Thursday 26 June 2014

Hope Café: Prison cafe serves up skills for life after release

By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2014

SIX MORNINGS a week, Mr Sunthar D Palsamy bakes Danish pastries and bread that line the display cabinets at Swissbake's HarbourFront outlet.

The former daily-rated storeman learnt his new trade in jail, where he spent several spells for drug offences.

"It's the first time I have had monthly pay with CPF contributions," said the 47-year-old bachelor, who aims to be a supervisor within five years. "I feel more secure and it will be very useful for when I'm older."

Mr Sunthar is one of 109 former inmates who have been matched to employers prior to their release after picking up new qualifications at a training kitchen and cafe inside Changi Prison Complex.

Officially opened yesterday, Hope Cafe lets offenders work towards national certifications in either culinary arts or food and beverage operations, in the six months leading up to their release. This programme, the first of its kind here, is a collaboration between the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) and Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA).

Since it began last November, 154 offenders have completed the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications training. The 45 who are still in prison will be placed in jobs nearer their release dates.

"When offenders step out into the community there are transitional problems, they have to reconcile with family and manage financial issues," said SCORE's chief executive Stanley Tang. "We try to solve one of the challenges by having a job waiting for (them)."

Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Amy Khor, guest of honour at yesterday's opening, said that with more than 6,000 vacancies in the F&B sector last year, "this presents a great opportunity for us to grow a pool of trained workers to take on these jobs".

Swissbake business director Hana Mardhyah Lee said of Mr Sunthar: "He's quite outgoing and we're trying him out as a barrista and cashier."

Adding that the company treats ex-inmates like any other recruits, she said: "There are challenges regardless of where (employees) come from."

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