By Gabriel Vargas, ICADS Professor
A few summers ago, ICADS students from the Pitzer Summer Health Program in Costa Rica had the opportunity to visit an inspiring restaurant and organization in Granada, Nicaragua.
The Centro Social Tío Antonio is a non-governmental organization founded in 2007 to provide job and education opportunities to young Nicaraguan men and women. In the Centro, our students had lunch at Café de las Sonrisas, the first restaurant in Latin America to employ deaf-mute people only. Students also helped at Tío Antonio Hammocks, a workshop that employs people with disabilities and with limited job opportunities because of their socioeconomic condition.
Antonio, the Organization’s founder welcomed us and, filled with enthusiasm and passion, explained the history. Realizing that many people with speech and hearing impairments were being discriminated and denied jobs in the city, he decided to provide an opportunity for those boys and girls to demonstrate their abilities and creativity. Therefore, he created a hammock workshop where they could earn a salary to support their daily lives.
As time went by, the place became famous because of the quality and appeal of the products they were selling, something that gave more confidence and energy to the creators to continue working hard and outdoing themselves.
The workshop that started with only 2 men now employs more than 30 people and grants them scholarships to continue their education.
- At the Café de las Sonrisas, clients must make their orders using sign language, then the walls are nicely decorated with images to help them learn and better communicate with the workers. During lunch, our students got to practice their nonverbal communication skills.
One the most enlightening experiences was when we were each given a pair of earplugs and asked to put them on for five minutes. Then we tried to talk without listening to each other. All the students did their best to have conversations; some already knew sign language! The activity was a great way to understand that communication goes beyond words and that, although not easy at first, humans can communicate just as well by using other forms of language.
After we had our meals, the group had their picture taken in one of the workshop’s big hammocks. This moment was also recorded on Nicaraguan National television as a local TV channel was filming a documentary about the Centro.
The Summer Health Program has a focus on the Sociology of Health, and the combination of the work done by the staff of the restaurant and the workshop with the social approach of Tío Antonio was certainly a valuable learning experience for our students. They were shown the social barriers that people with physical impairment or affected by socioeconomic disparities face every day, but at the same time, they were exposed to a group of people who chose to fight such barriers with lots of efforts and creativity.
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