Marietta only became deaf through illness at the age of nine months old. As her family was not fluent in Sign Language it took a lot of patience learning to communicate with each other. Her parents took her to De La Bat School for the Deaf in Worcester so she could learn Sign Language from a young age. “My favourite subject at school was Life Orientation,” she shares with a smile, “and I would get cross when we had to leave the lesson for another class.” Marietta enjoyed playing netball and socializing with new people. After finishing school, she went to the National Institute for the Deaf (NID) College to study both Hospitality and Culinary. “The best part of the college was all the friends I made there, and the thrill of learning new things every day.” Marietta suddenly lights up and tells about her experience participating as a model in a beauty pageant and how she won the Miss Personality category.
Her first hands-on working experience was as a trainee chef for a year before taking on a full-time job at Mitchell’s Plein Hospital. “It was the first job I had as a proper chef, but it was also very hard because I was the only Deaf person there.” Marietta worked with the hospital catering team for three years before a new chapter in her life changed it all.
“Becoming a mother felt like a big responsibility,” she nods and you can see the love shining through, “but I enjoy being a mother and always had a great love for children. I just love watching her grow and learn each day.” Marietta stopped working when she was pregnant and was committed to spending time with her daughter. Marietta shares how her daughter, who is not deaf, knows that her parents are deaf and has learned to sign to them. “When my baby was seven months old, a friend told me about I Love Coffee Shop and sent me a link to see if I’d be interested in working there.”
Marietta is now part of the I Love Coffee Team as a chef and shares how, “Before I had no relationship with my work colleagues and worked long hours through the week, but now I can spend more time with my daughter on weekends and have made great friends with my team.” We love her sense of humour and dedication to her work. As for the future, Marietta grins and confirms that she wants to stay with I Love Coffee Shop for a long time and sees herself continuing to grow and promote herself through ongoing training and experience.
And her message for the Deaf community reflects her own values and attitude about life, “Whatever your dream is for the future or for your work, you must go out and do it. You cannot wait for someone to do it for you. You must stand up for yourself.”
Stura’s (DJ) story
Mthuthuzeli Stura, or DJ as he is affectionately known, was born in the Eastern Cape. He recalls how as a child, he loved dancing and started learning professionally at St Thomas School for the Deaf. Thereafter he attended North West School for the Deaf and continued to take dance class. As an active person, Stura also played various sports but enjoyed soccer the most. As to how he got his nickname, “DJ”, he explains, “I was fifteen years old when I observed a hearing DJ and became fascinated with the art of it. The DJ saw that I was interested and showed me around the equipment and explained how to achieve the different sound effects.” He smiles and tells that it was because of the DJ’s encouragement to learn Disk Jockeying that he tried it out. “First, I was nervous and made many mistakes, but as I practiced more, I saw how people enjoyed my music and it made me even more passionate.” You can see the pride beaming in his face, especially because he is a Deaf DJ who plays frequently at various clubs.
He then moved to Cape Town in search for work and had to spend a few days exploring the city and its culture because he was so fascinated. After creating his CV and meeting a few companies, he found a job as a packer at Woolworths where he worked for seven years. Stura then decided it was time for a career change and wanted to try out new things, so when he heard about I Love Coffee Shop, he immediately applied. “I learned how to become a barista from Thembe and over time, I became more skilled and confident.” And we as the team see that, too. Stura grins and says, “Now I have regular customers who tell me they love my coffee.”
“I love being part of the team and enjoy being able to speak South African Sign Language to my Deaf and hearing work colleagues. I’m so happy to see us learn and grow together.” DJ is the entertainer and has us all breaking into laughter after one of his many jokes. Whenever he has a moment, he will break into dance and invite the nearest work colleague to join in the action.
His message for the Deaf community reflects his own experience as a DJ, “Through DJ-ing, I can show hearing people that it’s possible for the Deaf to be excellent at music. I have often asked my audience how my music skills are, and they always tell me they enjoyed it greatly. So it is possible to do and become anything you wish to.”
Thembe was born in the Eastern Cape and recalls how his mother spent many years trying to find a deaf pre-school for him to attend, but she didn’t know of any, he so spent a few years in a mainstream creche. When his mother finally found a deaf school, Efata School for the Blind and Deaf, they both went to visit and he describes the experience, “I believed I was visiting a hospital because it looks like one, and when we walked into the reception I saw so many deaf people signing to each other. I was fascinated and did not understand what sign language was. I was used to lip-reading at home so when the school principal started signing to me, I was confused,” he laughs.
