ICC’s 25th Anniversary Feature : The Ark of Opportunity – Be Fruitful and Multiply
Having worked with young adults with disabilities in International China Concern (ICC) since 2014, I always believed that each one of them is gifted with unique abilities and has something to offer when the right opportunity comes.
Besides bringing love and hope to our young people, ICC also provides life skills and vocational training to develop their potential, prepare them for a more independent life and facilitate their integration into society.
Inception of the Little Ark
How to raise public awareness and acceptance of our young people with their varied abilities? I had been thinking about this question for a long time. Acceptance and integration have to be mutual. While we empower our young people with different skill sets and send them out to the community, we can also try to create curiosity from ordinary people in the community and help connect both sides.
The Little Ark is more than a mobile food truck. In addition to selling food and drinks, it serves as a social classroom where the young people can learn and utilise different skill sets, including hospitality, customer service, cash management and communication skills. With adequate skills and a safe working environment, they can excel in many ways.
Although there is still a long way to go in terms of public acceptance of people with a disability in China, building relation-“ship” always begins with small steps. I therefore named the food truck the “Little Ark”, hoping that it would serve as a platform for our young people to connect with the community and sail into their dreams.
The first sketch of the Little Ark by Karen’s friend Stacy, who helped her begin designing the Ark.
Varied Abilities but Same Passion
Our pioneering Ark can hold four to five people at a time. It is wheelchair-friendly and all its furnishings are customised for people with disabilities. We did not realise how small the Ark is until after it was loaded with equipment and the crew, including Captain Jessica with her wheelchair.
Meet our Little Ark Crew
Duties: cashier, accounting and logistics
Male crew: James
Duties: coffee brewing and delivery (contagious smile included!)
Female crew: Luelue, Jianjian, Lingling and Fenfen
Duties: popcorn making and customer service
We are open 8:30am – 4:30pm daily.
Come try our coffee and popcorn!
Before the official launch in May, I started training the crew in coffee and popcorn making and setting up the accounts system. Every crew member gradually picked up his or her role. However, the team encountered some difficulties communicating with James because he is hearing-impaired and has some learning disabilities. We concluded that the team should learn and use sign language with James for better teamwork.
My hope is for James to grow further and become more professional in coffee making, from gaining knowledge about coffee to the selection of coffee beans and even the art of brewing. The Little Ark has broadened his horizons and transformed his life into one with hope, value and purpose. James is now the “key person” of the Little Ark as I have entrusted him with the responsibility of opening the store every day.
Throughout the setup and training process, the Little Ark crew and project team had a great deal of problem solving to do. It has been an uphill struggle but a wonderful learning journey for everyone involved. We vary in our abilities, but we share the same passion in our hearts – everyone can enjoy a life of opportunity and fulfillment.
Opportunity to Give
A thought came to me that we can give a certain percentage of the Little Ark’s income to help families with special needs in ICC’s Family Partners Programme. The Little Ark crew will be delighted to know that they not only have the ability to work and make money, but also can give to help other people in need.
The Little Ark has attracted a lot of attention; everyone likes the truck and is curious about it. Every day, there are children from the Welfare Centre walking passed the Ark, shouting excitedly, “Coffee! Popcorn!” The Ark is the fruit of many people’s effort and contribution that helped turn my idea into a real Ark stationed inside the Changsha No.1 Social Welfare Institute today.
The Little Ark is well received by the community and the government officials at the Changsha Welfare Institute.
Be Fruitful and Multiply
We hope this model of the Little Ark will help more young people with disabilities build up their confidence in serving their communities. We want them to contribute to society and be appreciated, and be part of a movement to create more awareness.
I am already dreaming about a second Little Ark to serve as a training Ark. It will be a bigger truck that will allow at least two young people in wheelchairs to move around comfortably inside. This next Ark will provide services based on the abilities and interest of the young people. If some of them are more interested in selling non-food items such as crafts or plants, then this will be the focus.
The “final destination” of the Little Ark should not be just in Changsha. Please join us in building and sending out more Arks to bring life and opportunity to other young people with different abilities.
You can become a part of this exciting and worthwhile project too!