Meet the smiling cafe owner who refused to let disability put her dreams on ice

Amna Al Mulla, who has Down syndrome, is a favourite of customers at the cafe she set up with her brother

Ahmed Abdullah Al Mulla, 25, owns Vigo Cafe Khor Fakkan and his sister, Amna, 18, helps manage it.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: RUBA HAZA
Section: NA
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With her infectious smile, cheery demeanour and proven knack to make a delicious iced karak, Amna Al Mulla is a huge hit at her family-run cafe in Sharjah.

Such is her popularity at Vigo cafe, the establishment she launched with her brother in August, many customers will only settle down with a drink if they know it is being made by her.

Enamoured with her warm personality, not to mention her favourite cold beverage, those who pack into the cosy Khor Fakkan venue give little thought to her disability.

Born with Down syndrome, the 18-year-old Emirati was determined not to let her condition stop her fulfilling her ambitions.

Her dream to open her own cafe was inspired by some of her fondest memories of drinking coffee with her business partner brother and mingling with friends.

“Amna - or as we all like to call her Amona - is a very social person who doesn't like to sit down and do nothing,” said her brother, Ahmed Al Mulla, 25.

“So we both came up with an idea to open a cafe where she can make coffee, meet people and enjoy her time while being an active member of the community.”

The venue, named after Amna's favourite Spanish song, is nestled in Souk Al Mirqab, close to Khor Fakkan Corniche.

“It took us time to choose the location, pick the decoration and what we need to have in the menu and all under the supervision and guidance of Amna of course,” said Ahmed.

“Amna spends four hours at the cafe almost every day, and customers always ask her to prepare their drinks as they want the drinks that are made only by her.”

Amna greets her customers with a broad smile and a recommendation to sample the ice karak.

“I like the iced karak, it is my favourite drink, and I make it by myself,” said Amna.

“I add the milk first to the cup and then add a mix of coffee, tea, sugar and ice to the milk and finally a straw to drink.

“I feel so happy when I meet people, and the cafe gives me the opportunity to meet new people every day.

“My family supports me all the time, and that makes me stronger and give me the power to give more.”

Her father, who has always backed to pursue her goals, said the success of the cafe is just a small example of what people with disabilities can achieve.

Amna Abdullah Al Mulla, 18, helps run her brother’s cafe Vigo Cafe in Khor Fakkan.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: RUBA HAZA
Section: NA

“Unfortunately, having a child with a disability is still treated as a stigma among many people in the country, and some even feel ashamed to have a child with special needs and try to hide them away from the community,” said Abdullah Al Mulla, a 60-year-old retired army veteran.

“The country is offering many opportunities to people with special needs and supporting them to open their one project or business should become one of them.

“When they both came to me with the idea, I supported them and their decision right away as I knew that this project would provide her with the opportunity to become more productive and active, and she likes to be both.”

Empowering people with disabilities, helping them to find gainful employment and enjoy greater independence, is a key priority for the UAE government.

In September of last year, the Minister of Community Development, Hessa Buhumaid, challenged private sector companies to employ more people with disabilities and to view them as an asset rather than “people to be pitied”.

Launching three strategies aimed at getting more disabled people into the workforce, she said there was strength in diversity and that companies should seize the opportunity.

Abu Dhabi's successful hosting of the Special Olympics in March, hailed by many as the best in the event's history, helped put the Emirates' inclusive strategy in sharp focus.

Her father said that Amna has many talents that need to be supported and developed.

“She imitates us perfectly, our laughs, how we walk, and how we act in certain situations,” he said.

“She also like to re-act movie scenes and sing their songs. ‎“She is very gentle and caring too and loves horse riding and animals in general.”

Her brother said that she has won fans from all around the Gulf region who interact with her through videos on snapchat.

“We have around 56,000 followers on snapchat, and they all enjoy Amna’s talents,” he said.

“She loves to act, sing, laugh and imitate others, so people are impressed with her talents and love to see her all the time and when we opened the café people came from around the country to meet with Amna and try her coffee.”