On July 1,1999, David Earp, a UK based textile designer who came to Kolkata to sell his fabrics, received a call from another foreign national running an NGO in Kolkata. He said that two young boys were brought to him as the care home where they lived could no longer accommodate them.
David, who was adopted as a child, had great compassion towards the abandoned, differently abled children he would see at Howrah station whenever he visited Kolkata.
He wanted to help so much that he sold everything he had in the UK and came down to Kolkata in October 1998 to start a home for such kids. While he was looking for the right moment to start his work, he would teach computer skills and typing to underprivileged children.
It was at this time that he got a call about Anna and Sunil, who were 17 and could no longer stay at the children’s home thattook care of them. David got them home and started staying with them. Both these boys had learning disabilities and it was difficult to make them understand little things like how they should behave with the neighbours, etc.
Anna had epileptic seizures and behavioural issues and Sunil would happily throw buckets of water from the balcony over the people passing by. Soon, David was asked to leave this flat, which was located in one of the city’s posh localities.
But whatever happens, happens for good. David shifted to a house in aworking-class neighbourhood and found some amazing neighbours there, who understood the boys’ situation. One of these neighbours was Nagendra Mishra, who showed interest in joining David in his noble work.
The duo then decided to take forward the work and named the home ‘Shuktara,’ which means the evening star in Bengali.
Swapan Roy also joined as a staff member to look after the boys.
Soon, more children were brought to Shuktara, and other organizations that worked at Howrah station also started contacting them if they found any person with disability.Anna and Sunil were joined by Shantara, Bapi, Sanjay and Babulal. Soon Minu Di and Mili Mashi also started working for Shuktara as caretakers of the boys, right from 1999.
As the members of Shuktara family kept increasing David bought another house next to the Shuktara home. Now, the girls and boys had their separate homes. Until now, there were only youngsters and no children at the home.
Raju Das came as the first child member in the family and spread joy around the house.
Raju was born on a pavement at Kalighat. After his mother died, his father abandoned him and his grandmother on the same pavement. Raju has cerebral palsy and his grandmother was unable to care for him. He would crawl under cars and on the streets.
At Shuktara, railings were fitted around the house to teach Raju to balance and walk. With physiotherapy, care and love from all the members of Shuktara, Raju soon became more independent and started going to school.
As time went by, the members kept increasing and growing up too. Now, Shuktara consists of two homes – one housing eight young women and another with 14 young men.
For many members like Sumon or Tamina, constant support from the staff for most of their needs is absolutely necessary. But David and Nagendra were worried about members like Raju who could walk now and had finished his school too or Sanjay and Pinku who were hearing-impaired.
“Just like elders of the family always want their kid to be independent once they are grown up, we too want our children to work,” says Nagendra.
This worry was also taken care of when David spoke about it to his friends Alain Cojea, a French restaurateur,and Fabien Rouillard, an Executive Pastry Chef at Fauchon in Paris. The duo was so touched after meeting the Shuktara members that they decided to start a patisserie training centre to give them vocational training and a job.
A team of boys was taught the intricacies of French Patisserie and Shuktara Cakes was officially launched on March 10, 2013.
The little boy Raju is a grown young man now and works at Shuktara Cakes with Sanjay Sarkar, Bapi Das, Pinku Das and Ashok Chettri, under the guidance of their manager SomnathSardar.
“Everyday is a challenge here as the boys have learning disabilities and have to be taught consistently, but then their innocence and love makes their cakes and pastries extra special,” says Somnath Sardar.
Nagendra and David are looking for more people who can help them create more opportunities for the Shuktara family members.
“Anyone who knows a person with disabilities or has a family member, should understand that they are regular people just with a few limitations. Please treat them equally and let them do whatever they can. Believe me, they have great potential to excel in life,” says Nagendra Mishra, Chairman of Shuktara.