A RENDEZVOUS WITH TOGETHER FOUNDATION
Mrs. Sangeetha Charkrapani along with her husband Mr. V. Chakrapani, MUMBAI based, parents of two teenage daughters with autism, decided to do something for the future of their children. In furtherance they decided to create a bright and happy future for their teenage daughters and other young adults like them. By creating a space where people with autism get an opportunity to learn important skills and learn to live independently.
What is AUTISM? “Autism Is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people Perceive the world and interact with others. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be 'cured'. Often people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity. Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need different levels of support. All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing”.
In 2015, TOGETHER FOUNDATION(TF), a journey primarily began as a mother who wanted her daughters to do something in life beyond their academic scope, hence started a non-profit Organisation in Mumbai. In this tryst, from the beginning she has been supported by the TRUSTEES, Mrs. Anjali Tendulkar, by sponsoring the education of students at the centre by giving them subsidies. Professor Emeritus, Dr. Y.K. Amdekar has been the mentor for the foundation before and after founding. Ms. Sheela Sinha, Former Director of education, of Keller Institute of Deaf, Deafblind has been taking care of teacher training, HR policies and students training.
TOGETHER FOUNDATION, (TF) A BAKERY, is not just for people with special needs, but a place where boundaries and limitations are truly dissolved. TF works with people with autism and other intellectual impairments, preparing them for independent living in a dynamic, experience based environment. TF AIMS to help them navigate their lives through simple things that we take for granted, like self-help, personal hygiene, food preparation, meaningful work, leisure time and communication.
The foundation is primarily a BAKERY, with a range of products like cookies, chocolates, tea cakes, laddoos, sugar free items, vegan produce. It is FSSAI registered, at par with Industry standards, regarding quality and professionalism. TF’s mission is to build life, communication. TF’s working skills, seek shelter employment workshop, through baking, various related activities, where they earn for the work they do and become the ultimate EMPLOYMENT HUB for people with disability. The important factor is to ensure that such intellectually impaired people can cope with life beyond their care takers happily. The challenges that they faced initially is worth mentioning here, they started with one microwave oven. Prior to the foundation, they were offered by PURATO to teach, bake, every Saturday for a whole year. Then she realised that teaching once a week wouldn’t be enough and that, she must teach for at least 4-5 days a week. Then came the issue of space, she is ever grateful to her husband who funded, backed, not only offered her the space but transformed the place with adequate sunlight and colours just the way she preferred. Then she added one more microwave oven. A year later with the sponsorship of HDFC ERGO, they got baking equipment, commercial oven for quick and easy baking. TF expanded to making of paper plates, paper bags with block printing and hence this became the FIRST SHOP, to be managed by people with special needs and registered under THE SHOPS & ESTABLISHMENTS ACT.
The work here is done, very professionally with 16 autistic children working in batches, under the guidance of chef, they are divided into 4-5 groups, where they help the chef with baking at the bakery support primary level, the next batch will wrap the baked goodies, which is the secondary level packing, the next level is the boxes packing level with labels. Then comes the paper bags with block printing and paper plates too. Sangeetha opines, “when one works professionally it helps them to rise to the expectations and standards, which certainly gives one a sense of pride and accomplishments in their work”. They maintain attendance, CCTV monitoring helps them consider each employees working hours. There is a great dignity of labour and a sense of acceptance among people with disabilities.
She recollects one incident by a staff called Alby, suddenly when one customer turned up before the other staffs could come, spontaneously he swept the place, cleared the garbage, dusted the place and made it look amazing, all of it he did it with a smile on his face. There wasn’t even a small sign of reluctance. The students are trained in all the sphere of the bakery so no one’s absence is felt wanted. The bakery follows a very strict rule that while baking, packing, delivering the goodies no staff shall eat and work. She funnily recollects an episode at the bakery when the customer asked Krishna one of the staff, how a particular cake tasted? Pat he gave a reply how do I know, when I haven’t had a chance to taste them. Then they put their heads together after this incident and decided that each of the staff will get to sample their work, creation at the end of the day.
Sangeetha’s daughters Lakshmi and Jayanthi now 14, are undergoing vocational training at TF. Lakshmi is a senior chef Assistant, a hard working baker, who loves to bake, an ardent fan of Shah Rukh Khan and Jayanthi works in bakery support. Happily, enough Lakshmi and Jayanthi are slowly but surely making their way ahead through hard work.
A long term goal of creating a group home that would provide lifetime care for individuals with disabilities stays strong in their ASPIRATIONS LIST. We really appreciate the novel idea and thought of TOGETHER FOUNDATON TO HAVE THOUGHT OF PROVIDING EMPLOYMENT FOR THE PEOPLE WITH INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES, WHO OTHERWISE WOULDN’T HAVE HAD A CHANCE TO BE IN THE MAIN STREAM. BEST WISHES FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE TO THE BAKERY TEAM.
They can be reached at www.togethersee.org and contact cell no 7021184634.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/togethersee
VIJAYASHREE RAMESH, CHENNAI BASED ADVOCATE.