The ‘Download Project’
‘DOWNLOAD’ is the computer term used to indicate the operation of selecting an available resource on the web and saving it onto the user’s work station.
Based on this definition, the promoters of this project want to create a hotel which is able to introduce people suffering from Down’s syndrome both to the world of work and to society. This can happen by considering these people as an effective resource and by avoiding any welfare hypocrises which consider people with great operational and relational skills as ‘handicapped’. These skills only need a guide, a more patient school programme and specifically indicated sectorial duties.
The school programme
The vocational training school Colline Astigiane in Agliano Terme, which is very responsive to these kinds of projects, is planning a 2-year course for people with Down’s syndrome. During this course the learning potentials of each participant will be evaluated and ‘hotel duties’ will be introduced.
- People in charge of reception
- People in charge of the floors
- People in charge of the service
- People in charge of production
The big house called ‘Ethic Hotel’
The ‘Ethic Hotel’ project foresees the construction of a medium/big-sized hotel (at present the plan is to have 100 rooms) provided with a wellness centre with small swimming pools, a gym and a park. Agliano Terme and its thermal centre are very near making it possible to develop a ‘health district’ which could complete the existing one between Agliano Terme and Acqui Terme.
This big house should be a place where people with DS can work in society and become autonomous at home.
Duties will be divided into 2 groups - front and back office - according to the differences, needs, and skills of the participants.
The first group (front office) will deal with clients (reception, floor service, breakfast service, bar, service during conferences, etc.); the second group (back office), instead, will be involved in services (breakfast preparation, kitchens, laundry, gardening, cleaning, etc.).
In order to carry out all these duties the support of a team leader-teacher is necessary.
The ‘Ethic Hotel’ standard should be medium/high (a 4-star, possibly 5-star hotel). The hotel has been designed as a high standard hotel, both for tourists and business people. In fact, some duties, above all the front office ones, can be found only in high standard hotels (which can afford the expenses). From a business point of view, the construction of this kind of hotel could take a piece/share of the market which is not being exploited at the moment (to the detriment of Asti and its province considering its economic and tourist crisis).
The project of this hotel will be developed in accordance with the therapeutic requirements of the local health units, the university faculties and above all the organisations operating with people with DS (e.g. music therapy in the swimming pools or at the reception area when welcoming clients, etc.).
For example, some rooms (10-15) could be used to start educational programmes focused on the separation from the bio families for different periods of time.
What has been described so far is to be considered the result of the unique experience (and we hope not the only one) of Niccolò Vallese, a 17 year-old boy suffering from Down’s syndrome (Mosaic), who attended the 3-year cooking course at the Cooking School in Agliano Terme after his compulsory education. He finished his first school year with satisfactory results (due to his shyness) but began his second year with good results, also as far as settling in at school was concerned. Then the school had to find a place where Niccolò could spend his period of training; the choice was very difficult because these people need a balanced and understanding work environment and not a discriminating place as society today very often offers.
The student was assigned to Tacabanda Restaurant in Asti (managed by La Compagnia del Gusto sas) for his period of training, where he was able to carry out basic cooking duties. The meeting with his Tutor, the Chef Antonio De Benedetto and the young, familiar and multiracial environment helped Niccolò to experience relationships with people from different cultures.
The restaurant staff, at its first work experience with a person suffering from DS, immediately built a constructive and equal relationship. Niccolò came to loving the staff more and more and became part of it. School started again and the Vallese family, which was so enthusiastic with the results obtained during the period of training, asked the restaurant owner to include Niccolò in the cooking staff at weekends in order to use time and energy otherwise lost in front of the TV or in activities without any stimuli.
This work relationship continued during the third school year. The summer period of training took place at the ‘Alle 3 Baite’ Hotel in Santa Caterina Valfurva (Valtellina), where the Chef Antonio was the direction consultant. Niccolò matured still further: the separation from the family made him aware of his responsibilities and when he went back home, his mother noticed that an unexpected change had happened and that he was almost completely independent in many activities that he had never carried out on his own before. The boy went back to school and obtained his Chef
Certificate in June 2007. Since July 2007 Niccolò has been working with the staff at the Tacabanda restaurant with an ordinary rather than "special" training contract.
The activities carried out during his period of training and his first period of work were exciting. Both the staff and the restaurant clients noticed that Niccolò was growing up. At the beginning, he had to carry out repetitive duties in the kitchen; only later, on his precise request, he assisted the head waiter. The first impact with the clients was quite embarrassing because this was something new for him and he was not able to collect information and give answers promptly to the clients yet. After 3 months, Niccolò learned to clean the room, set the tables, with faultless results, carry out orders with the right timing (margin of mistake: around 5%) and describe with great precision the dishes on the menu and those he served.
