You may come across Bakery Café at several places in Katmandu. It’s a chain of restaurants with a difference; and a significant one at that. It is manned mostly by people who are speech-impaired.
The chain in 1991 started with one restaurant, and its chairman Shyam Kakshapati chose to employ 12 speech-impaired staff when he opened a new restaurant in 1997. He personally trained the new recruits who had no experience in the industry and now remembers it as the best and most rewarding experience he has had in his life. Today the company has eight restaurants employing 45 people with the disability. You will watch with joy the sight of differently-abled people work and earn a living with pride; the visit will be a nourishing experience for the mind as well.
Most people do not consider the differently-abled as equals, which deprive them of employment opportunities. But they need not be treated with disdain nor to be kept outside the mainstream. Their inability to take up ceratin jobs does not mean that they can do no job. On the other hand, they often excel in certain other areas. A responsible society will show not sympathy to them but treat them as equals and create opportunities for them to study, travel, take up jobs and live as normal people. Bakery Café shows an example for the world as to how to create such opportunities.
This is a model Kerala also can emulate. Organisations such as the Kudumbashree Mission and the Kerala Hotel and Restaurants Association can take lead in training such persons. And please remember, when we do so, we not only provide some employment, but also demonstrate to the world that such people are capable of doing jobs which society hitherto thought they would not to be able to do. And that makes a huge difference.
I am willing to help persons or organisations which are willing to take up this challenge. I can help them get in touch with Bakery Café, get them to understand the challenges and opportunities such a venture throws up and the ways to manage them.
(The writer is Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction in the UN Environment Programme.)...