Catering unit, an innovation from
Swantham Suraksha Project to empower female sex workers is under progress, as visualized by the promoters. Swantham Suraksha Project is run by the community based organization (CBO) of female sex workers in Ernakulam District of Kerala State. The Catering unit was officially inaugurated on 21st June 2010. Till date, the Unit has catered delicious food to more than twenty-five major programmes.

‘A catering unit managed by a sex worker CBO and staffed with street based sex workers is certainly an amazing attempt’, says Sr.Ancy, In charge of Kanivu, Ernakulam, who orders food regularly from ‘Swantham Catering Unit’ for the programmes conducted at Kanivu Auditorium. ‘Initially we were hesitant to order food from this unit due to varied reasons. We were doubtful about the quality, taste, neatness, punctuality, etc. We were also afraid about the response of our customers owing to the stigma associated with the lifestyle of the executors. But we became astonished with their very first performance and now we are totally satisfied with their services’, she frankly continued.

The very idea of starting a catering service originated from a usual meeting of the community members at the drop in centre of Swantham Suraksha Project, where one of the community members cooked ‘Kanji’ (water-gruel) as mid day meal for all the attendees. ‘When we put the idea before Suraksha Project Team, they asked us to prepare and serve food for the programmes and events organized by the Project and the CBO’, said Ms. Aisha, the chief cook and team leader of Swantham Catering Unit. ‘We prepared fried rice and chicken curry for a community event organized by the Project with more than hundred participants using rented utensils and gas stove. We met initial expenses from the loan collected from a benefactor of the CBO. All the participants appreciated us for the taste of the food and it inspired us to go ahead ’. She explained.

‘In fact, the Catering Unit is visualized as an income generation programme for the CBO. Fortunately it is now becoming a reason for change in the perception and attitude of the general public towards our stakeholder community’, Ms. Swapna Soman, Project Manager of Swantham Suraksha Project stated. ‘Stakeholders who involved in the activities of the catering unit viz. preparation, supply, marketing, etc. are also enthusiastic, about positive strokes received from the public’, she continued. ‘When people dine on the food we prepared and catered, we feel worthy of ourselves’ Prameela, a 40 year old sex worker, opined. ‘It also helps us recognize ourselves as part of the society’ Shobha and Stella added.

The Catering unit has now become a major source of income to the CBO. From the profits of the services, they have purchased own gas stoves, necessary utensils, a refrigerator, etc. to the Unit. They have also started a beauty parlor in their Drop-in-Centre using income from the catering unit. Plans are on to purchase a vehicle for transporting food from the kitchen to the catering venues.

The Unit has tie-up with seven institutions owning auditoriums and conference halls in the City of Cochin. The office bearers of the Unit are confident enough to attain more contacts and more orders to the catering unit. They are also planning to start a canteen attached to the Drop-in-Centre strictly for FSWs in the City and Mid-day meal parcel service to the employees of various institutions in the City.

The Catering unit run by female sex workers at Swantham is a proven practice to reduce the stigma associated to sex work, from the sides of both the stigmatized and the stigmatizers. It is also helpful in enhancing the self-esteem of the actors and their peers, which in turn will improve their relationship with the society. It will also improve interest in their own life, encouraging them to pursue safe sex practices.

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Comment by Bheri M R on October 12, 2010 at 8:47pm
Thanks for sharing inspirational story, proven practice of self help and income genration covers other components risk reduction vulunrability reduction,

M R Bheri
Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 9, 2010 at 10:50pm
Dear Binu,

Thanks for sharing this excellent example of economic empowerment. Instead of looking for external help, the community has used its own strengths to mobilize resources. Please convey my appreciation to the team.


Comment by Laurence Gilliot on October 9, 2010 at 11:11am
Great experience, thanks for sharing!


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