People once considered vulnerable are now contributing in the best way. Meet the team at Mitti Café.

"During my college days, I watched a documentary named Nero’s Guests. Nero was a mighty Roman emperor who had won the biggest battles of his life. There was a part in the movie where he invited mighty kings and queens from different places to celebrate his victory. When it got dark, he decided to burn some waste in order to light up the party. He burnt up all the war prisoners alive while the party went on, people sang and danced. I believe, the problem here isn’t Nero. There are many Neros in the world. The problem was the guests who despite seeing the ordeal of fellow humans, turned away and enjoyed their moment. This documentary became the turning point of my life when I realized I am one of Nero’s guests.

Image: Alina Alam
Image: Alina Alam

I am Alina Alam from Kolkata, and I have founded Mitti Café in the year 2017 with an aim to provide economic independence and equal employment opportunities to differently-abled people.

Initially, I approached many organizations with this idea, but my lack of experience in running a business made them think otherwise. I did not lose hope, and I started by distributing pamphlets door to door in Karnataka. One day I got a call from a woman who wanted her daughter, who was suffering from Paraplegia, to work for us. On the day of the interview, Kirti came crawling all the way from the auto-rickshaw and sat in front of us. Sadly, she had to drop out of school at the age of 10 because of inaccessibility to a PWD-friendly toilet, and her parents could not afford a wheelchair for her. But her hunger to learn and be a part of something new was contagious. Hence, she became the manager of our very first café. Today she manages 7 people with disability.

We have opened a total of 12 cafés in Hubli, Bangalore, Orissa, and Kolkata and have 116 differently-abled people working with us. The idea behind Mitti Café is that it’s a tangible interactive model, the failure of the model completely depends on whether the community wants it to be a success. Also, the word 'Mitti' means soil, which signifies that we all originate from the soil and will end up there. Despite our diverse achievements, we are all the same.

Post the lockdown, we had to shut our cafés, and our revenues became nil. It has been a difficult time for us. We were rehabilitating many homeless as they were training with us to be able to get back onto their feet. They worked in the day and live with us here.

When the news about the plight of migrant workers and homeless spread, we as a team decided to step up and extend our help by cooking daily and distributing meals. We started by distributing 1,000 meals per day. To date, we have reached 3,50,000 meals. This is even more inspiring because all this is being done by people with disabilities, who were once vulnerable and homeless.

For the smooth functioning of our initiative, we have partnered with the local police and counselors. Volunteers from Mitti café and our partners have been extremely active in carrying out the fieldwork. We ensure that the volunteers in the field don’t have any access to the kitchen. Moreover, the groceries once bought are left untouched for 48 hours. We have been taking all the necessary steps to ensure a safe working environment for our employees as well as providing clean and safe meals to the people.

Hemant, who works with the kitchen team said, “I will cook for everyone and nobody will stay hungry”. Gauri, who has a 100% vision impairment, also works with the kitchen team. She said, "India needs love and compassion more right now than it ever needed." She also appeals to everyone to stand up for our country and help. Such statements show empowering visions from those people who are otherwise considered vulnerable and a liability. It is satisfying to see how the tables have turned over.

People from across the world are facing times that we couldn’t have imagined. For the last three years, we have been a self-sustained organization. Since the COVID-19 crisis, all our cafes have been shut. There has been no revenue coming in, making things difficult for us. We are unable to pay salaries to our employees, most of them are the only breadwinners in their family. Hence, we have started a fundraiser with the help of Milaap to save the dreams of these people who have been working extremely hard to feed the homeless. A small effort from you can mean a whole world to one person who is in need. Do not underestimate your power to make a difference in a person’s life. This country needs each one to do their bit."

You Humanity pays respect and gratitude to the team of Mitti Café for going above and beyond to contribute towards Humanity.

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