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Gender power brews in special cafe corner

Eighteen-year-old Sabita lives in a working girls’ hostel. She left her Kalighat home because she felt unsafe in the locality as a young woman. She also wanted to stand on her own feet, and lead an independent life. After a few years of training, she’s ready to run her own business, along with three of her friends. “It’s a small step for other girls like us in Calcutta, and a giant leap for me,” she grins.

The vehicle of the young girls’ dreams is a cafe-cum-gift shop, called Hub, in Deshapriya Park, set up with the support of Sanlaap, Delhi-based NGO International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Calcutta Police. The first of four such cafes, started with the initiative of Sanlaap, is aimed at helping the young inmates of the NGO’s working girls’ hostels to become self-reliant.

The saris, cushion covers, bed covers, salwar suits, cellphone cases, purses and other items being sold at the store, which was inaugurated on Thursday, are made by Sanlaap girls, as well as other individuals and NGOs. There are two computers, with one corner doubling as a cyber café for Internet surfers. The foodstuff is supplied by Amul, with three of the girls undergoing a day’s training at the company, learning how to prepare pizzas.

Although Sanlaap staff-member Anindita Banerjee will help out the girls, she stresses that her role is merely supervisory. “They will do everything, from making the tea and coffee to the billing, once they learn. I will just see that things are going okay. This place is theirs,” she says, adding that even the uniform worn by them had been chosen by the girls when they were taken out for shopping — black trousers from Ballygunge New Market and colourful, checked shirts from Pantaloons.

The money for the project, including the rent for the space, has been loaned to the girls through the Sanlaap fund at a minimum interest rate, which they can pay back at a later date.

“We might not have a lot of education, so we will have problems initially. But we will manage,” adds Sabita, while friend Rakhi, 20, feels their efforts will show the way for others like them. “It’s all about self-confidence,” adds Shefali.

Assisting with the accounting initially will be 20-year-old Sushmita, a volunteer with Sanlaap, who had gone on an IOM micro-enterprise training programme to Hyderabad recently.

The B.Com student of Netaji Nagar College will visit each of the four cafes, after the other three are launched, teaching the young ‘owners’ the numbers game. “I have interacted with them before at Sanlaap’s drop-in centres, and I am sure they will do the job well,” she smiles.

After several vocational training classes, the ambition of these young women was to have something of their own. And they have no doubts about the fact that they will be successful in their venture. “There are other women who depend on us. When we are capable enough and this place is doing well, then we will in turn go out and train other girls,” sums up Sabita.

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