Meet Mark, an 18-year-old with an intellectual impairment. Growing up with an “invisible” disability, he is no stranger to strife and triumph. At the age of 16, after struggling in a formal education system with little wiggle room for anyone who learns differently, Mark found solace in vocational training- Catering, specifically. With support from the Make 12.4% Work Initiative, Mark secured an internship with Sports View Hotel, Kampala as a Foods and Beverage Intern. Here is his story;
I am the second born in a family of four children. In the beginning, it was difficult for my family to tell that something was not right – it was after a while (when I was about two years old) that my family started noticing that I was not developing at the same pace as other children who had been born around the same time as me. But I did not get my first examination by the doctor till I was 14 years old.
School was hard – some teachers and even classmates kept calling me stupid, I got beaten frequently and I was asked to repeat a whole year in the same class because I did not get good grades. This happened over and over again. I understood what was taught to me but I had difficulty reading and understanding information that was written. If I was asked a question, I could answer in the way I understood it – but exams are not set that way so I never did well.
Passion for cooking
After a while, my family and I decided to try a different route. We opted for vocational training. Before then, I used not to cook much so when I was asked which training option I liked and I said cooking, my family was a bit skeptical. My family was also worried about my safety being far away from them to go through the training but I told them I will do my best and not let them down.
The training lasted a year and after sitting home for a bit, I got to know of the Make 12.4% Work Initiative through family. When I was asked what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to become a chef so I was placed at Sports View Hotel for 3 months in the kitchen (Food and Beverage department) to learn more about cooking different cuisines and working in a busy environment.
Internship with Sports View Hotel
Starting out in a new place is never easy. I was scared, I did not know anyone. I wondered how I would cope. People usually do not understand my disability. When I tell them I am 18, they do not believe me. They think that I am younger than I actually am. In the beginning, the Kitchen staff were scared to let me be seen serving by guests. They feared that they would ask questions “What is this young boy doing here? Why is he not in school?” So for a while, they asked me to just work in the kitchen but luckily the work load at times was too much and I had to step in and show them I could do it and there was no problem. By my second month, the chef actually asked me to be in charge of the buffet!
‘Buddy’ System in the Kitchen
During the on-the-job support, the Disability Inclusion Facilitator told the chef and other staff about me and the kind of support I needed. I never felt alone because in case of anything I had someone to talk to about the issue. Chef George* and I were good friends. Whenever I did not know anything, he directed me and let me learn at my own pace. He paired me up with Evan* as my “buddy”. Evan helped me in so many ways. In case the Chef was not around he would explain to me how things were done. He used to report to work really early so I started trying to come early as well 🙂.
Curries or Pastries?
Curries definitely. I can bake now too – I learnt how to make Bread and Pizzas from scratch which is a good skill to have but my interest is in cooking. I want to be chef.
Baker? not so much.
Well I got another training opportunity with Esella Hotel. It is closer to home (15 minutes on a BodaBoda) so I can find my way very easily – I cannot get lost. It is a very busy hotel but I am coping – what I learnt from Sports View is helping me here. I am learning to work faster but while remembering all the steps. I have also started mentioning my disability a lot more now and asking for help when I really need it. I try to explain (my disability) when people ask, whether they believe me or not. I try not to put too much mind to what people think or what they want to believe.
It can get tough at times but I know this is real life as a chef. So I try my best and I do not give up.
Do you have a few words of encouragement for Mark on his journey to becoming Kampala’s Next Top Chef? Contact us anytime!