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Served with a smile

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A new social venture offers the opportunity for underprivileged women to be economically independent

Last week, when women from Seva Sadan Society made their way to the Ministry of New (MoN) co-working space in South Mumbai to serve a delectable Parsi meal to well-heeled diners, they were truly excited by the experience; “it is the first time they are getting such exposure,” said Shiraz Guard, managing committee member of the NGO.

As the women—Sujata, Poornima, Poonam and Amita—dished out brown rice and veg. and non-veg. dhansak and cutlets, with fruit custard to round off the meal, it was celebration time for Namrata Tanna, who had organised the event with support from MoN. The occasion was the launch of her social venture, Cooked by Moms, designed to bring healthy, home-cooked food to workplaces while skilling and empowering women. “I want ghar ka khana and I want it everywhere!” she smiles.

When Namrata joined hands with Seva Sadan for this particular pop-up, she had the right idea. The underprivileged residents of Seva Sadan—the Society houses 80 such women—have vast experience in the culinary sphere. Until recently, they managed By the Way, a 40-seater restaurant within the premises of Seva Sadan. The restaurant has now shut down but regulars still remember the all-time favourites such as Dhan Saak, Patra-ni-Machhi, Sali Murghi and Lagan nu Custard that were served here.

Their other restaurant, Aahaar, which is very close to the Girgaum Police Station, is known for its reasonably priced Maharashtrian and Gujarati food and its extensive menu. The thalipeeth and bhakri cost Rs 30; mungdal khichadi is for Rs 40 and missal pav is Rs 65.  A five-star hotel orders several kilos of methi parathas from them regularly. The idea is to promote self-sufficiency amongst the women and provide in-house practical vocational training to the girls who seek a career in the hospitality industry.

Seva Sadan is one of India’s oldest organisations focused on education and women’s empowerment. More than century ago, in 1908, Shri Behramji Malbari and Diwan Dayaram Gidumal, two social activists and philanthropists, decided to do something for widowed and destitute women, who were exploited and shunned by society.

Over the years, the organisation has grown to offer training in a wide range of enrichment programmes—from computer training, to art, dance, music, yoga, gymnastics and sports. In 1914, they started a Teacher’s Training College for primary school teachers, which is still in operation. There is also a self -financed Marathi medium pre-primary school and an aided Marathi primary school and high school, reaching out to disadvantaged girls. In 2008, they introduced a self-funded English medium pre-primary and primary school.

Seva Sadan’s success stories are truly inspiring. Hemangi Pawar, for instance, was a young orphan living at Seva Sadan in the 1970s. She dreamed of being a doctor but lack of finance made it impossible—so she applied for a nursing course and rose to be Sister-in-Charge of the neuro-surgery theatre at Nair Hospital.

Leena Kawankar had a natural flair for drawing and at Seva Sadan, she was encouraged to join the art class. Today, thanks to a sponsor, Leena is in the third year of the five-year Applied Art programme at Sophia Polytechnic, where she has won several awards for her work.

As for Anita Jakhwadia, who was a distraught loner when she came to Seva Sadan—she was introduced to mallakhamb, the ancient Indian art of gymnastics, and it transformed her personality. The smile on her face as she scales thick ropes to do yogasanas high above the ground makes for a lovely sight.

Namrata Tanna’s new venture, Cooked by Moms, promises to be one more success story; 80 per cent of the revenues, she says, goes to the disadvantaged women. “The idea is to take it to corporates as pop-ups,” says the young woman who gave up a career as a journalist to work with several Mumbai-based non-profits through an initiative she co-founded—Creatives against Poverty. Namrata, who has also worked with NGOs such as Concern India Foundation and iVolunteer, plays the role of CSR advisor to NGOs and companies.

“As a social enterprise, at least 80% of Cooked by Moms’ mom team consists of women from underprivileged backgrounds, so as to give them a means of employment and empowerment—economically, emotionally and socially,” she says. The smiles on the faces of the women who had woken up at 4 a.m. to cook the meal on May 11 said it all!

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