Since Thembe stayed at the school hostel, he quickly learned sign language and was fluent at nine years old. “One fond memory I have of school is playing with marbles,” Thembe continues, “and I only became interested in playing soccer when I was eighteen years old.” After finishing school, Thembe then went on to study Culinary at the National Institute of the Deaf College (NID) for three years.
After looking for a job for six months, Thembe became I Love Coffee’s first employee in 2016. He trained as a barista first and now he is a trainee chef. “I really love my job, especially when I make beautiful coffee and meals for people to enjoy. Also, here I can speak Sign Language and really love how my team and even the customers can understand each other through signing.” Thembe also describes how this job has given him many new experiences, such as hosting events and travelling around. “Two of my favourite memories are when I flew for the first time to Johannesburg with Gary and when we got to watch a rugby match in the Newlands stadium.”
Thembe has no plans of leaving I Love Coffee Shop and jokes, “this company promotes deaf awareness and Sign Language, and it’s like my favourite girlfriend; I will be loyal to it for a long time.” We love having Thembe part of the team and he has been here since day one. His calm nature and friendliness have made him a rock in our company. Thembe is also great with new staff and takes them under his wings. Thembe explains that when he goes home, he loves to prepare the meals that he learned to make at work. And his dreams for the future include buying his own house and car.
Thembe is an avid fan of soccer and loves to watch his favourite teams compete every weekend. “I love Manchester United and the timing of the matches is perfect for watching games on late afternoons, but closer to home, I love to support the Kaizer Chiefs.” He also plays soccer with a hearing team on his home turf and frequently plays matches against other local soccer teams.
His message to the Deaf community is based on his experiences of breaking stereotypes, “I want to encourage Deaf people to learn to drive and get a license. I have one. The idea that Deaf people cannot drive or are not allowed to, is not true. You can get a license! It will empower you to be able to travel to your work.”
Thobeka was born in the Eastern Cape but moved to Cape Town at a young age to attend Noluthando School for the Deaf for half a year before moving to St Thomas School for the Deaf. “I really loved netball and volleyball when I was at school,” she grins, “I always won matches and I have many trophies at home from all the sports awards.” Thobeka was not only interested in sports, but also enjoyed her school lessons, especially English, Mathematics, Social Sciences and EMS. “I remember asking the teacher many questions because I was so interested in learning more.”
One of her fondest memories of school was of the dancing group formed to compete against other schools in the Eastern Cape and Thobeka shares, “We entered a competition and I wrote on a page after our performance , ‘Please choose St Thomas’ and later that day after all the teams performed, we were thrilled to discover we came first.” You can see the excitement in her eyes and it is remarkable for a Deaf school to have won a dance competition.
After finishing school, Thobeka moved to Cape Town for work and because she could not find a job for a while, she enjoyed helping out at a beauty salon, where she was skilled at braiding customers’ hair. “It was for my own interest and enjoyment, not a full-time job.” Later on Thobeka explains, “I had a job as a cleaner in a hospital but I had to leave because I was always getting sick and worked long hours, even over weekends.” Thobeka then heard about I Love Coffee Shop from DJ and applied with him.
She is now a barista and shares the difference it has made in her life, “I now have full support in my work and love the relationships I have with my Deaf staff, and even the hearing staff are learning Sign Language. I have learned a lot and feel more confident in serving and communicating with customers.” If you have met Thobeka, you will most likely have been captivated by her vibrant, expressive personality and big smile. “I love sharing jokes with both my regular customers and my team.” When she goes home from work, Thobeka enjoys baking and spending time with her daughter.
Thobeka expresses her desire to help other Deaf people to find employment with I Love Coffee and to train them in the art of making great coffee. She would love to expand her knowledge and skills in both making coffee as a barista and as an assistant chef in the kitchen. “I want to be able to work hard and save money to buy my own home and my own car.”
As a reflection of her deep concern for the Deaf Community, Thobeka shares the urgency and need faced by many Deaf South Africans, “We have to keep working together to make sure the Deaf community can find enough support and opportunities to become independent workers. We cannot leave them to struggle alone at home. We, the Deaf people, really need better support and training, so I wish that businesses would understand this and create training and support for us.”