BUENOS AIRES, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- The holiday season is a time for solidarity for an organization in Argentina that proves mentally challenged people can be productive members of society.
The Buenos Aires-based non-profit organization(NGO) Peldanos promotes inclusion through its team of cooks with Down Syndrome, who make seasonal treats like panettone, the raisin or dried-fruit filled sweet loaf which is a Christmas staple in Italy, a country that many Argentinians trace their ancestry to.
"The objective is to show that the people who work here, whether they have Down or other intellectual disabilities, are able to work," said Maria Esther Poletto, president of Peldanos, whose main goal is to integrate people with disabilities into the workforce.
"We have people who have left and are working as formal personnel in other places. Not many, but it is doable," she said.
The NGO is run on the revenue generated from sales.
"We don't receive subsidies from anyone. There are people who donate generally in the form of equipment, work tools, but they never pay the electricity, gas or salaries," she said.
While panettone is a holiday favorite, the 14-year-old organization and its team offers a range of foods, mainly pasta.
"We have a pasta-making workshop with all the equipment of a small pasta factory, a cooking workshop for the kids to make sweet loaf, where they also make empanadas, pizzas, (we have) a large variety of food to sell," said Poletto.
Products are sold via the organization's website and social networks, including the panettone, which sells for 380 pesos, or about 10 U.S. dollars.
Participants "feel worthwhile, they feel better, they feel acknowledged. They come here and they come very happy, and are generally never absent, because they like to come here," she said.
"It's quite interesting to see how they react and how, as time passes, they begin to say 'let me try, let's see if I can do it,' when at first it was 'I can't do this,'" Poletto added.
Nicolas Saccoliti, one of the cooks, loves cooking and sports, and is a member of the Argentine Down Syndrome Soccer Team.
"We make gnocchi (and) vegetable, chicken or squash ravioli. We also make other foods, like sweet loaf ... and really delicious food like pizza," Nicolas told Xinhua.
"I feel really good coming here to work. Here I have the tools necessary for work, and to improve myself and be better. I meet up with friends, I can talk, I can share with everyone and have a good time," he added.