At the closing ceremony of the food festival organised as part of the 15th anniversary celebrations of the Kudumbasree here on Sunday, six women from various units went onstage to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and introduced themselves.
It was an impromptu act of joy and accomplishment. All of them, members of the Café Kudumbasree, had slogged for the 10-day festival, preparing plate after plate of delicacies, serving wave after wave of customers at their food stalls in Swapna Nagari.
The women, hailing from various parts of the State, were exhausted and missed home. But for them, it spelt the bold and changing face of the ordinary women here.
“The women have become more professional. The food stalls, completely managed by women, raked in about Rs.20 lakh for the government in just nine days. We have an offer to cater to an international flight, which was announced today. We give the women all credit. They have learnt on the job. In the evening after the day’s work, they held review meetings of their performance,” Kudumbasree Executive Director K.B. Valsala Kumari told The Hindu on Sunday.
“I worked as a maid and a manual labourer. In 2001, my friends and I started a stall at the Koyilandy bus stand. We wanted to be independent. We slogged for 10 years. In 2011, a group from Kudumbasree approached us at our stall and offered to train us in hospitality. We joined the session and have since then never looked back,” Prema T.K., a Café Kudumbasree worker from Koyilandy, said.
Like Ms. Prema, there are several veterans who have participated in the past eight food melas conducted by Kudumbasree across the State.
“The past melas were held in Ernakulam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kottayam, Thiruvalla, and Kollam. We collected Rs.3 crore from them in eight months,” Ajay Kumar, Café Kudumbasree Coordinator, said.
The individual fortunes of the women staffers have also improved with the rising sales at the food festivals. “We have increased their salaries from Rs.3,000 to Rs.15,000 and Rs.20,000. Profits also go to them,” Mr. Kumar said.
He said the Café Kudumbasree was a “brand,” and unlike other multinational ones, it was local taste rather than a “common taste.”
“Each person prepares food from her locality,” he said.
The women are given training at the Adebha Institute for Food Research and Hospitality Management, which is in its fourth year of functioning.
“We have 7,000 workers in our hospitality sector. They are drawn from the 700 self-help units functioning across Kerala. Sixty-five units are currently upgrading their skills at the institute, while 40 units have finished their first phase of training,” he said.
Saudamini Suresh from Kumarakom, who was one among the six women who went up to meet the Chief Minister, said how it was tough for her to gain confidence about mass production of food at festivals.
“When I walk in this uniform given to all us Café Kudumbasree members, I personify unity, discipline, and confidence of the working women of Kerala,” Ms. Suresh said.