THE ONE Hong Kong 2019
A tireless advocate for the intellectually-disabled
In 2011, Maria Sung opened a café to provide employment and vocational training for people with intellectual disabilities. An advocate for equal opportunities, Maria believes each person has something to offer the world.
When her husband passed away, Maria was left to raise her intellectually-challenged and autistic daughter on her own. Aware of the social stigma and employment limitations she would encounter, she opened a café to provide opportunities for her daughter and others with special needs.
To cut costs, Maria assumed the work of several people at the café: She prepared and cooked the food, received patrons, cleaned, trained staff and managed daily affairs. She worked 10 to 12 hours a day and never took a salary for herself. It wasn’t easy and despite her best efforts, the café fell into debt, prompting her to sell her only property asset to keep it afloat. Still, it was forced to close in 2016.
Relying on a Widows and Orphans pension to get by, Maria refused to give up. A year later, she received funding from the Government to re-open the café as a social enterprise in Cheung Sha Wan.
Today, Maria runs Holy Café Training Centre daily and distributes food to the elderly from the café every Saturday. She is determined to provide a platform for the intellectually-challenged to integrate into society and equips them with skills to live independently. By sharing her experience with schools, churches and through interviews, Maria hopes her story will inspire others to be more inclusive.
Beyond the café, Maria has touched the lives of countless individuals, having worked as a volunteer since the young age of 20. For her, persistence and a kind heart are the recipe for success. She hopes to garner additional funds for Holy Café’s operations, including hiring more special needs staff and developing more roles for them.
Inspiring Hong Kong with her tenacity and spirit, Maria shows how a simple café be a door of opportunity for many.