BENGALURU: Alina Alam is not just another 26-year-old. Her compassion to do something for the disabled helped her envisage the idea of opening up Mitti Cafe. This cafe acts as a platform for adults with physical, intellectual, psychiatric and multiple disabilities to showcase their potential for productive activity.
What started from Hubballi in a tin shed, with just one person on a wheelchair, has now culminated into a movement comprising nine Mitti Cafes across Bengaluru and Hubballi, engaging more than 100 adults with different disabilities. The latest cafe was opened at the Infosys campus in the city in October.
Alam’s primary focus is on generating employment through model inclusive cafes within educational institutions and corporate houses that are managed by those with physical and mental disability. “Each Mitti Cafe trains adults with disabilities all year round to be placed in the hospitality sector. Apart from general training, some of it is additionally customised as per the type and extent of disability,” says Alam.
In all the nine cafes, one can find menu cards printed in Braille, food orders written on sheets of a note pad, self-explanatory placards and flicker lights that signal the staff when a customer needs help. “An internship opportunity at Bengaluru’s Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled made me realise about the untapped potential that people with disabilities have,” she adds.
Another initiative by Mitti Cafe is the regular sensitisation drives held at public spaces, corporates, tech parks and educational institutions. “Our candidates with physical and intellectual disabilities participate in this to make people aware of different disabilities and competencies they possess, thereby removing taboos and misconceptions around disabilities,” Alam says, adding, “As part of each sensitisation drive, food stalls, interactive games and sessions are held by people with disabilities who are already role models,” she adds.
Most of those working at the nine cafes of the Mitti chain have never attended school or are dropouts. However, their engagement here helps in bridging significant gaps that differently-abled individuals face towards transitioning into an environment that provides them with livelihood along with dignity and self-worth.
“Currently, we are supported by and have Mitti Cafes within the premises of companies like Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, IQVIA and are also coming up in offices of Accenture,Wipro,Wells Fargo, among several corporates who have shown interest in supporting us by giving space to set up these cafes that train and employ adults with different disabilities,” says Sabiha, who works for the chain.
For Alam, the entire experience of working with the specially-abled people is ‘heartwarming’ as she feels she could have not been happy in doing anything else.