(CNN) — Up until recently, many travelers visiting India’s famed monument of love, the Taj Mahal, would also add a stop at the nearby Sheroes Hangout to their itinerary.
Located just a few kilometers from the famed Indian icon in the northern city of Agra, this cafe is managed and staffed by acid attack survivors.
The cafe — which also has a library, radio station and informational displays — has provided them with more than just employment. It has given them the confidence to face society without shame, while learning valuable career skills.
But the Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdown have taken their toll on the Sheroes Hangout Café. Since the start of the pandemic, revenues have dropped by 80%, forcing the café to close indefinitely in April.
“Our visitors were mainly tourists,” Ashish Shukla, director of the Chhanv foundation and Sheroes Hangout co-founder, tells CNN Travel.
“But, with travel impacted, our sales went down drastically. Therefore, we didn’t have any other option but to stop the operation.”
Every day for the past seven weeks they have been putting together around 100 food packets for daily distribution.
Early in the morning, a team from the foundation and employees of Sheroes gathers at the café and delegates work among themselves. Some go to the market to buy vegetables while some cook. Others go to some of the city’s worst-hit areas to distribute the food packets.
Every person has a specific role to play in the “assembly line.”
Learning new skills
The women of Sheroes have also utilized the lockdown period to diversify their skills, exploring different avenues that will allow them to follow their passions.
Shukla says a few of the younger women signed up for beautician courses, as they want to open their own salons. Some of the women are interested in fashion, so they’ve been learning to design and stitch garments with the hopes of opening a boutique. Others are focusing on making jewelry.
Women employed by Agra’s Sheroes Hangout are using their downtime to learn new skills.
Courtesy Chhanv Foundation
Rupa, 26, from the city of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, has undergone seven surgeries since the age of 13, when her stepmother splashed acid on her. The restaurant, she says, has given women like her recognition and power to fight the world.
When the lockdown was imposed earlier this year, Rupa took the time to learn basic computer skills, English and sewing.
“I always loved new and stylish clothes and hoped to become a fashion designer. Now I stitch my own clothes,” she says.