We asked Robyn Newton to chat to Nongomso Mdata and Zodwa Ntanta, two hearing impaired ladies who are a wonderful part of the Khayelitsha Cookie bakery team …

The offices of Khayelitsha Cookies are always a hive of activity! Any given day will find the phone ringing off the hook, a queue of people waiting to talk to the admin team … and invariably, someone sitting at one of the desks tasting cookies. When I arrived there I was ushered into the bakery where I could smell the latest cookies baking, and see dozens of very organised teams of workers, smartly kitted out in their regulatory gear.

I was there to talk to two of the three women from Khayelitsha who have no hearing and are working at what is reputed to be the finest cookie company in South Africa. Nongomso and Zodwa came out of the bakery full of smiles and exuding energy. Both of them were from Noluthando School for students with learning difficulties in Khayelitsha. “Our teacher helped us get work as it’s not easy, and we are so grateful for that,” said Zodwa.

The women who helped us to communicate with each other had learned to sign from Nongomso and Zodwa and were considered real friends because of the interest they’d shown in trying to communicate. All their other colleagues are hearing people and the translators are trying to teach some of the others too, using writing and signing together. Both ladies testify to the fact that the work environment is great as they feel accepted as they are and there is loads of patience where it is required. They also agree that having a sense of humour goes a long way in helping ease tensions when stress levels rise at not being able to communicate as easily.

Nongomso and Zodwa both said how overjoyed they are to be earning a salary, enabling them to support their families.“It is difficult for people like us to get work,” said Nongomso, “Only two of my many friends who can’t hear, have jobs!” Sales and Marketing Manager Adri Williams sums up why they take the time to ensure ladies who can’t hear are intentionally included in the team at Khayelitsha Cookies: “It fits with what we do. We create sustainable work for people who cannot find work elsewhere. Most organisations will not give a hearing impaired person the opportunity to prove themselves, as they are afraid of the communication barrier,” she says, “But we have found that within a week our hearing staff understand what the ladies are saying, and vice versa.”

One of the hearing impaired ladies has been employee of the month for three months running and Adri says that both ladies are valuable assets to Khayelitsha Cookies. “We have had obstacles to overcome, but the Deaf School has been phenomenal in assisting us by sending a trained translator when we have needed to resolve any complicated issues,” says Adri, “And I would employ more in a heartbeat. They are also our naughtiest staff members full of jokes and laughs, so we enjoy them greatly in our organisation.”