Chennai's SIEMAT canteen turns into training centre, aiming for social change. Here's how

It is managed by the Chennai Mission, and it employs a team of 20 individuals who have battled mental illnesses
Image for representational purpose only | (Pic: Express)
Image for representational purpose only | (Pic: Express)

The canteen at the State Institute of Educational Management and Training (SIEMAT), located in the Perasiriyar Anbazhagan campus in Chennai's Nungambakkam was meant to serve the teachers attending training sessions organised by the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT). However, it has now transformed into a training facility itself, with the objective of driving social change.

It is being managed by the Chennai Mission, and it employs a team of 20 individuals who have battled mental illnesses with help from The Banyan, an NGO that caters to the needs of mentally ill and homeless women in the city. The canteen has around 1,000 visitors a day and sports a new look which is quite different from the usual canteens on government campuses, as per a report by The New Indian Express.

"Twenty people who have recovered from mental illness but are still on medication work here. They have not been accepted by their families despite the progress. About three to four people live together in a house that is self-sustaining with the help of the salaries they earn. The Banyan provides them with required medicines and routine check-ups," said GV Arun from the Foundation for Vocational Training, which is a part of Chennai Mission.

While the usual business which is run for profit requires around ten staff members to manage the canteen, 20 members have been employed so that the staff gets enough rest and can also take care of themselves. "We are happy that the department is supporting a good cause," said a SCERT employee.

"The place is provided by SCERT, we provide training to the staff, and the kitchen items are donated by Hot Breads. We take care of the additional expenditure of hiring more staff. The staff, after being trained here, can also be employed in other restaurants and cafes," added Arun.  

The initiative is aimed at overcoming the stigma surrounding individuals who have experienced mental health illnesses. In addition to therapy and treatment, having financial independence also helps them overcome the challenges they face and have a better quality of life, as per  The New Indian Express.

"Employment as far as people with disabilities are concerned is a struggle, it is even more so for people with mental health illnesses. This is a pilot programme that provides them with employment in a supportive environment, along with training. The support staff understand their challenges and transport is also provided. This will help them to improve their working skills, social skills, and interpersonal communication," said Preetha Krishnadas, Deputy Director of The Banyan.

The concerned organisations plan to expand the initiative to over 10 more places in the next three years to support more people who are in need of help. This is the 12th such cafe run by Chennai Mission, and their other projects include cafes run by school dropouts, prison inmates, and underprivileged people. Chennai Mission usually entrusts the cafe run on the government campuses to the department concerned once they become self-sustaining.

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