Published: 16th March 2018
This Chennai bakery is helping young adults with special needs find their purpose in life
Apart from the delicacies served at Sai Bakery, it is also a place for these young adults and their parents to interact and help each other
Five years. That's all the time Srinivasa Prasad was expected to live in this world. But the little fighter wasn't one to give up. Beating all odds — a liver disorder, tuberculoma, partial amnesia and loss of motor abilities — today, Srinivasa is a happy and confident 26-year-old, whose mission in life isn't to just survive, but to make each day count by helping others like him.
After completing his Class XII, Srinivasa told his mother, Sumitra Prasad, a social activist and filmmaker, that he wanted to start a bakery. He wanted to name it SAI (Society All Inclusive). "Normally, people undergo training before they set up commercial ventures, like a café. But Srinivasa was very clear that he wanted to do something with his friends," says Sumitra.
Novel Initiative: Although the concept of 'neighbourhood initiative’ is not entirely new, it is when it comes to adults with special needs
"We have so many centres and special schools that cater to the needs of children with special needs, however, what is also very important to remember is that these children do grow and as they do, so do their parents. Now, the real challenge arises when there is no more school to go to and when the vocational training centres are full and there is no breathing space for the youngsters. The parents don't know what to do with their children, who are now in their 20s and 30s. That’s when we bring in an initiative that doesn’t look at a big investment or a large group or infrastructure," says Sumitra.
But the bakery, which is set up in Chennai, is not a vocational training centre. There are no employees. The volunteers who come there are paid a stipend. "These are adults who don't go into open employment because nobody hires them. So, unlike a regular job, this is more of an initiative to engage these young adults," says Sumitra, adding that "the ultimate aim is to try and take this neighbourhood initiative across the country. I hope the government and other authorities take this up because they have all the resources. It is their responsibility to do this. The country has signed the UN's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But it's only on paper. Let's start acting."
The main feature of this kind of an enterprise is that it’s primarily parent-driven and provides a holistic environment for the young adult to socialise with the group and experience a sense of belonging, which is much-needed during their adulthood. "It also gives the parents an opportunity to come out of their traditional setting — be it post-retirement or the house arrest-type domestic life — and be involved in a unique and engaging activity," says Sumitra.
No one who comes to this bakery walks away empty-handed. Apart from their delicious muffins, visitors are also given upcycled gifts and saplings. Volunteers are provided hands-on training in the different areas of baking preparation, actual production and marketing. "I never thought that I would be blessed with a son with special needs. I have become a better human being because of him. There's no ego or vested interested in him. I feel happy that Srinivasa is who he is. Even after he ceases to be, his impact will carry on," she adds wholeheartedly.