Located in Chennai’s Thiruvanmiyur neighbourhood, SAI Bakery has all the sights and mouth-watering scents of a regular bakery, but turn your attention away from the hypnotising aroma of freshly baked cakes and breads and you’ll notice that there is one spectacular thing that sets SAI apart from all the rest. The bakery is a part of a Neighbourhood Initiative for Adults with Special Needs by DORAI (Development Opportunities Resources Access Insight) Foundation, started in 2013 by Sumithra Prasad, General Secretary of the Foundation. You could say that it was a gift from, of sorts, from loving parents to their son who’s diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD.
“When my son Srinivasan finished his 12th grade examinations, he decided he wanted to set up a bakery, and made this announcement at a family get together we had hosted. He said ‘I want to do it with my friends, how do we do it?’ We thought a parent-driven and home-based bakery would be an engaging activity and I, along with my husband, decided to give it shape and facilitate this,” Sumithra tells us over the phone.
Sumithra explains to us that though each baked good may smell and look different, there is a definite pattern that is followed in each, which makes it easier for people with special needs to follow through. The bakery would provide differently-abled adults with an opportunity to be productive and engaged members of their community, a “holistic canapé for adults with disadvantages.”
SAI, shorthand for Society All Inclusive, has become a centre, of sorts, for differently-abled adults with developmental disabilities, with different condition where they have access to numerous activities—baking is just one aspect of it. A recreational activity and creative engagement centre, six adults come on a daily basis and begin their day with yoga and exercise. They watch the food channel, are involved in the bakery for close to an hour and participate in gardening and upcycling as well. “The focus is more on mental, social and emotional upliftment and betterment—economic is last. 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.
“It’s not just a daycare, where they come to get a feel-good factor. Today, they have an identity of their own, they’re included in their society as skilled participants rather than dependents.” SAI and DORAI working together have made tremendous contributions to society—during the devastating Chennai floods, they mobilised 35 tonnes of material, with all packing, sourcing and distribution being done but the people at SAI.
While the centre has regular participants, many people come and go as visitors, Sumithra tells us, and employing the ‘buddy system’ so they have an opportunity to intermingle and make their own relationships with different people from the community. “The biggest obstacle we had to overcome was the mindset of the parents. As their children grow up into adults, the parents grow older too. Over time, they have other things to do—other children to pay attention to, household responsibilities, these children, now adults, often get sidelined once they’re older. Many parents aren’t very proactive when it comes to getting their children engaged outside their house—they’re completely dependent on the household as well as the people living with them.” Sumithra explains that they use what she calls the ‘life-span approach,’ where the child needs to be weaned off their dependency at an earlier age, while maintaining an emotional contact, care and support. They’re nurtured as individuals with their own skills and identities, making them independent.
“For any other ‘normal’ children, parents spend money on their education, marriage and development of life skills. But it’s not the same money spent on these kids.” This is exactly what SAI Bakery and DORAI Foundation focuses on, Sumithra explains to us in a lovely metaphor, “a candle that burns, it’s not a 100 watt bulb, but it still lights up the lives of at least a few—let’s not wait for the sun. They’re like small stars that light up the sky, making it beautiful. It doesn’t have to be as big as the moon, it’s as lovely and bright.”
To know more about their work you can contact Sumithra Prasad at email@example.com, and check out their Facebook page.