In a very short time Niccolò gained more self-confidence also in his interaction with the clients (both known and new people).
His quick wit and nice manners became a surplus value for the restaurant. He demonstrated he could be quite totally independent in many activities. Periodically he had to be monitored because he could be distracted by the huge amount of information he received during work and by the activities carried out by other people. A tutor was therefore fundamental.
This first positive experience and the awareness of the problems connected to Down’s Syndrome convinced a group of people belonging to the non-profit association Hasta Welcome (experts in tourism including Antonio de Benedetto from the Tacabanda restaurant, the architect Maurizio Galosso, the director of the tourist union “Asti e Monferrato” Mr. Andrea Cerrato, the managing staff at the vocational training school “Colline Astigiane” in Agliano Terme, a famous entrepreneur in the wine business and an important building company from Asti) to propose the “Ethic Hotel” project, where people could find a first real job in tourism with the continuous support of the school.
Interactions with universities and researchers
It is our intention to collect all the information resulting from educational fields. For this reason we think that it is necessary to involve universities, researchers, associations for people suffering from Down’s syndrome and their families in order to achieve the aims of this project.
Opportunities for families and society
After our experience we believe that the Italian, European and world societies are ready to understand this message of equality toward disabled people (we will start to consider them ‘equally able’).
We hope to hit the target after having seen the positive wonder of our clients in the restaurant. Very often unconscious fear is motivated by lack of knowledge of the positive aspects of Down’s syndrome.
We ask the families to help us both by supporting the project and by directly collaborating on a practical level, in order to channel their different work skills into the hotel activity and thus avoid the problem of the ‘parking their children’.
Partnership with Switzerland
On 31st March 2008, in Davos (Canton of Grigioni, Switzerland), the Hasta Welcome association met the Swiss Foundation ‘La Capriola’. Since that date we are unofficially supported by their managers. This relationship will soon become a project and their support will be official. The foundation ‘La Capriola’ offers young disabled people professional training in the restaurant and hotel industries, in order to prepare them for the world of work. The students attend a 2-year course or a vocational training course obtaining a certificate in restaurant, reception or kitchen work.
These training courses begin in the hotels Morosani Schweizerhof and Post in Davos and truly end in the hotel industry.
The practice provides both basic specific knowledge and professional skills, which are repeated over and over again and therefore consolidated.
The theory completes the practice and takes place in vocational training schools and on other courses organised by training associations. Vocational training includes social-pedagogic support, also outside of school, during the students' free time and at their living quarters.
- a professional title for a job
- an independent life
- integration into society
- professional integration in the free market
During their training, students live together in an apartment where their personal needs are safeguarded. Experienced teachers help the students develop their social and individual skills, in order to obtain an independent lifestyle which is useful for their social integration.
The structure will be planned to be a source of income and not a charitable institution. The aim of all the collaborators must be the creation of a medium/high standard accommodation structure.
The work group has the clear aim of creating a tourist structure able to exploit the potentials of the Asti territory (both from a tourist and an economic point of view). Thanks to the interaction among several people, with the passing of time this project has matured its ethic aim.
The direct experiences with Niccolò and ‘La Capriola’ have led to the idea that different aims can be achieved by joining forces.
The ‘Download’ project is the synthesis of four interests (the needs of building, marketing the products, marketing the territory and realizing lasting training) and demonstrates that different ideas and points of view can lead to a project able to improve the society in which we live.
From an economic/tourist point of view this hotel will have all the necessary requirements to be successful.
The idea of building a medium/high standard hotel with more than 100 rooms meets the needs of our territory, which has thousands of rooms divided into hundreds of little hotels.
The chosen site for this project, Asti, is a tourist area both for its territory and its cooking school, which is very famous in Italy. However, these factors need energy and a long term marketing plan which can improve and renew their image and which can promote it to a young public as well as a more mature one.
The partnership between a cooking school and the ethic hotel will allow this structure to be active for the whole year, without suffering from the normal downturns in the market due to seasonal reasons. The users/clients will be constant, too, thanks to the collaboration with local health units, voluntary associations, pharmaceutical companies, etc.
According to the research carried out by the Foundation ‘La Capriola’, there don't seem to be other projects or structures like this one in Europe. This pilot project and opportunities of interactive projects among the EU and non-EU states could also be presented in Bruxelles.