Thursday, November 30, 2023

Downtism Café; Cosy Hangout Run by Autistic, Down Syndrome Staff

A café was recently opened at a shopping centre near Vanak square in northern Tehran with staff suffering from autism and Down Syndrome.

Downtism Café has been launched with the efforts of Ailin Gerami, a music teacher who has been teaching music to these mentally disordered guys for more than 17 years.

Currently, the café just serves coffee and tea and juices to customers, a recent report by Shargh Newspaper said.

The café is run by 35 crew members, all of whom have mental disorders but are able to work in several shifts. This is how they can earn an income and be accepted by the society.

The place is not as big as one may think. It has six or seven tables. A little piano is located at the corner of the café, and one of the staff plays it and sings songs.

Mohammad-Javad, 26, suffers from autism. He welcomes us and suggests that we try the natural juices of the café. He takes the order and then Ailin enters. She had been thinking of running such a place for more than five years, but she has just managed to implement it. With the help of the Welfare Organization, she rented a place to start the job.

“I majored in music, and I am the director of the Department of Music at university. The fact is that I’ve given many concerts with these guys for 17 years. We’ve travelled to different cities, but I felt that’s not enough. Although a lot of people were attending the concerts, I felt something is missing. How long can they perform concerts? People just came to see them and then left after a few minutes.  Nobody gave them a job and they were disappointed,” added Gerami.

Downtism Café; Cosy Hangout Run by Autistic, Down Syndrome Staff

“For the past three years, I have been thinking of running a workplace for them. I shared the idea with the Welfare Organization, and I referred to many officials. There were many problems. I told the organization last week that I really want to launch a workplace for these guys because they are grown-ups now and need to be part of the society. The Welfare Organization was very supportive and I managed to rent this place and employ 10 people.”

“However, yesterday something interesting happened. As the 10 people started their work, the family of 25 others came and asked for a job for their children in this café as well. We did not know at all what the output of this café would be. Despite all of this, 35 people are now set to work here. I saw how much they need to work, and now all of them will work here in different shifts and the income will be equally distributed among them,” underlined Gerami.

“Employees here are suffering from Down Syndrome, Autism, Learning Disorder, and some other disorders. We are currently accepting orders for juice and coffee, because we do not even have professional coffee machines. But in Ramadan, a barista is to going to train the staff for a month, and we will be completing our purchases for the cafe in the next week to have a great opening on Eid al-Fitr.”

Talking about the reaction of shopkeepers in the shopping centre, Gerami said, “I didn’t think the opening ceremony would be so crowded. For the same reason, I didn’t mention it when asking for their permission to hold the ceremony. However, encountered with such a massive crowd, they were somehow scared. After I explained why so many people have rushed to the place, they warmly welcomed the idea, and ordered coffee and sent us big flower bunches.”


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