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A café with a difference

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A new restaurant in Juhu, which employs people with developmental disabilities, dishes out healthy food and positive vibes.

Blue and white coloured interiors, red chairs and a glass window with the slogan ‘inclusion, acceptance and empowerment’ — that’s Café Arpan for you. The charming café, which was launched on August 2, has been spearheaded by Yash Charitable Trust, an NGO, that helps those with developmental disabilities. This project has been led by Sushama Nagarkar and her niece, Ashaita Mahajan, the two trustees of the NGO. In 2015, the trust set up a dabba service which was also managed by the 13 specially-abled employees of the café. “They are all adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities between the age group of 24 to 49 years. We treat them like any other person. And, like everyone has a choice in life, we are providing them with that choice. We focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities,” shares Mahajan.

The NGO was founded in late 2014 after Nagarkar and her daughter Aarti, who has autism, moved back from the US. Their aim was to create an inclusive space for the specially-abled. “Our focus is on providing employment in a way that they feel that they are earning, learning and become independent. But it’s not just about being monetarily independent; we want them to have some kind of ownership. When we were training them for the last three months, we would tell them to think of Café Arpan as their home,” says Mahajan. The focus for Mahajan and team is not to make profit but to be able to pay their employees a decent salary.

The trust hosted a crowd-funding campaign on Impact Guru in August 2017, to raise money for this café. The concept for this café was inspired from Puzzle Café in Manila, Philippines, which employs autistic people. “We were anyway involved in the food sector. Initially, there were three or four people and now we have grown to a team of 13. Each person is different and fun to be around, which makes the team quite dynamic. Then we came across this story from Manila, about how a family started this café so that their autistic son can work after he finishes school. They are really successful and doing well. So we did a bit of research and found that there wasn’t anything specifically like it in the city. And we decided to give it a shot,” says Mahajan with a smile.

Mahajan acknowledges that they were extremely fortunate to get a good spot (the café is right opposite SNDT Women’s University) and supporters such as Anuj Jodhani of The Good Food Co and others who pitched in for branding and interiors. “Arpan means offering. And, this is our offering to the community,”

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