VOY Inspire! With Dissa Syakina Ahdanisa: Founder of Deaf Café Fingertalk, Indonesia
- 11 Posts
- Age 24
I met Dissa a few weeks ago at a career event organized by my university in Japan, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU). She was an APU alumna invited to speak at the event. She’s currently an equity analyst at Credit Suisse Singapore as well as the owner of Deaf Café Fingertalk, the first café in Indonesia where all the employees are deaf.
She’s only 25 years old but she has had a lot of volunteering experience in many countries. She came to Japan from Indonesia at the age of 16 to study at APU, where she engaged in many volunteering and fundraising activities. She has also worked for hoshiZora which is a student-based NGO and her parents’ NGO called As Sakinah foundation, both of which provide education for underprivileged children in Indonesia.
While pursuing her Master’s degree at the University of New South Wales, she went to India for three weeks and worked with Dalit children, or the “Untouchables”. The farthest she had ever gone for volunteering is Granada, Nicaragua where she worked as an English teacher assistant in the morning and accountant for an NGO in the evening.
Her passion for volunteering is driven by her belief that “giving out things that you may think are small, like your time, to volunteer, could have a bigger impact in someone else’s life”. Her experiences have also taught her that you will get a lot more by giving to people.
I was very much inspired by Dissa’s talk and I decided to interview her to learn more about Fingertalk.
1. What inspired you to open Deaf Café Fingertalk in Indonesia?
During my volunteering time in Nicaragua I came across this very unique café called “Café de Las Sonrisas”, which is the first café in Latin America to have all deaf employees. They also have a hammock workshop where proceeds from the hammock sale provide income to its deaf workers.
This café encouraged me to open Fingertalk in Indonesia, because I know that it is very challenging for people with disabilities to find jobs in Indonesia. The competition is fierce, especially for the deaf as they have to compete with their hearing counterparts, and there are not many employment opportunities for deaf people in Indonesia. We hope that Fingertalk, with its café and workshop concept could also be a place that brings people together regardless of their abilities.
2. What challenges did you face in starting Fingertalk?
One of the biggest challenges is to immerse in the deaf community and find people who want to work. It is not easy to find deaf people who want to work in a café and interact with hearing customers all day. Some parts of Indonesian society still look down on people with disabilities, so it affects the confidence and self-esteem of many deaf friends that I know.
Therefore, to overcome this issue, I knew that I needed to master sign language, in order to be able to communicate with them. I want my deaf friends to feel comfortable, so that I can encourage them to work with us in Fingertalk. So I decided to learn sign language, even until this very day.
3. What kind of impact has Fingertalk had so far?
We are very happy to say that Fingertalk was able bring people together regardless of their hearing ability. Being the first deaf café in Indonesia makes Fingertalk the go-to place for people to meet and make deaf friends. Many of them come to Fingertalk to know more about sign language and interact with the deaf crew.
Fingertalk is also a platform to spread awareness about deafness and its culture. We would like to erase the negative stigma that surrounds people with disabilities, especially the deaf. We open sign language classes and welcome whoever wants to learn. Now we have two to three classes a week for our customers who want to learn sign language directly from the deaf crew.
4. In your talk, you mentioned meeting the first deaf receptionist of the White House. Please tell us how that meeting came about.
One of Figertalk’s biggest achievements so far was to be able to host Deaf Youth Leaders from the US and Indonesia who came for a US-Indo Deaf Youth Leadership Program. There were twenty inspiring deaf youths from the US and Indonesia who joined the program and visiting Fingertalk was on their agenda.
We invited the local deaf community to come and join a sharing session with these delegates. Ms. Leah Katz-Hernandez, the first deaf receptionist of the White House, was one of the delegates. She works with President Obama in the White House and is definitely one the most inspiring people we have met. To have her and other delegates come to Fingertalk was an unforgettable moment for us, the deaf crew and also the local deaf communities.
5. What’s your advice for youths aspiring to make social change?
Start now and do it one step at a time. Sometimes as young people, we want to make something big, we want to change the world…overnight. It is not impossible, but it would be more effective and long lasting if we do it one step at a time, one community at a time.
It will not be an easy journey, but if you have a positive attitude, a hungry-to-learn mindset and give your absolute best effort, you can overcome all challenges and end up achieving more than what you expect. Life isn't a dress rehearsal and you won't get a second chance to do your best, so start now.