A Cafe Run By The Blind? Food For Thought

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The NAB Centre helps train and groom visually impaired girls so they can earn a living for themselves and find a foothold in society. Training these women in handicrafts and massages, call centres is common but the NAB centre in Delhi did something unusual. They trained 700 girls on how to cook. Women are expected to cook and run the family but most blind girls are not taught as people do not go how to go about it. These blind women are trained to prepare snacks and even a full meal with the help of NAB, a professional chef and even training at a few Barista outlets. Some of them have married and run their own homes and some of them are cooking at a small cafe at the NAB India centre for blind women in New Delhi. Here are some excerpts from an interview with Ms. Karuna Dy. Director of NAB.


1.
 What was the motive behind starting this cafe?

It was Shalini Khanna’s idea. We have realized it’s important to keep them [the girls] engaged with new activities. There are very few training centres for visually impaired girls.


2.
 How do you train them and what are the difficulties you face?

Well, I would say they are open to learning but some things take longer hours to teach: Grooming (many come from rural areas), initial etiquettes, social adjustment and religious barriers are difficult for these girls to adapt to. Suppose we want to teach you how to bake a cake, you cannot say I won’t use egg and I would only prepare eggless cakes.

Orientation wise you can say it’s bit difficult to teach one-to-one, it’s not like 10 students are sitting, and you are give a lecture and it’s done. Orientation consumes a lot of time but it’s part of training.


3.
 How many girls work in cafe?

There are 3-4 right now. We started this with 3 girls who were very good in home science. In fact one girl is the main cook. We are starting this training on the basis of cafe.


4.
 But why cooking? You already have computer training, handicrafts training, spa training, you could easily get another of many vocational programs?

Obviously we could but then the results of the study ‘Status of Blind Women in India ‘ showed that these girls are not mobile and are dependent on their mothers and sisters to come and feed them. So home science training was added to add a part of self sufficiency. First, you need to learn cooking for your self then comes family. Every girl has to give 45 minutes to kitchen as part of home science training. And this cafe is just another step in both personality development and empowering them.


5.
 You also have a chef from the Taj?

For student upgradation, we collaborated with The Taj and their chef Mr. Arun comes and teaches these girls. Recently we collaborated with Barista and they also send their volunteers.


6.
 What changes are you able to bring in life of these young girls?

This is a reverse question. In fact I would say they bring changes in us. We get opportunity to learn many things from them. It’s vice -versa.

Actually they have become more confident, with these new concepts of learning on how to handle your clients, it’s important. You’ve to learn soft skills, you have to be really responsible towards your business and constantly think how to improve if you’ve to earn money. So I’m sure they have become more confident now.


7. How do you get donations /funds?

We get donations from individuals, groups,club,foundations. We haven’t got any govt aid yet.


8. How much time does it take to train one person?

Because it’s a pilot program, it’s 3-5 months. 3 months minimum, because you have to do orientation, teach them various devices, regular upgradation.

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9. How have customers reacted?

According to personalities of customer there’s a really good response and it has been really wonderful experience for our girls because visitors come and we take them to our cafe. And there are diff kind of people in this world -some are hyper, some soft,others shy yet others cooperative, with attitude .


10. Do customers lose patience?

As I said before there are different type of people in this world. So some of them lose patience. People who come and eat from cafe give our girls feedback. Sometimes something is not cooked/baked properly. Customers react, our girls have to take it, they have to learn.


11. Do people from the locality buy things from cafe?

We haven’t opened it for people in locality yet. Our own visitors like volunteers,or parents of these girls,or students,  our official guests come here.


12. Do girls lose faith in themselves? How do you help them deal with it?

Sometimes…sometimes. There is a buddy system, we have a trainee who has been trained by us. Her attitude has been positively built, so there is a mechanism if some girl who has a tough time during the day, she can go to her mentor and discuss and this mentor would tell her then where the problem lies. She acts like a counselor.

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