If you do something with all your heart, it will be good - blind barista

2016-06-17 11:10
Joseph Matheatau was teased for his failing eyesight as a kid. Now fully blind, he has trained as a barista, would like to open his own coffee shop and plans to study industrial psychology to help youth with similar struggles (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Joseph Matheatau was teased for his failing eyesight as a kid. Now fully blind, he has trained as a barista, would like to open his own coffee shop and plans to study industrial psychology to help youth with similar struggles (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Cape Town – When Joseph Matheatau’s eyesight faded as a child, teachers joked he should use the bottom of glass bottles as spectacles. Some of the other children even thought he was stupid. Now he’s completely blind but full of hope for the future.

Matheatau, 38, could not stop smiling on Wednesday as he shared how he became a trained barista working in a coffee shop at Kaleidoscope [formerly the Institute for the Blind], in Worcester.

Growing up in Thaba Nchu in rural Free State, he remembered only being able to see through one eye. “I had to sit at the front of the class and move closer to the chalkboard, even when I was wearing thick glasses.

"People would say things and it was painful," he said. "I just had to be strong and soldier on."

His family thought he was joking when his sight came and went every few months. Some friends were a bit more sympathetic and helped him take notes. 

He was told he had glaucoma, a progressive condition causing damage to the eye’s optic nerve. When he went to a hospital in Pretoria, three doctors told him he would never see again due to a number of issues.

Matheatau described the moment as a “nightmare”.

“I thought of my parents, especially my mom. But I had to concentrate, focus and think of how I can stand up and make it again. My first thought was I have to go to school.”

He said he lost his sight completely in 2010. 

Trained as a barista

Two years ago, he joined the Kaleidoscope Training Centre to study marketing and entrepreneurship. There he learnt how to read Braille, type, check his email and browse on a computer – “anything a sighted person can do”.

He then trained as a barista. “I told my sister Leah about the training and she said ‘how will you know your coffee is right?’”

He used his hands to orientate himself at the coffee station. A keen sense of sound told him when the milk was frothed to perfection. 

Matheatau uses touch to navigate around the coffee machine. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Adjusting his apron, he said people did not really drink coffee in the rural areas. But his grandpa always insisted he wash his hands and make them tea because it was “much better than anyone else’s”.

In the beginning, he burnt his hands and arms a few times during training. “I realised that if you do something with all your heart, and you focus and love it, you will do good and everyone will like it.”

Executive head of Kaleidoscope, Freddie Botha, sang his praises.

“They told me about a guy who is always smiling and happy. When we thought about a blind barista, he was the obvious choice,” Botha said.

He serves patrons the Blindiana Blend, a coffee blended, tasted, packed and distributed by the blind.

Knows his way around

A young Matheatau had to rely on siblings at his side to go anywhere. Now, he knows the roads of Worcester by heart, thanks to a cane and mobility training.

With a sudden intense stare, he shared, “I can take you anywhere in Worcester, day or night, rainy or windy.”

Botha, sitting next to him, quipped that maybe he needed a guide dog. He laughed, shrugged his shoulders and replied, “I am very busy so I might forget my dog behind.”

Matheatau wakes up early, works at the shop, squeezes in an exercise session and returns home to his wife, Bonni, and 18-month-old son, Leechabile.

His son’s name loosely translated to ‘the sun is shining’. “When he kicks the ball, I have to kick it back. I can’t miss it,” Matheatau said.

“People said, ‘How can you say the sun is out if you are blind and can’t see?’ But I can and the future is bright.”

One of his dreams was to open his own coffee shop in Bloemfontein so he could serve his mom and sister. He also felt his calling was to study industrial psychology through correspondence at a university next year.

He has not secured funding or a laptop yet but plans applying for bursaries. “I want to assist young boys and girls who struggled like me.”

Read more on:    cape town  |  good news

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