At 11 am at the Tech Mahindra Centre at Santacruz (W) where 25 deaf students were being taught at Pankh, an initiative by the Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India (TRRAIN) there were all eyes on the white board. Instructor Pradeep More, who is deaf himself, was teaching the class an English module.
Front bencher: Ameesha Prabhu, CEO of Pankh (left in the first row) attends a class
Ameesha Prabhu, CEO of Pankh was also at the centre in Malti Jayant Dalal High School, near LS Raheja College. She says, “The classes are run for 60 days with Thursdays as a weekly off. We also run classes in other cities in Western and Southern India. They have class on Saturday and Sunday too since the retail industry habit of working on weekends needs to be inculcated in students.”
These differently abled students are taught Life and Retail Skills, English and Computers. Classes commence at 10 am and end at 5 pm with a lunch break and small 10 minute breaks in the middle. The students are not charged any fees and are placed in jobs where they earn a minimum of R7000 per month. The retailers who employ them also are not charged.
Hear here: Instructor Pradeep More instructs a class of 25 deaf students at Pankh’s Santacruz centre. Pics/Nimesh Dave
“Pankh, Mumbai started in May 2013 with the help of Non Government Organisations (NGOs) who work in the area of disability. The students we take should have a minimum education qualification of having passed class X or class XII. The classes run on donor funding with on the job training included after 45 days of classroom theory lesson. The students get a certificate on completing the course,” says Prabhu.
“A sensitisation workshop is conducted with their employers and colleagues so that they are able to work better with them. The basic dos and don’ts of talking to a person with disability are handled in this workshop,” says Khushbu Singh from TRRAIN’s marketing team.
Joy of learning: The disabled students of Pankh are taught a variety of curriculum in 60 days of the class
The attrition rate on hiring disabled people is low which is a plus for the retail industry. The industry is the second biggest in India after agriculture. Prabhu says, “We did a survey before we started Pankh in Hyderabad in 2011 and surveyed the 101 jobs in retail and found 34 jobs that could be done by disabled people. This helped bring down the attrition rate in the retail industry, which is a big plus for companies that hired the disabled who also get government sops.”
Singh says, “Hiring people with disabilities is a benefit for the company with social as well as financial benefits. An alternative work force is being created which is both productive and efficient. A number of the Pankh students have won prizes with ‘Employee of the Month’ and the like prizes since they joined their jobs.”
“Pankh has a 90 per cent placement success rate in the city. We monitor each student and try to place them in jobs that are suited to their strengths. Students between 18 and 30 years of age are enrolled since the industry is not very open to older people,” says Prabhu.
(L-R) Amol Solat, Chinmay Shinde, Laxmi Hegde and Prashant Bhoir
Through sign language, instructor Pradeep More says, “The students keep in touch with me even after they are working. They have very high career aims and want to climb the ladder of success. Many of them say that their parents had no expectations from them, and yet, they are earning and doing them proud. No one fails in the class so every student is given a chance to earn his or her livelihood.”
A number of customers have written back to Pankh appreciating their students. Prahbu says, “The employers are always enthusiastic to hire our students since they work well. They have a badge that says they are from our school and use sign language, so customers know. The customers like that PwDs (People with Disability) are given an opportunity to work and earn a livelihood, affinity increases to the store or shop.”
Laxmi Hedge, a speech and hearing impaired person works at Café Coffee Day (CCD) at Carter Road, Bandra. A student from Pankh, she has been working at the coffee outlet for nine months. Her co-workers have learnt sign language. She says through sign language, “I earn R8,000 per month and prior to the training struggled for a job. I was an SSC pass and no one was willing to give me a job because of my disability. I learnt about Pankh via an SMS, I received about them. I was very happy to learn new things there.”
The store manager Pratik Chavan says, “Laxmi makes the best cold coffee. When she makes the beverage, I am sure that there will be no complaints. She is now learning to make hot coffee too. She is a hard worker and I am confident that she will learn quickly.”
Another success story is that of Amol Solat who works at the Max Store, Dadar as a Sales Associate. A Beed resident, Solat is deaf and lost his mother at a young age. His father was an alcoholic and was fed up of his inability to hear and speak, so he threw him out of the house.
Through sign language, Solat says, “To sustain myself, I took up a job of cleaning vessels in a small restaurant and earned R2000 per month. I did my SSC at the Zilla Parishad School. While in Beed, I came to know about Pankh and wanted to come and learn at the institute but did not have the money to come to Mumbai. A few generous people contributed money and sent me to the city. In Mumbai, I stayed at Nalasopara, sharing a room with some co-students.”
After he completed his training at Pankh, Solat got a job at MAX Fashion’s Dadar store. “I plan to save money from my salary and want to buy a mobile, I also want to continue my education. I have no family and so the Pankh institute members are like my family as they have given me a means of sustenance,” he adds.
Harishankar Sharma has a pronounced limp when he walks. A Dahisar resident, he came to know about Pankh after seeing a sticker put up in the disabled coach of a local train. The sticker piqued his curiosity and to check the authenticity of it; he reached the Pankh Centre at Leonard Cheshire Home in Andheri (E).
Sharma, who recently won an ‘Employee of the Month’ award at Star Bazaar, Andheri (W) where he works as a Sales Associate says, “Pankh has been a turning point in my life. After I enrolled in the institute, I have managed to get a job that pays me well and I now provide for my parents and school going brothers. The staff working with me is very cooperative and supportive.”
He is quite popular with customers and that earned him the award given to employees who have gone beyond the call of duty to serve customers or to help colleagues or to generate sales for the business.
A Customer Sales Associate in the Food and Vegetables Department at Thane’s Hypercity Mall, Chinmay Shinde is the mall’s most popular face. He says, “I enjoy my job. With the money I earn, I provide for my parents which makes me very proud to have attended Pankh and secured a job even though I am disabled.
Prashant Bhoir, another student of Pankh, works at 109 Degree Fahrenheit, Khar (W) as a Customer Associate. The Bhayander resident is the star performer of the store. “Prashant who suffers from a limp never lets that affect his performance. He always meets the sales targets. He shows customers clothes that they will like. He also motivates his colleagues,” says store manager, Sharon Fernandes.
Bhoir recalls, “Before Pankh, I was jobless. I would sit at home and watch TV or spend time with my friends. I now contribute to my family income. I tell the people in the handicapped compartment about Pankh and how it helped me. I want many more handicapped people to benefit from it.”
Fernandes says, “We are helping Prashant to continue his studies. He has enrolled for an MBA course. As per his lecture timings, his shift will be adjusted so he can manage both. The store owner is helping him financially with the course fees. I am confident he will excel in both.”
Life for the disabled in the city has not been the same since Pankh gave them a purpose and a job. Lives are being transformed as the disabled emerge as a potent workforce that can and is able.
>> Pankh — Wings of Destiny is an initiative by Trust for Retailers and Retail Associates of India (TRRAIN) and Youth 4 Jobs Foundation (Y4J).
>> It aims to train People with Disabilities (PwD) and provide them employment opportunities and sustainable livelihood in the retail industry.
>> Students who are deaf and those who have locomotor disabilities (limb problems) are trained in the city.
>> Located at Santacruz, Andheri and Vashi; Pankh also has pop up centres that train 30 students for a duration of 60 days.