Visit Sai Bakery in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, and you will find more than just the wonderful aroma of freshly baked goods wafting out of it. You’ll sense the pride with which it is run and the confidence and self-esteem it provides to many of its employees who are adults with special needs.
Pista muffins, mango blondies, cheese wraps, and wheat bread are just some of the mouth-watering treats being produced at this neighbourhood initiative that gives adults with special needs an opportunity to harness their skills, socialise with each other and the community at large, and feel like they are productive members of society.
When we talk about people with special needs, there are many organizations that provide early intervention and cater to the needs of learning-disabled children. But what happens after these children are grown adults?
This is where Sai Bakery comes into the picture. It is not just a regular bakery but it’s a place where adults with learning disabilities can come, work, learn, and spend a respectable and productive day.
Sai Bakery employs adults with developmental disabilities (cerebal palsy, mental retardation, autism and multiple disabilities). Each special person’s skills are assessed and the jobs distributed accordingly. Training is provided in the areas of baking and packaging and marketing.
“As a child with special needs grows, his or her family too is growing old. The parents have less stamina to take care of the growing child/adult. There are very few organisations that are working with adults with special needs,” says Sumithra Prasad, founder of Sai Bakery.
The idea about starting a bakery came from Sumithra’s son Srinivasan who has Asperger’s syndrome. After he finished Class 12, he just went to Sumithra and said, “I want to bake. I want to start a bakery. I will get my friends and we’ll do it together.”
Sumithra welcomed her son’s idea and enthusiasm to do something. She helped him get some training to learn the basics of running a bakery. And, in September 2013, Sai Bakery opened its doors.
Sai Bakery, which works with the support of the DORAI (Development Opportunities Resources Access Insight) Foundation, not only engages adults in baking but also provides them access to various activities like music, yoga, terrace gardening, etc. The products from the bakery are also delivered to corporate events in bulk.
“We are not a regular bakery. We make products when we get orders and deliver them fresh. Our aim is not to earn profits but to empower and give a sense of respect and individuality to these adults who have been often ignored even by their own families,” says Sumithra.
Sumithra has personally witnessed the impact on some of the lives of these adults with special needs working at the bakery.
Earlier, Shameena would not even go to the toilet alone; she was always accompanied by her mother. Today, she travels all by herself from her house to the bakery everyday, an incredible and positive achievement. She has taken over the packing of pastries in their boxes.
Once a shy boy, Anand would barely speak to anyone. But today, he sings and dances with his friends from the bakery. Similarly, there is Srinivasan who has become good at mixing and blending the dough.
Though a monthly stipend is given to these adults for coming to the bakery, it is the emotional and psychological support they get that matters.
“Many times, even families don’t take these adults seriously. Someone once said about their disabled daughter, ‘What will happen even if we teach her? She is not going to work anyway.’ This attitude needs to be changed. Respect and individuality are very important,” says Sumithra.
Sumithra adds that the attitude of parents towards their own children with disabilities has been the biggest challenge she has had to overcome. Sometimes, the families are not even ready to pay for the transport of their children, even though all the other facilities at Sai Bakery are free.
But thanks to Sumithra’s determination, she has been able to create ripples of change in the lives of many such adults. She has also inspired four to five similar bakery initiatives in different parts of the country.
In the future, Sumithra wants to reach out to more people who are willing to start similar initiatives and enable more people with learning disabilities to become empowered. Even if there are three people with disabilities who need help, she says, Sai Bakery will help them set up the entire system.
Here is a heart-touching video on the unique bakery produced by The Better India Talkies:
Click here if you cannot watch the video above.