MUNNAR: Manikandan, Alexander and Sasikumar — the three cannot hear or speak, but they are the finest bakers in Munnar. Groomed by Srishti Trust, a project supported by Tata Global Beverages, the three were hand-picked from Srishti’s DARE (Developmental Activities in Rehabilitative Education) School for the differently-abled and were lucky to get trained at The Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Srishti sells the confectioneries prepared by Deli, the bake unit of the trust and sells it through five outlets in Munnar. “Besides, most of the resorts in Munnar are our clients. The Rajamala Wildlife Sanctuary also sells our confectioneries through the outlet at tourist facilitation centre,” said Shaloo Gill, principal of DARE School.
“The number of differently-abled children was high among the tea plantation workers in Munnar, due to marriage within the family. Now they have realised this and most of them have stopped the practice. This was what inspired us to launch a school for the differently-abled in 1991. Besides giving the children vocational training, we started Aranya to produce natural dyes, Athulya that produces handmade paper and stationery, Nisarga that produces fruit preservatives and Deli, the bakery. As many as 117 rehabilitated differently-abled people work in these units and we have 56 students at DARE,” said Srishti founder-trustee Ratna Krishna Kumar.
Aranya uses natural discards like eucalyptus, acacia catechu pomegranate shell, turmeric, tea waste and terminalia to prepare dyes. Renowned shibori designer Yoshiko Wada, fabric designer Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Kalamkari artist Guruppa Chetty and lehriya artist Linda LaBelle have trained the workers at Aranya Natural and around 60 per cent of their products are exported.
“I have been with Athulya for 22 years. Thanks to them, my daughter Suguna is studying BTech now. They have provided us houses and we earn more than tea estate workers. We get free medical care and food provided at a subsidised rate. Five of the 31 workers here are mentally challenged,” said Sasikala, 38, a worker. “We produce handmade paper using banana fibre, elephant dung, carrot leaf, grass, bamboo leaf, eucalyptus leaf, marigold and tea waste,” said Gowri, another worker. Nisarga, with 12 employees, produces 1 lakh bottles of strawberry jam a year apart from 1.26 lakh bottles of other fruit products.