The advantages of learning different languages are instructive in a world of multilingualism.
Qatar is a fine example with people of different linguistic backgrounds coming across each other in a cosmopolitan setting. However, if you know two or three languages already, you might still need to learn another — sign language — if you want to enjoy traditional Arab or Qatari sweets at one interesting place.
Al Aker Sweets is almost synonymous with traditional Arab sweets such as knafeh. A new branch of the brand at Al Wajbah Street in Al Rayyan has only employed people with disability, the hearing and speaking-impaired. The underlying reason for having the differently abled staff is to have inclusivity and encourage customers to learn and communicate in the sign language.
Community recently spoke with Abdul Rahman Mahmoud al-Balasi, a young Jordanian entrepreneur and manager of the newly-opened branch of Al Aker Sweets in Al Rayyan. The 27-year-old, born and brought up in Qatar, has difficulties in hearing and speaking but the vision he carries certainly speaks to others.
It was Rahman’s personal idea to have a shop or restaurant employing only persons with disability. “In the beginning, I had the idea of creating a menu card for people with hearing and speech impairment, making it easier for them to communicate and interact with customers. I believe with the passage of time, people will definitely know how to communicate with the staff who are differently abled.
“We are already working on the idea of developing a special menu tablet for people who are unable to hear and speak. The tablet will also help customers understand the sign language and communicate effectively with the staff. I will also display the sign language on a TV set in the shop. My belief is that all people need to learn the sign language to communicate with the differently abled.”
Rahman, who studied computer sciences in high school, has been working with Al Aker Sweets’ Salwa Road branch. He has learnt how to prepare the traditional Arab sweets. All the staff members at his new shop are either his friends or acquaintances. “We were already friends. We [people with disabilities] are a community. I communicated to them that I had an idea of starting a new sweets shop and they can work with me. The people who I have employed agreed to work with me. I took them to our Salwa Road branch and trained them. Currently, five people are working in the shop. All staff members were born and brought up in Qatar.”
In response to a question about why he had opted for people with disability when the business practice is to seek employees with an edge, Rahman said he was not afraid of losses (on account of differently abled staff). “They may not be able to hear or speak but they are very smart. They have other abilities, too. The good thing about selling sweets is that the customers can only hint at a dish and the staff can deliver [smiles]. I have no fear of failure. I am sure together we will succeed and prosper. People in Qatar are usually very nice. The customers have been dealing with the staff in a gentle manner. I have noticed that some customers come back because of the staff. They like the idea. Some customers have told me they will learn the sign language just to be able to communicate with the staff.”
The young entrepreneur dismissed the idea that he may have hired the differently abled staff as a marketing tool. “I am not using them as a marketing tool. In our religion, it is not good to exploit someone’s disability or disadvantage. If we need more staff, we will hire from the same community. It is to give them an opportunity to work and earn.”
The idea may have been the brainchild of Rahman, but he was encouraged and supported by his elder brother. “My elder brother helped me realise the idea. I started the business with my money. In future, I also plan to enhance my business. I am committed to hiring staff from the same community.”
The differently abled entrepreneur is all praise for Qatar for helping him chase his dream. “I simply love the country. There are many favours I have got from Qatar: I got my education here, I have set up my business here. I am particularly, excited that the FIFA 2022 World Cup will take place here. There will be many people visiting Qatar. I believe many travellers will visit my shop also. I think the world will learn from my idea.”
When asked what his experience of being a differently abled person and working with other such people has taught him, Rahman shared some suggestions. “I would urge people to learn the sign language. More and more people need to have some idea of the language. This is the minimum gift other people can give the differently abled. I do not think that there is something called disability. These people have many abilities that they can use. They can work and make progress in any field.”
The young businessman says technologies like computer, smartphone, and Internet have made his project a lot easier. “Our customers can choose an item or a dish from the tablet. The tablet is connected with the main cash counter. This enables quick delivery and payment collection. It has also made it very easy for customers to communicate and the staff to understand the order.”
Interestingly, the kitchen staff is not made up of people with disabilities. That being said, the entrepreneur has already started teaching the staff with disability how to prepare traditional sweets. And they are learning very quickly.
Rahman has chosen Al Rayyan to set up the business because he was raised in the vicinity. He said he liked the area and was happy to do business there.
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