The Optimist Citizen

How a couple is creating employment for mental illness survivors using a cup of tea

“Understanding of Mental disability is virtually non-existent. Even in the hierarchy of disability, Mental Illness gains the lowest rung. Society needs to have provisions for accommodation and adaptation for the mentally disabled.” says Ambareen Abdullah who has always loved to know people closely. Be it the days of her graduation in Psychology or the Masters in Mental health at TISS, the compelling desire to harness skills and learning for collective social good has remained constant. Born and raised in Lucknow to parents who worked to preserve the cultural heritage of the city, the idea of not limiting the beneficiaries of her education to a few people was perhaps inherited. During her Masters in Clinical Psychology, she identified a social stigma around people with Mental disorders. Her intent to act against the stigma about the issue grew stronger. In November 2016, she along with an able partner Fahad Azim – who would later become her partner in life too – ventured into starting Kaitley – an evolving brand of tea carts across the Lucknow city run by individuals recovering from chronic mental illnesses.

These are people who have not worked at all or had dropped out of work due to the burden of their illnesses. With the help of an apt training centre, the barriers in their work and functioning are addressed. “The idea is to make them Independent. To enable them to take up roles, even in their families. They are equally employable, but mainstream employers often are sceptical on taking anyone who has a history of mental illness” said Fahad. He also recalls their first experience at a Disability Fair. They found out that even the state department organizing the fair did not have a criterion for mental illness as a disability.


But why tea for a problem of such magnitude? “Tea stalls were an easily executable idea; people often go to street tea vendors for tea. Neither is it difficult to make nor is it too cost-intensive. Most importantly, making tea is easy to learn hence positioning it as the most convenient skill for people who, due to mental disorders, are not witnessing the pinnacle of their skills.”, says Fahad.

Kaitley essentially works on imbibing social skills in these people – facing mental disorders like Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder & Bipolar Disorder – because they have not been a part of a social atmosphere for a very long time. This is done in an artificially stimulated environment involving play therapy, cognitive therapy, behaviour and life skills training that wholly supports them to enter back to the working environment.


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The trick is to make them feel comfortable, hence the process is kept very gradual to get them used to the ecosystem they’ll work in. The work shift starts from 2 hours a day and is increased intermittently over time by slots of half an hour. Once they start working at the cart, the team ensures that they are provided with all forms of support. The carts have a volunteer along with the Mentally ill person to monitor and report his work to the team.

Ambareen with one of the patients, now working with Kaitley | Image Source: Kaitley

“It’s a lot easier when you let them choose their work, or you tell them to do what they love. It helps them revive their social interaction skills while also not getting overburdened with work. Some of the individuals had not even moved out of their rooms for years before they got to Kaitley. It’s an ordinary thing for normal people to go out and work but when I see a mentally ill person going out doing their work and earning their own living; it brings a deep sense of satisfaction and amazement” Ambareen says.

Also, the presence of a team member helps a lot in resolving any problem like vendor-customer friction or any other potentially panic-inducing situations to the patient. However, the big picture is to make them efficient enough to handle these challenges on their own. The mentally ill person is also made to practise anger management techniques, meditation and other exercises in a bid to make them articulate their thoughts peacefully.

Fahad and Ambareen at a Kaitley stall in Lucknow | Image source: Kaitley

But, the route of taking the initiative, with its core focus on mental illness, as an enterprise was daunting and in many ways is still difficult. “Sustainability is one of the goals we want to achieve immediately, but it is difficult to achieve without any external funding. We currently run carts in rented spaces, which adds to the cost which explains that there is so much work still left to do,” says Fahad.

To give a better understanding of the limitless possibilities of social entrepreneurship, Pravah – a Delhi based not-for-profit organisation working in the sector of Youth development through various innovative programs – and its Learning and Leadership Journey for social entrepreneurs– Changelooms – currently supported by Oracle – came into the picture. “I learnt how to culminate ideas and thoughts to processes that can bring tangible outcomes. These frameworks need time, but are a prime necessity to hold the organisation as a tight ship.” Says Ambareen. “I studied business and had no experience in the development sector. So the starting was mostly rough waters, but with Pravah I learnt how important it is to develop empathy in oneself. I acquired that virtue in my fellowship with other Changeloomers and this community has helped me on mature as an individual on how to sensitize the society regarding the issue” adds Fahad.

Image source: Kaitley

Kaitley currently has 13 Vendors working with them who are suffering with severe mental disorders. Two individuals have graduated to work in their own sustainable establishments – fulfilling Kaitley’s purpose of serving just as a transition. The couple strongly feels that Kaitley is a mere support system for mentally ill people during their transition when they equip themselves with employable skills. They are working on exit plans for those working with Kaitley with jobs in bakeries and restaurants. One example of this transition stands out. Abhishek, once a teacher in a reputed school, was diagnosed with Schizophrenia coupled with OCD when he joined Kaitley. In his journey with Kaitley, he has shown remarkable improvement and is now setting up plans to start his own cafe at a space in his house.

Image Source: Kaitley

This goes on to prove the capability of Kaitley of overthrowing the impossible with a simple concoction like tea. They have supported many individuals, have enabled them to take up familial responsibilities and helped them become part of the social orbit. You can get in touch with Kaitley at +91-8896786783 to chalk out plans for the greater good because a lot can happen over tea as well.


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1 comment

  • Very good effort
    Our family also struggling with a family member’s mental illness;OCD with Bipolar disorder since 2006 despite given him all possible treatment.
    Now his age is 33 yrs (unmarried )with Bsc, MSc,B Ed degrees but unemployed
    till now because nothing capable to do efficiently
    We are senior citizens & very very worried about his future, what happens after us

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