Cafe Positive: Giving HIV+ Communities a Shot in Life
Rekha was born with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Her childhood was systematically eradicated. She was always treated differently. The child Rekha never knew why. Shunned and shamed, she was kept away from everyone, even family members.
It wasn’t until she arrived at Anandaghar, in Kolkata, at the age of nine, a home for children living with HIV, that she even got to know what HIV was and what it meant. Kallol Ghosh, a children’s rights advocate and founder of the non-profit Organisation for Friends Energies and Resources (OFFER), runs Anandaghar, knowing how little was being done for young sufferers of HIV.
A right to a quality of life
India is home to more than six per cent of the world's total HIV cases. Among the affected population are children born with the condition. They inherit the stigma. They inherit the pain. They inherit the struggles at an age where they are totally unable to cope with these problems. Often the young cannot access healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. Additionally, the high cost of medication may deter some from seeking treatment or proper care. For Rekha this leaves the door wide open to doubts. "I was uncertain about my future; if society forbade mingling with others, how could we find work or become independent?" When Rekha voiced her concerns, ‘Uncle Kallol’ as he is lovingly called, recalled an inspiration he discovered in Europe.
Changing mindsets one cup at a time
In 2006, Kallol visited a restaurant in Germany run and managed by people with HIV. This experience deeply touched him and set the wheels in motion, eventually leading him to establish Cafe Positive, a similar initiative back home.
Location became a problem. ‘Not in My Backyard’ or NIMBY was the stumbling block both from tenants and neighbours. After a great deal of haggling and discussions, a suitable location was finally found in 2018. Cafe Positive was ambitious. Kallol wanted the food and beverage (F&B) outlet to be an industry benchmark. He wanted to have all its staff members receive biannual industry-standard training to maintain a professional operation and adhere to a stringent hygiene regimen. Good service, coffee and food became the bywords to live by. For Kallol, the aim was clear. “The marginalised people run this cafeteria, they have a dream that yes, I am also part of society. And anyone can be a changemaker if you have a drink at Cafe Positive.”
There were many walkouts, but there were also just as many walk-ins at the Cafe as well. Kallol speaks only of the positive effects of Cafe Positive. "We have cultivated a good circle of friends and repeat customers through this cafe."
For Rekha, Cafe Positive is both her beating heart and home. Her colleagues are her family. And Uncle Kallol is just ‘Uncle Kallol’ - a part of her world since she was a child. “If I do not come here for a day, I feel like I am missing out on so much. Now that we have been able to make it a success, I hope the idea will spread.”
Kallol explains that "positive" in the cafe's name not only describes the staff but also reflects the cafe's goal of shaping conversations and correcting misconceptions about the conditions to foster greater awareness and acceptance. “As a dreamer, my plan is to establish 30 to 40 Cafe Positives across the country, providing employment opportunities for at least 350 to 500 marginalised children and young adults.”
Cafe Positive will be opening two new outlets in the coming months. For now, you can visit them at 64A, Lake View Road, Kolkata.
Embracing change is as simple as ordering a cup of coffee. To think that’s all it takes is anything but simple. It means overcoming prejudices, challenging misinformation about the transmission of the virus, and it means being seen as an agent of change.
About Cafe Positive
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