years of isolation.
Cafe Soset has been open for less than a year in the Syrian capital and aims to promote the integration of people with Down syndrome into society.
“I don’t want my shift to end. I like to work all day,” the 30-year-old tells Efe.
“Today, I have friends and I feel like I’m in love with Abdel Rahman, my co-worker at the cafeteria,” Aya says with a laugh, confessing that she dreams of marrying her partner.
Despite her shyness, Aya greets customers with a wide smile which is why many of those who come to have a drink or a snack at the cafe ask for her.
“It’s a new life for me,” says the young woman.
The project of opening a place in which employees with Down syndrome work side by side with others was born some four years ago, following the success of a volunteer program to include people with the genetic disorder in the staff of a local festival.
It was then that the Jothour Association for People with Disabilities began to train Cafe Soset’s future workers to teach them the ins and outs of how to serve beverages to customers.
Kholoud Rajab, chief of the association, explains to Efe that this is the first initiative to employ people with Down syndrome, often forced to stay out of the Syrian labor market.
“The idea is mutual integration, whether it is the interaction between people with Down syndrome and the customers of the cafe, or the integration of the other workers with the young people with this condition,” she says.
The cafe also seeks to promote tolerance and end the discrimination that often accompanies these young people in various aspects of their lives.
Nearly 200 people applied to work in the cafe, but the Jothour Association was only able to select 25 for its training program and incorporation into the workforce, Heba Jaban, a member of the organization, tells Efe.
Jaban highlights the impact the initiative has had on the personal development of these young people and assured that “each one has a goal, a plan for the future and their lives have completely changed.”
Reham’s mother has seen firsthand the benefits working at the cafe has brought to her daughter’s life.
Although Reham has won titles in weightlifting and horseback riding, being part of Soset tops the list of her favorite activities for being “a means to have a good conversation, meet friends and establish relationships,” her mother says.
“Reham is a different person,” she adds. EFE