The Foreword Team after a Chinese New Year Reunion
As I venture into the corporate world, I wonder how different the community there will be. Would it be as warm, kind, friendly, honest and inclusive as this place was? Goodbyes have never been easy. But this isn’t goodbye, it’s a see you again.
Initially, when I first started working at Foreword Coffee, my sole intention was to learn everything I can about coffee. As with many of my endeavors, my initial intention was just a spark to an amazing journey that I could not have foreseen. What started out as a coffee journey ended with me being welcomed into a warm and loving community.
Asian Coffee with a Social Mission
Having been exposed to the types of coffees available, I began to acknowledge the scarcity of Asian-sourced specialty coffee in Singapore. Kudos to founder Lim Wei Jie for discovering this gap and more importantly, taking the leap to bridge it. Despite a short two months with the company, I have friends that expressed interest in the beans that Foreword Coffee sources, roasts and blends all by themselves. This affirms the quality and taste profiles of these unique beans. My personal favourite is still the Yunnan Ouyang.
While many cafes are content with serving great coffee and “gram worthy” brunches, Foreword takes a step further by seeking to achieve a social mission through creating an inclusive community. With the mission of “Realizing the Potential of Differently-Abled Individuals”, Lim Wei Jie and Nadi Chan seek to create a world unprejudiced to the differences between people. They do so by hiring staff with special needs, including people with autism, cerebral palsy and hearing difficulties. While our society gradually learns to accept people who are differently-abled, the young founders have taken it upon themselves to train and guide these young staff forward (no pun intended). As of today, they make up the majority of the Foreword Team and form the backbone of the cafe’s daily operations.
Embracing the Eccentricities
Having worked with the Foreword staff for only two months, it came to me as a surprise the reluctance I feel in my heart, knowing that I will be parting ways with them soon. Each staff is so unique in their own way, once you get to know them you start to appreciate their quirks and behaviors. Some can’t stop asking questions. Some can’t stop staring at sliding doors. Some feel the fear of being home alone. While there are moments that can be infuriating, they fade as quickly as they come once. It may take some time to understand them better but the very same individuals are also the ones capable of great customer service, caring for the company and making good coffee. Each staff has learnt not only to support themselves, but also encourage each other which is a heartening sight.
Open to Vulnerability
Every staff I interact with care for the company greatly, a loyalty that is, unfortunately, fading away in this modern world where many leave a company for another within a year or two. The staff at Foreword Coffee know how special this place is to them and thus give their best effort to do their job well. I have never seen staff look forward to monthly meetings as much as them (we call these meetings Kopi Dates). Work aside, they really do grow on you because of their natural openness. Once they feel comfortable with you, there are no blinds nor barriers. The emotions they feel are strong, raw and unfiltered. While some may feel lost dealing with it, I believe these emotions connect people deeply. Their decision to be vulnerable naturally draws support from others.
Many times we are fearful of being vulnerable in front of others. We have this strong notion that we need to present ourselves as individuals who are strong, capable and fearless. But that isn’t how we feel most of the time, ain’t it? Our fear of being weak results in the ignorance of our loved ones regarding our pain. In the end, we suffer alone unnecessarily and miss out on the emotional support required to keep us going. If there is something we could learn from the differently-abled community, it is learning to be vulnerable.
I strongly affirm Foreword Coffee’s vision to create a world unprejudiced to the differences between people. Understanding the unique takes time, effort and patience. However, if you manage to step into their world, it is akin to completing the foreword of their story and diving into the actual narrative. That is where the main plot is. That is where you feel what they feel, know how they think and understand the intentions behind their actions.
Each of us is unique in our own way and more often than not, we wish for someone to really understand and accept us for who we are. Not just our strengths or superficiality, but also our quirks and insecurities too. Who knows? Maybe learning to understand others will help us understand ourselves better and in turn, allow us to better embrace the unique individuality in all of us.