A teenager dropped out of school after class X because “there was no money at home” and started cutting stickers for fruit boxes to supplement the family income.
Zeba Khatoon, 19, earned Rs 7 for 100 pieces. Her father pulls a cart in the Entally area and earns about Rs 100 a day.
A year ago, she got an opportunity to learn baking and now she works in a cafe in Convent Lane. The Cafe & Bakery is an initiative of Kolkata Mary Ward Social Centre (KMWSC), a wing of the Loreto Congregation in South Asia. It was inaugurated on Monday.
The shop in Convent Lane has employed some underprivileged people from the neighbourhood, many of whom manage only a single meal a day and have multiple mouths to feed.
Volunteers of KMWSC visit slums in the area, talk to people to understand their needs and identify candidates. But it is not easy to make them forego what they do and train them for vocational jobs, a centre official said.
“There is resistance from parents when we try to work with girls. Many feel girls are supposed to be only at home and give birth to children... at best work as helps,” Sister Monica Suchiang, director, KMWSC, said.
“When the girls come to us they are low on confidence. But as they start working we notice a change in their outlook and they are much more empowered.”
The KMWSC works in three main areas — protection of women and child development; education and health; and community development through livelihood and skill development.
The interior of the cafe Picture by Gautam Bose
The cafe menu has an assortment of cakes, pastries, patties, sandwiches, pizzas, coffee, and tea among others and can seat 40 people.
“I am still learning and in some time I will start baking. I now have a decent job with fixed timings and I am enjoying it,” Zeba said.
Her friend Nikhat Parveen is learning how cake mixers and baking machines function. “I have a two-year-old son and I have to support my widowed mother who used to work as a help. I had to drop out of school in class V... if I learn baking I will have better prospects of earning money,” she said.
The Loreto Sisters in Entally started the bakery in 1909. “After the bakery was set up, students were taught home science in the bakery and women in the neighbourhood were taught how to bake and market cakes. In the initial years, the bakery fed the hungry in the neighbourhood,” Suchiang said. “To revive that concept we have a food ATM that provides free food to people in the community.”
The cafe is not a profit-making venture. It is mainly meant to raise money for the food ATM and help people in the neighbourhood, she said.
“We will request people who visit the cafe to buy something for the ATM as well,” Proshanto Baroi of KMWSC said.