Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Witnessing Good in Cajarmarca: The Deaf and the Ice Cream Man

Pim Heijster on the far right.
Photo is copyrighted by someone.
In Cajamarca, the Dutch Pim Heijster, smiles at me brightly and asks me how my day is in Spanish, while I'm sipping on a cappuccino with amaretto one of his deaf workers made for me. When I first walked into his cafe days ago, I immediately noticed all the workers were women, professionally mannered, and that some of them were deaf. I read about him in my guidebook, which says that he's the gentleman that also owns the local ice cream parlor in the Plaza de Armas, where I had a scoop of coconut ice cream on a cone.

I tell him, "Bien," then I ask him in English: "Are you the guy who owns the ice cream shop?"

He counts the money and is doing the bookkeeping. He looks at me, from above his slouched glasses, and says, "That's me."

I tell him, "Well, I was here [his cafe] yesterday, and I saw so many deaf children and teenagers learning sign language. Are you running their program?"

"I am."

"How are you doing this?"

He tells me some of his story. He says he started his ice cream parlors by hiring single mothers at first, nearly 17 years ago. People told him he was crazy for starting an ice cream shop in the mountains. It would never work, the critics told him. He would go out of his business. Now, he has 7 ice cream shops around Peru.

He fell in love with a Peruvian woman about 20 years ago. They decided to settle down in Peru, instead of moving to Holland. His wife is a professional in cheese making and dairy, which is what Cajarmarca is known for. The right combination of factors came together for him 5 years ago, and all the profits he makes in the cafe he reinvests in deaf education.

I could tell he's busy, so I ask: "Do you have to go now?"

"I do. But why don't you come see me at the ice cream shop at 10:00AM tomorrow?"

"I'll do that."

After waking up late, from sleeping in, I go to the ice cream at 11:00AM. Pim isn't in. I'm a bit disappointed.

I decide I need a morning cappuccino anyways. I go to his cafe, and he's sitting at the round table in the garden, happily telling a number of Dutch guests his story.

After he's done, I tell him - "I'm back." He pats me on the back and smiles again and says he's giving a tour. He tells me to come back to his ice cream parlor around noon.

After my coffee and breakfast, I go back to the ice cream parlor. Pim finishes his tour. He sees me.

He tells me, "Come here and have a seat."

At the table, he tells me more about his story. He says that he started by hiring his first deaf employee 13 years ago. She's now his right hand woman.

The other employees, he tells me, wanted to treat her like she wasn't an equal. So, he tells them, "When I took you in, you were a poor, helpless lady too." That shut them up, pretty fast.

Pim required his regular employees to learn sign language. He says that deaf employees make the best employees, but that they require the whole team to be accepting of them. Everyone on the team also has to know how to talk to them. He summarizes it with a smile and says, it comes down to: "Integration, communication, and education."

He says his personal philosophy on making a living is the 80-year-rule. He says, "The first 20 years, you become educated. The next 20 years, you work for someone - so they pay for your mistakes. The next 20 years, you start your own business. The last 20 years," then he adds for emphasis holding his finger in the air - "if you do everything right, people run your businesses for you."

I smile and tell him I didn't have the luxury of working for someone for 20 years. I went into solo legal practice. So, I know what it was like to make my own mistakes and pay for them in business.

He chastises me and tells me that's not the way to go. I reply, "Well, times were different then. [It's been five years since exiting law school.] Firms were laying off and not hiring." (I don't go into the backstory though, about how the City dragged me into Pyrrhic litigation.)

I ask him "Why invests your money in deaf education. What motivates you to do so?" (Personally, I'm amazed to see someone who chose to take his extra money, not hoard it, and reinvest it in a class of people who need it and is neglected by society here. Deaf people have it much tougher here than in America, and generally aren't employed.)

He points to himself, in his gut, and says, "It comes from deep down in here. I don't know what else to tell you. I have a ten year plan. The next generation of deaf people in this region are going to be employable."

At hearing that, I smiled and was impressed by his vision. It wasn't just something I could almost see, it was something I could almost touch.

We talks for several more hours. He's kind enough to drop me off at my next combi stop.

I was wealthier to have met Pim. I knew I was looking for answers on my Sabbatical, and I felt like I moved one step closer in getting there. So far - seeing those deaf teenagers smiling and accepted and learning has been the best sight I've seen on this trip.

PS: This is my 500th post since starting this blog on January of 2011. I'm glad to make this my 500th post. 

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