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Come, raise a toast to ability at the Sunshine Cafe in Mumbai

In the heart of Sewri in Mumbai, you can soon look forward to a bright little spot of happiness. Called Sunshine Cafe, this weekly venture started by Jai Vakeel Foundation & Research Centre, India's oldest and largest non-profit, has been working to empower people with intellectual disabilities. for 75 years.

The idea behind starting the café is something that was discussed over many months, says CEO Archana Chandra.

The idea of having a café was so it could help build marketable skills in our students and they would receive on the job training. The curriculum incorporates soft skills training such as customer service, hygiene, time management, problem solving and communication. Students will be able to progress at their own pace, spending more time on areas where they need extra support. - Archana Chandra, CEO Jai Vakeel Foundation & Research Centre

The foundation is looking into opportunities for students in cooking, baking or management, the aim being to change the way the world perceives people with Intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"We have found that they are not accepted wholeheartedly into the community, as a result of which they find it very difficult to get mainstreamed and to become contributing citizens of society. The Jai Vakeel Foundation believes that the potential of its students is truly experienced when the students are interacting in the real world; i.e. outside the safety of the school campus.

This broader engagement is also the thrust of Community Integration Program (CIP) started four years ago, which aims to:

  • Raise awareness society about people with disabilities, their potential and contribution.
  • Enable students to interact and be independent in the society.
  • Level the playing field by providing opportunities for recreation, job placements etc.
  • Reduce the impact of socio-economic factors to opportunities for inclusion.
  • Provide parents with the confidence and skill to engage in society.
  • Empower parents to become champions of change within the realm of potential and possibility for their children.

This is done by giving the children opportunities to engage equally within society. In the last year, eight such unique opportunities were given which included visits to amusement parks, art festivals, fun fairs at mainstream private schools, theatre and musical performances, cinemas, zoo, to name a few.

Sunshine Café too is a step forward in this direction and Jai Vakeel hopes to make this a regular feature from next year. The first session hosted at the café was a success, with all the items sold out with an hour. There were nine items on the menu, all made by the students under the supervision of the staff members.

"The students got to step up and take responsibility, says Chandra. "They felt like grown-ups! The parents were impressed with the way the students handled the transactions and provided service. They were thrilled to see that their children were at ease in this environment..

Veena Jadhav, mother of Sakshi, a student at JVF said she was proud of her daughter, who was among the students manning the café. "It was wonderful to hear comments like when are you doing this next. I feel so happy and proud of the children, while Sanchita Rane, Dakshay's mother, promised to come again with her entire family.


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