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Café Arpan: Serving Delectables While Supporting Inclusion

This Autism Acceptance Month 2021, we want to talk about Inclusion in the Workplace. We are happy to write about Café Arpan, an eatery well known for its mouthwatering food and awe-inspiring employees.

Café Apran is one of the flagship programs of Yash Charitable Trust (YCT), a public charitable organization founded by Dr. Sushama Nagarkar. Ashaita Mahajan, Trustee at Yash Charitable Trust tells us about how Café Arpan came about and their initiatives towards inclusion.

About Café Arpan

Inclusion in the workplace
Café Arpan Family [Photo Credit: Brinston & Dylan]

Our first supported employment initiative – Arpan Dabba Service was set up in 2015. Over the next 2 years, the team grew but our physical space didn’t. It was time to expand and our research led us to the heart-warming story of a family-based in the Philippines who started The Puzzle Café. They started it so that one of their adult children – a person with autism – would have a place to work. And so the idea of Café Arpan was conceived.

Café Arpan was inaugurated in 2018 and since then has matured and found a niche space within the Mumbai F&B industry. It’s an all-inclusive space open to anyone and everyone.

The team members take equal responsibility to manage the space with support and guidance from a manager and two members of the kitchen support staff. 

Since inception, we have promoted inclusion. We have hosted different customers from all over the world, some of their canine and feline companions, as well as members of the LGBTQi community. We operate 6 days of the week, have a fun menu of quirky dishes and we guarantee a warm and welcoming feel-good vibe as soon as you enter.

Changing Attitudes

Sudha Chhabria with freshly baked Date & Walnut Muffins [Photo Credit: Brinston & Dylan]

Our team members (PwIDDs) are wonderful, talented and hard-working individuals. They take a lot of pride in the work they do – they feel a sense of ownership when they successfully complete any task. 

As they say, the proof is in the pudding and that’s exactly (and almost literally) what Café Arpan showcases. Our team members are professionals who are treated with dignity and respect and they highlight what this particular disability community can do if they are provided with the right guidance. 

It is the lack of awareness that leads to people being awkward or inappropriate with PwIDDs. It is important to have an open mind, to have conversations about the subject of disabilities. Most often, one’s negative behaviour is based on ignorance. I always encourage our customers to engage in conversations with the team when they visit the café.

How Employment Impacts Quality of Life

From our own experience, we can confirm that providing supported employment opportunities to our team members has truly changed their lives. I feel humbled to share that many of our team members have developed into confident, smart and most importantly, happy human beings. 

When we think about life in general, and even one’s mental well-being, one thing that matters most is purpose. Our team members are all salaried employees. They  follow our HR protocols, they have responsibilities and are accountable for their actions just like the rest of the working population. 

Employment provides not just financial independence, but also the chance to be social, make friends. Many of our team members thrive with routine and this helps with that as well.

Proud Moments and Success Stories

When we first began our work in 2015, we started out with 4 team members; today we are up to 32. There are several proud moments – but one of our most recent proud moments was when we successfully placed one of our team members at Soho House, Mumbai as they were very keen on hiring persons with disabilities. We are very happy to share that he loves his new job and gets along famously with his colleagues. We have also worked with some of our members (and their families) towards making them more independent – helping them to learn how to cross the street and travel on their own by public transport. Many of our senior members (been with us since the beginning) double up as mentors – training the new joinees at our training skill development center.

The friendships we have seen develop between our members is so wonderful – they even have a dedicated WhatsApp group where they can chat among themselves without parental supervision. Our success stories will always make what we do more worthwhile. To experience some of these, you will have to come visit and see/feel for yourself.

Challenges and Opportunities

Our first step to set up Café Arpan was to run a crowd-funding campaign (on a platform called Impact Guru). Not knowing what to expect, we were bowled over by the generous contributions we received.  Most people assume that training our team members was challenging, but it was the opposite – our team stepped up to the plate like pros because they were all set to start their first official job in the real world.

2020 was a challenging year for the whole planet. As an NGO, we had to focus on fundraising during this time. Again, we were overwhelmed by the support we received from our contributors from around the world. Surviving and coming out of Covid19 lockdown was by far one of the most challenging times in our short history. Fortunately, we were able to raise sufficient funds to cover our expenses till our employment initiatives could be restarted.

What the Society Must Know

Persons with disabilities are an asset to our working population. Many of them thrive with routine and uniformity. So we encourage potential employees to assign jobs that suit an individual’s skill set. We have been successful using this method at Café Arpan. It’s important to have an open mind, be passionate and see the potential in diversity and inclusion.

Café Arpan will always work as a therapeutic space for everyone, for people who work there and for people who visit.

Supporting businesses run by a differently-abled workforce, will be a wonderful start towards a more inclusive future. A country like India that has the second largest population in the world, a country with such diversity will flourish with acceptance, empowerment and inclusion. These three words form the pillars of what I believe should be the future of the disability sector.

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog on inclusion in the workplace. Please share your feedback and suggestions in the comment section below.

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