After my trip to Nepal, I continue to think about an impactful experience I had in a restaurant in Kathmandu. It has shifted my thinking on how important on how to create a more inclusive workspace for differently-abled people.

The challenges of people who have disabilities

Individuals with disabilities face more challenges and disadvantages compared to those with no disabilities. School is more challenging, (no matter how many accommodations), your dream job can be out of reach, and there is social stigma too. Today I want to talk about one of the many struggles that people with disabilities may encounter: employment. While in Nepal, I stumbled upon a restaurant in Kathmandu that caught my attention. It mostly employs hearing impaired waiting staff. But before I tell you about my experience, let’s put a few facts on this physical restriction on the table. 

For all who want to make a difference when we travel. Nepal has many great social enterprises that help local communities make a better living. One of them is a restaurant in the heart of Kathmandu, Durbar Marg. It's called Sam's One Tree Cafe. This socially responsible restaurant offers a wide range of tasty food and outstanding service at a great price. They offer waiting staff jobs to the hearing impaired and provide sign language lessons to non-hearing impaired staff. How awesome is that?!
When you travel to Nepal make sure to pass by this socially inclusive restaurant in Kathmandu. Sam's One Tree Cafe hires deaf waiting staff in an effort to provide people with this disability with a dignified job. #nepal #socialinclusion #thingstodoinkathmandu

A few facts about deaf people

  • 466 million people in the world have disabling hearing loss.
  • Diseases cause over 30% of hearing loss in children.
  • 60% of childhood hearing loss is preventable through public health actions.
  • Chronic ear infections are a leading cause of hearing loss.
  • In Nepal, one of the main causes of acquired deafness is middle ear infections.

The vast majority of the hearing impaired live in low- and middle-income countries where they often do not have access to appropriate ear and hearing care service.

The World Health Organisation

Hearing impaired people in Nepal

Nepal is one of the least developed countries in the world. It is not difficult to imagine how the country is struggling with high numbers of deaf impaired people. By 2004, the prevalence of deafness in Nepal was about 16.6% of the total population (2.71 million). Half of these cases are preventable and the majority of the remaining half are treatable.  

Fortunately, there are a few organisations that take care of those in need and offer free exams and treatment. In the meantime, it is important that people who are not cured have a chance of a dignified life. That’s why today I want to acknowledge the social role carried out by a restaurant in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. It is called Sam’s One Tree Cafe and it hires deaf waiters. 

Sam’s One Tree Cafe

Style and ambience

This cafe is located in Durbar Marg, where you can find the trendiest restaurants in Kathmandu. Sam’s One Tree Cafe is no exception. It has a terrace, part of it shadowed by the giant tree that emerges from the ground floor. The owner planted this tree back in the ’70s when he had a different business in that same location. To add to this organic feel, the wall showcases a massive mural with drawings of animals and plants.

A restaurant in Kathmandu helps the local community by hiring hearing impaired people as waiters. It's name is Sam's One Tree Cafe. You can find this social responsible cafe at Durbar Marg.
Sam’s One Tree Café first floor patio

Staff

This bustling and trendy restaurant in Kathmandu employs around 14 hearing-impaired waiters. But the owner of this business also has a bakery chain where they also employ deaf waiters. According to an interview* with the manager of this cafe, the company employs around 150 to 200 hearing impaired.

*I didn’t conduct the interview, I found it on a FB video while trying to learn more about the place.

The dining experience

So, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. How is communication possible when all waiters are deaf and mute? How does it work? Pretty simple, really. For customers, you receive a piece of paper with an explanation of the waiters’ circumstances and the restaurant dynamics. You place your order in that piece of paper and done-deal. The rest of the cafe staff have to take a course on sign language to be able to communicate with the waiters.

Now imagine a busy restaurant in Kathmandu which starts to get loud and waiters have to shout at each other to pass a message. At Sam’s One Tree, this problem doesn’t exist. Waiters communicate with sign language, an interesting dynamic to see. And I truly think that it is an advantage over those who do not speak sign language.

These waiters have proven to be as efficient and professional as anyone else. A little bit of thinking outside the box has transformed their workplace to fit their reality. And their system works for everybody in the venue including other workers and customers. I was left very impressed. On further reflection, that feeling shifted to the embarrassment that more businesses weren’t exploring these types of opportunities. My experience at the cafe made me realize that it really is not that difficult to set-up a business that not only supports but thrives with engaged employees with disabilities.

