As I made my way through the busy traffic of Thiruvanmiyur in Chennai to the crooked lanes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. She wore the widest grin and walked me to her humble abode, where over eight girls came rushing to the door to welcome me.
They were cleaning up the house, decorating with whatever origami artwork they had stored, cutting vegetables for breakfast, and getting ready with enthusiasm as they were going to be on camera.
These differently-abled girls from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are breaking stereotypes, and braving all odds to work as beauticians at a popular salon in Chennai.
These men and women have different disabilities; from being visually challenged, hearing and speech impaired, to being a burn victim or orthopedically challenged, they had trouble finding a decent job to support a family.
The salon chain Naturals, in partnership with Youth4Jobs Foundation, has launched Naturals Enable – an initiative to be inclusive and provide job opportunities for all. Fourteen persons are being trained, and have already specialised in services like manicure, pedicure and massage.
These employees are referred to as smile providers, and the manner in which they serve customers, proves how apt that title is.
Tarabai, a 20-year-old girl, was born with hearing impairment and lost her speech gradually as she was growing. When societal pressure weighed on her to get married, she realised it was time to earn and establish herself. Her warm smile, kind heart, and perseverance to work hard has made her a favourite with the customers.
Mounika, 26, didn't let polio dictate the terms on which she wanted to lead her life. Drought and crop loss pushed her family into despair, but her father didn’t want his struggle to cripple his daughter’s education. After completing her graduation, she decided to come to the city and earn a living. She works at the parlour during the day and studies for her Master’s at night.
30-year-old polio victim Shabira Begam was working in the family butchery shop business, and was absolutely intimidated by the city life, where she was working in a space that felt ‘posh.’ She decided she had to grow out of her timidity, and today, she is one of the best reflexologists at the parlour. She sure misses her brother’s kids back home, but she isn’t going back until she has started a business of her own and built a house for her parents.
Well, Veeramma is my personal favourite. She is a chota packet bada dhamaka. After completing her 10th grade, her family did not have the financial strength to let her continue with her education, but she was keen to pursue what she loved.
Crutches didn’t limit her passion to dance, make origami models, be a make-up artist, hairdresser, and even a model! She is currently working on a few modelling assignments in Hyderabad, and feels there’s no better therapy than the make-up kit and comb.
Customers are loving the new approach adopted by Naturals.
They are as good as any of us. We have to remember they are more sensitive than any of us. I think this is the right way to go. Give them training and opportunities, and they would do wonderfully well. We don’t need to be skeptical at all.Chithra, Customer
Encouraged by an overwhelming response, Naturals wants to make all of its 600 branches inclusive.
These girls are an example of how crutches or hearing-aids can’t limit one’s ambitions, and all it takes is to be a great dreamer and have the passion to reach for the stars and change the world.
Cameraperson: Smitha TK
Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui