Breaking down disability barriers for those who experience it can be quite a gruelling task. But a helping hand, a softer heart and oodles of love can usher in both hope and happiness. Here’s how a woman is taking up the challenge and helping the specially-abled children earn their own space in society with a lot of dignity:
It is said that Kolkata is a city with a soul, a city that lives undyingly in dreams, memories and desires. But apart from this, Kolkata is also a city of hope, surprises and new-found delights. The story of Motherland crafts and café at Lake Road run by differently-abled children acts as a stimulus of hope, joy and surprises. In a society divided along several lines of marginality and exclusion, the tale of this cafe is actually unique and deliciously heart-warming.
Amrita Roy Chowdhury, the owner, has been working spiritedly with the differently-abled children showing how neglect, injustice and discrimination they receive are not merely unjust but are based on a flawed interpretation of the term “ability”.
What Amrita has done is quite commendable considering the social obscurantism and stigma that is associated with this.
The café offers delicious masala omelettes, liquor tea, sandwiches and many other mouthwatering dishes which can make the chilly winter morning quite warm and heartening. It is a café with an exquisite interior designing representing almost an Irish coffee shop. It’s named Mother Land and is originally a space lent by her friend that has been converted by Amrita into a café-cum-breakfast joint to employ specially-abled children to bring them on an equal pedestal with others in society.
The idea of the Café came to her as a way of “enhancing their social skills”, in her own words. As a rehabilitation professional, it was not very unlikely that she would not be keen to work with those “intellectually disabled” children who are treated either with condescension or apathy. At times, they are denied of their human status and treated like sinners or animals and sometimes forced to perform tasks that they are actually incapable of doing.
Amrita, who has been a long associate of NGO Parashmani Foundation and a professional herself, was well aware of this social double-standard about disability and from there, the idea of such an innovative concept actually sparked off.
The path that Amrita traversed was never a primrose one. It was strewn with a number of difficulties. She herself mentioned that she was refused any co-operation from a handful of renowned private institutes. Along with this, the ground of discrimination had always been there to divide society along the lines of “ability” and “disability.” Amrita repeatedly mentions the social apathy these differently-abled children face once they enter into their teenage.
The apparent cocoon of sympathy gradually disappears and they virtually become “burdens” for their families. To retrieve them from this state of becoming veritable burdens and to use them effectively as human labour, Amrita started this café where there is a stretch of 4-hour work complimented by a leisure time for recreation. However, there are some criteria one has to fulfil for recruitment. It primarily depends on whether they are capable of maintaining a basic level of self-reliance or not.
Even though the café was started with a social cause and with a noble mission to involve the specially-abled children to make part of a larger social programme, now, Amrita is thinking of nurturing it as a serious business model. Quite obviously, social causes like this, involve a great deal of sympathetic outlook from visitors. Naturally, there are many in the café who just visit it in order to show their generosity, support and sympathy for the specially-abled children.
Amrita’s goal, however, was different and therefore, she is determined to change the orientation from a social welfare model to a professional economic one. The motto is to have a balance between work and ability and thereby to pave the way for greater social equality. It includes enhancing their skills, extracting the best out of them and employing them as very effective human resources in a society where they otherwise would remain trivialized as a non-entity.
Amrita mentions one of the employee’s excellent chopping skills along with deft computer abilities. The dream she weaves around Shrutashri, Tamoghna and others is quite remarkable for its social outreach and also for its effective use as human labour.
No wonder, stories of this kind still restore faith in humanity. At least there are people who are working tirelessly to usher in hope. It re-enkindles the power of love and compassion, simply negating the forced ideas of ability and disability which are nothing but just mental constructs of the human mind.
Refusing to equip the “disabled” people with proper kind of training to make them at par with everyone and pushing them constantly towards the fringes is also a kind of disability our society inveterately suffers from and should be taken care of. When such endeavours like Amrita’s café stride ahead, we can at least hope for a brighter tomorrow.