Coffee beans’ seed of change

She often got into fights and paid little attention to her studies in school.

Miss Diyanah Sharif, 17, freely admits to having skipped lessons so she could hang out with her friends.

“I misbehaved a lot in school and often played truant,” recounts the former Bedok Town Secondary School student, who left school after completing her N levels last year.

“I was often involved in fights over silly things and it happened so often that my friends called me immature,” says Diyanah, the eldest of six children.

She drifted along after dropping out of school, supplementing her allowance from her parents by working as a part-time waitress at Hyatt Hotel and earning $1,000 a month.

But four months ago, Diyanah found a new life.

And it’s all thanks to coffee.

In May, the teenager was inducted into a unique 12-week programme with the Bettr Barista Coffee Academy.

The social enterprise, located on Burn Road in MacPherson, was formed last year and is dedicated towards improving the lives of disadvantaged women.

Social enterprises are for-profit companies with a social mission. They include firms that offer job opportunities to former convicts or the disabled.

The Bettr Barista programme combines training and internship opportunities as a barista with speciality coffee joints like 40 Hands in Tiong Bahru, as well as life and emotional management training led by a New York-trained clinical psychologist.

There is even physical training incorporating self-defence, yoga and canoeing.

Bettr Barista founder Pamela Chng told The New Paper on Sunday that the academy has enrolled six people between the ages of 17 and 34 since the programme was introduced in January.

Said Ms Chng, 36, who sold her stake in a lucrative web consultancy firm last year to start Bettr Barista: “I never had any time to do any social work previously, but after working for a company for over 10 years, I decided I wanted to work on something that would incorporate my passion for coffee while helping people in the process.”

The company offers professional barista coffee training and coffee appreciation classes. Bettr Barista also provides coffee brew bars at events.

Change, one woman at a time

A percentage of the profits goes towards funding the education of the women it helps, Ms Chng adds. “Bettr Barista was a substantial investment, but I did it to help women because I believe if you change a woman’s life, she can change the lives of those around her,” she maintains.

She declines to reveal exactly how much she has pumped into her new venture.

There are no fewer than 40 cafes serving artisanal coffee in Singapore, “so our programmes serve the industry while providing opportunities to those who are interested, and hopefully offer them a decent wage,” Ms Chng says.

Potential students are referred to the programme by social services organisations such as Beyond Social Services, Lakeside Family Service Centre and the Malay Youth Literary Association.

Diyanah, who first heard of the programme through Beyond Social Services, is Bettr Barista’s star pupil.

“To be honest, I never even had a cup of coffee before the programme, but now, I have found a new passion and hopefully a career as a professional barista,” she says with a smile.

“At first, my parents were very sceptical about this programme, but I convinced them that this was my future.

“And I’m glad I stuck with it. I’m much more confident dealing with customers and the people I meet at our corporate events.”

Bettr Barista will be presenting coffee-themed workshops and events till Tuesday, which are aimed at appreciating speciality coffee while giving back to the community at the same time. For more information, visit http://www.bettrbarista.com/#60d/wordpress

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