In conclusion…

Whether it is a restaurant in Kathmandu or a local shop in your hometown, I believe we need to support businesses involved in social causes. It will help differently-abled people keep their jobs but most importantly, they are the living example for other enterprises. I wish them success in their business and I hope others find inspiration in their business practice.

Bibliography

Facts about the hearing impaired in these posts are taken fro the following sources:

https://www.erec-p.org/images/pdf/annual_report_2018.pdf

https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/deafness

https://www.who.int/deafness/world-hearing-day/2019-event-nepal/en/

http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/nepal-population/

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-4-431-68397-1_14

https://www.erec-p.org/ear-services

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27 Comments

  1. Wow, I’m so sad that I missed Sam’s One Tree Cafe when I was in Kathmandu. I totally agree that we all should support businesses that are addressing social causes and doing good work in their communities. I’m sure I’ll be returning to Nepal eventually, so when I do, I’ll definitely drop by this cafe to enjoy the food and ambiance – and support hearing impaired servers. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow! This is such a great way to support people who normally find themselves on the fringes of society. I’ve been to a few blind massages in China, but this is the first hearing-impaired restaurant I’ve heard of. Sometimes I worry about the ethics of such places, but I feel as long as the workers are treated fairly with respect, it’s a great opportunity for them. The food looks amazing, too! I’ll definitely have to check them out someday. Thanks for sharing!

  3. What an impressive concept, and even more so that it can be found in one of the least developed countries in the world. Sam’s One Tree Cafe is a shining example for the rest of the world that we should all be focusing more on social inclusion. If I visit Nepal, I will definitely make sure to support them!

  4. Hats off to Sam’s One Tree Cafe! Everybody needs to feel included and have a sense of purpose. This is such a great way to help the impaired feel like a part of society. I LOVE it!

  5. I love that you travel this way – these types of places are fantastic for local communities and it’s totally our responsibility as travelers to support them. A similar place existed in Ho Chi Minh which supported all sorts of differently abled people to have jobs there. It was fantastic!

  6. This is a really great and empowering idea! I love that the staff and restaurant adjusted their environment to accommodate the hearing impaired. More companies should take note!

  7. This is such a great post, thank you for sharing your experience! I haven’t thought much about how differently abled people get employed and go about their lives in third world countries, especially when society does not have much inclusion for them. I’m planning to head to Nepal next year, so I’ll favourite this 🙂

  8. This was such a cool article to read – thank you for putting this information out there! I would definitely visit here while in the area!

  9. Wow – this had changed they way I think. What a wonderful way of doing things. Something we can definitely do better in my home.

  10. This seems like such a lovely, considerate cafe. Really happy to hear that this sort of business exists – I hope more pop up over the coming years to support people with other disabilities who might have struggled to find work in the past 🙂

  11. Oh this sounds so interesting! I wish I knew about it when I was in Kathmandu! Thanks for sharing, definitely saving for later if I get to Nepal again <3

    1. I know… it’s such a bummer when we find out about cool things after we’ve been to a place. You can hopefully let other people know 🙂

  12. This looks awesome! I’m planning my Nepal trip right now so I’ll be adding this to my list of things to check out 🙂

  13. This is amazing that they do such good work and employ people who have no reason not to be employed. Like you said there are many good things here and it’s a wonderful organization for doing what so many others don’t for absolutely no good reason.Plus the food looks amazing, which is the main thing, and it shouldn’t matter who is serving it to you. If you’ve got good (and plentiful) food then it’s bound to be a winner. Your face says it all 🙂

  14. What a progressive concept and yet it’s so simple! I mean writing our orders in exchange for providing opportunities for people… As you said, it’s embarrassing to think that more businesses don’t offer these types of opportunities. Thank you so much for sharing this – it gives me some faith in humanity again…and I needed that!

  15. I had no idea about this statistic in Nepal, so thank you very much for sharing! I recently started learning ASL, and I appreciate any and every opportunity for me to learn how to be a better ally to people who are deaf or have hearing challenges. I would love to check out this cafe and again, thank you for sharing and also including additional resources!

    1. It’s really great that you are learning ASL, that has been on my bucket list for a while too. I am glad you liked the post, I really wanted this info to be out there because I think they are doing something great.

  16. What a lovely concept and what a USEFUL restaurant! It’s great to see that there are people across the globe paying attention to what different categories of people need! Plus, the restaurant looks amazing!

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