On July 14, in the neighbourhood of south Kolkata, a cafe was unveiled. Over the last month it has seen the footfall of celebrities, students, journalists and locals, all dropping by to offer support. Managed and run by HIV +ve staff, Cafe Positive is a first of its kind in the country.
When Kallol Ghosh, the children’s rights activist and founder of the NGO from where the team has been enrolled, went looking for a space to set up the Cafe he was deeply disappointed. The stigma around the disease ingrained in people made them refuse to lend places for the cafe, until one day a friend offered his garage in Jodhpur Park.
All 10 members working at the cafe received vocational training along with the art of brewing coffee and baking, at Anandghar, a home run by Ghosh, where children born with HIV get institutional care as well as educational help. The cafe serves a variety of muffins, coffee, cake and sandwiches and plans to expand the menu eventually as he acquires the necessary licences.
Considering the insufficient information surrounding HIV, people often express their doubts regarding youth with the virus, working in F&B industry. We asked Mr. Ghosh how does he convince the skeptical customers about the hygiene in the cafe, he shared that for ensuring hygiene at the cafe, all helpers go through a week’s training program based on the Hospitality Training Handbook. In addition the servers and baristas utilize primary protective gears like hand-gloves, head caps, aprons and close toed shoes for their safety.The servers wear full trousers while they are at the cafe. The cafeteria has a waste disposal policy aligned with Food & Beverage industry, and the guest area and working area is cleaned and disinfected multiple times a day.
Ghosh recalled how he came up with the name of the cafe, “There is so much taboo around HIV that the word positive is always used negatively. The word is not just associated with the virus, but it is an idea to initiate a change, spread awareness and dispel myths over coffee”.
He told us the children, as he calls them, are not afraid to talk about it they would boldly say, “Yes I am HIV positive and here is your coffee”. Since the time it has opened to now, the customers have been steadily increasing, with a lot of people becoming a regular at the cafe.
People from all walks of life come there and pledge their support, “Even when the people were sensitised, they did not have a platform where they could talk about it or offer support. I think we have provided them with a platform for the same”.
Looking at the extremely encouraging response from around the world, Ghosh plans to open several outlets all across Bengal.
According to the National AIDS Control Organisation, the total number of people living with HIV in India in 2015 was 21.17 lakh, of which children accounted for 6.54%. Despite that the stigma attached to it promotes several myths as there is no awareness about it. The cafe aims to serve that purpose, as they say a lot can happen over coffee!