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Sreelatha Menon: Transforming lives

Sreelatha Menon/New Delhi 02 Dec 12 | 12:20 AM

Thirty young men and women are moving around tables, deftly placing plates and arranging forks and spoons — in complete silence. Rachna and Renu are among them. It’s like watching a scene from a mime show. All of them have speech and hearing disabilities, and are training in hotel operations and housekeeping at a skilling centre run by Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Gurgaon.

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Owner of the institute, Sangita Ranjit, has been long associated with the hospitality sector, and runs courses in housekeeping, food production and hotel operation services. While giving lessons in cooking and serving, the institute also sends hot meals to offices in Gurgaon, bringing in the necessary funds to run the centre.

At noon, Ranjit leaves with four of them for an interview with Wango, a hotel chain, where all of them are hired instantly. A day earlier, another hotel group, Yum, had hired the rest of these students. Ranjit is thrilled and so are the students. The demand for disabled people by some food chains has made her task easy. Some hotels have set targets for hiring about 1,000 persons with disability in two years. The candidates are also trained to read pictorial menus and to take orders, says Ranjit.

Renu, a mother of a one-year-old child, had attended a special school for disabled in Delhi. Today, she doesn’t have any doubts about pursuing a career in hospitality. She nods vigorously when asked about whether she would be able to manage the job along with her family.

HPCL has been funding skilling programmes in 27 different places across the country in partnership with CII for the last six years as part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) effort called Swavlamban, spending close to Rs 1 crore each year.

Ranjit has been associated with HPCL for the last three months and has been given a target of training 100 people. She is paid Rs 6,500 per person. But the students pay nothing. She started the centre a year ago, and the first beneficiaries were poor students from different villages in Haryana, under a state-funded skilling drive. She has now been getting work from Delhi police to train children in juvenile remand homes and orphanages. She goes to panchayats in nearby villages and seeks for needy people. They spend two months training with her and are employed soon after.

Mohammad Rafiq and his brother used to beg for a living after their father was arrested for killing his mother. The boys were then sent to an orphanage from where the missionaries sent them to Ranjit. Today, Rafiq is working in Sodexo and earns close to Rs 10,000 a month. His ambition, he says, is to own a restaurant. Rafiq comes back to the skilling centre in his free time to sharpen his skills. All my students come back here. It is like their second home, says an affectionate Ranjit.

Maybe not all skilling centres are like this one. But Ranjit’s enthusiasm for her job of skilling young people seems to go beyond the money it can fetch her. She says she started with Rs 2 lakh that her mother had given her, and has since been able to manage her bills and the rent somehow.

She trains her students in Gurgaon in the morning and then rushes to old Delhi’s Turkmen Gate to conduct classes in hospitality for the needy there. The funds come from a non-governmental organisation and the Delhi police, and the beneficiaries are many.

Thirty-nine-year-old Shehjad Akhtar lost his job in a magazine office, and has now found a new career in a new industry. He has also been selected for a housekeeping job in Wango for Rs 8,000 a month. According to an audit by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, skilling centres funded by HPCL in other states are also going strong. Whether the spirit of HPCL and its partners would be reflected in the non-CSR skill centres that the government plans to start would decide the fate of the millions.


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