Café Positive, situated in 64A, Lake View Road, Kolkata – 700029, is not just your regular cafes in town. Café Positive is Asia’s first coffee shop run by HIV+ youngsters. The purpose of this café is not only to serve coffee but also to break the long-standing taboo that HIV+ people cannot indulge in regular jobs. Café Positive is created to break the negative mind set of the common people, by taking this bold step and setting a brilliant example for other such HIV+ individuals. Café Positive is the brain child of Mr. Kallol Ghosh, the Founder. Director of Organization for Friends Energies and Resources (OFFER), a non- government Organization from where the café’s team has been recruited. To quote Mr. Kallol Ghosh, “The ‘positive’ in the café’s name is not just the defining characteristics of the people running it, but also the hope that our misconceptions about HIV+ will change over a liberating cup of coffee.” True to this notion the café is brimming with enthusiastic ‘positive’ young adults eager to serve a great cup of coffee.
Café Positive initiative emerged from the Anandaghar campus. Anandaghar is a project by organization for Friends, Energies & Resources (OFFER). This is one of very few residential projects solely dedicated to serving and bettering the lives of children living with HIV/AIDS (CLHAs) in Eastern India. Located at Dakshin Gobindapur, 24 Parganas (South) in West Bengal and spread over 60 cottahs area with two three-storied building and ample open space, Anandaghar residential facility is abode to 70 orphan CLHA at present. Anandaghar constantly work with Government and other non-profits to ensure care & protection of CLHA in need. The age of residents’ ranges from toddlers to teenagers, all of them are orphans.
The youth of Anandaghar have has undertaken various professions and professional trainings to pursue to goal of self-sufficiency. There are instants now, where Anandaghar youth is pursuing career in Hardware & networking, BPO & Call center and various odd clerical jobs. Some of them have opted for careers in Dance therapy, fine arts and dressmaking. There are instances where they were inducted in a job and then let go when the authority realized their HIV +ve status.
But in addition to self-sufficiency, what Cafe Positive provides is awareness. By learning about this initiative through media, we hope people will start understanding that people living with HIV can be included in most professions. And the means of transmission of HIV are limited and can be avoided with very specific practices. Thus, Cafe Positive is helping youth to become self sustainable, and helping the community to accept people living with HIV.
As per the rules of any orphanage that no child can stay beyond the age the 18, OFFER was faced with same dilemma. As Anandaghar, does not have just any other children, they are HIV+ kids going to turn 18. So Café Positive was brought into life so that these extraordinary young adults can earn not only their own livelihood but also their due respect and place in the society. It also focused to break the age long taboo of HIV+ people working in the mainstream. With these major objectives Café Positive was opened. The Visionary & Mentor Mr Kallol Ghosh told Hindustan Times , “The HIV-positive people will only maintain accounts, serve customers and clean tables. The kitchen will have hired cooks. It will also have glass walls so that customers can have a clear view of how food and beverages are being prepared. Moreover, only disposable utensils will be used in Café- Positive.” Through this Café people will be sensitized to see the virus and the syndrome as two different things. Through proper channelized funding, Café Positive a medium through which greater visibility is achieved for the cause of HIV and marginalized communities.
It is envisioned that, if people drink coffee prepared by the HIV+ people, then they can throw light on the misconception or taboo the society holds for HIV+ people. These people have face extreme discrimination and have been mostly left traumatized. Hence Café Positive wished to extend a friendly hand to those who are afraid to step into the limelight, by giving them skill- based training and encouragement.
In the next few years, Café Positive plans to expand their seating provisions to 30-40 customers. The main objective is to make this café a National and International brand through the message “Coffee beyond boundaries”.
Café Positive is a dream project of our beneficiaries. For quite some time the organization wanted to make provisions for HIV+ young adults post their stay in Anandaghar. Hence plans were made and implemented with great difficulties and societal hindrances. Finally, on July 14, 2018 Café Positive came into existence. The Government of Japan played a vital part as well. Installing a bakery unit under GGP as also very helpful. Accordingly, the workers of Café Positive were professionally trained so that they can run the business independently. Now the future goal of Café Positive is to enhance its business, increase branches not only in Kolkata and India but to reach the hearts of people internationally as well.
It is Asia’s first café run by HIV+ people. The goal is to expand this dream both nationally and internationally. More residents of Anandaghar are being trained so that they can help further this dream. Not only will they get recognition working in a mainstream business, people will also begin to recognize them as not an untouchable person but an important part of the society.
Now the Café has become a happening place. It is full of positivity and vibrations. It attracts the crowd of all generations. To make the days more interesting a lot of events take place. A few of them are Open mic evenings, Standup comedy, where the customer has a good laugh and an entertaining evening. Apart from this Band performances take place, where the crowd sings along with the band. For corporate firms Café Positive is their place of choice for their small corporate meetings. The industry also prefers the Café for their music
launch. Book launches are also witnessed in the Café.
• Café Positive is FSSAI approved.
• It is 360̊ sanitized.
• All staff working in the Café is vaccinated.
The Café has a variety of delectable menu to tingle your taste buds. Apart of a wide range of various coffee the café has an assortment of savouries to serve as well. There are options from fish, chicken, pork. These items are found in the form of sandwiches, pastas, stuffed and grilled items and also rice bowls are available in the menu. With affordable price and a cozy and soothing ambience the customers of the café come to enjoy a relaxed and enjoyable evening.
Café Positive has survived the societal taboo from the very beginning. With people looking down upon the whole idea of a café run by HIV+ people. Yet with the courage and persistent café Positive opened and is running successfully. People gradually broke barriers and visited the café. It has a foot fall count of around 35 – 50 per day. The Café grew in popularity over the span of 3 years. A group from Delhi came to Kolkata only to visit the café and enjoy its coffee and snacks. Another married couple celebrated their special day with kids. The Café with its uniqueness has its own crowd pulling strategy. Though due to the current pandemic situation business has hit hard all over the country, the Café had its own share of hardships. Yet, the people running the café has a “never give up” attitude, which helps a great deal in the current situation we are facing.
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.”