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Fortune cookie augurs well for juvenile offenders

CHENNAI: Believed to be the first of its kind initiative in the country, a bakery here has provided self-employment opportunities to the inmates of Kellys Observation Home for ‘children in conflict with law’.  
Aided by Shoulders Foundation NGO, four adults, who were previous inmates of the home, are currently working at ‘Bake and Change’, located inside Directorate of Social Defense premises at Purasawakkam.

“We went to the observation home in 2016 to conduct an awareness campaign on entrepreneurial development and skill-based jobs. We held baking classes in the premises and surprisingly, a lot of children took interest,” said Manicka Bharathi, who heads the Shoulder’s Foundation. Bharathi along with B Robin, who previously worked for renowned hotels, have trained over 90 ‘Children in Conflict with Law’.

However, Bharathi and Robin felt like they were overlooking an important aspect — whether the children, even after training, could land jobs outside the juvenile home.

“Despite being trained, it is not easy to get jobs outside as there is a taboo attached with children who were in conflict with the law.

“People look down upon us and refuse to employ us. So, many return to committing petty crimes for money,” said one of the observation home inmates.

Few days ago, the NGO opened a kiosk at a cost of `25,000 inside the home premises so that the inmates can work there once their sentence terms get over. Currently, four persons aged between 17 and 19 years are working at the kiosk. Two minors, who help them, are earning stipends, and adults work here on salary basis.

While the ‘Bake and Change’ shop primarily caters to those within the Directorate of Social Defense premises, even outsiders can frequent the store to have tea, cookies, puffs or cakes. On pre-orders, they also prepare cinnamon rolls, burgers, pizzas and more at nominal rates.

“Through the kiosk, we aim to effect behavioral change and help these children feel confident. We are not doing it for profit currently. We can see that other inmates too are getting inspired and are showing an interest to join the initiative,” said Bharathi.

Those working at the kiosk say the wages has helped them gain respect in their families. “My parents have now started respecting me and are considering my opinions. It feels great to be valued,” said one of the kiosk staff.

Apart from running the kiosk, the NGO continues to conduct baking courses for interested inmates. They are taught to bake both savouries and sweet. A fine way of helping them deal with bittersweet realities of life.