Bukkinkoppa arrives at The Gateway Lakeside Hotel, Hubli

Bukkinkoppa arrives at The Gateway Lakeside Hotel, Hubli

A year ago, the women of Bukinkoppa and Haliyal villages would've laughed at the idea of them stepping into the kitchen of one of the world's most famous hotel chains – The Taj. On 17 July 2014, 35 of them arrived at The Gateway Lakeside, Hubli, from their little hamlets in Haliyal taluka for a guided tour of the kitchen as well as the first instalment of the CherYsh SaLT (Serve and Lead Training) program. Their journey was notable for several reasons.

They always knew to cook, but running an enterprise?

Till a year ago, these women belonged to the faceless anonymous multitude of women in India's villages. They worked in farms or as daily wage workers, to make ends meet. When CherYsh launched the Community Kitchens early this year with their partners, KDDC, the women began to discover sides to themselves they barely knew existed. They always knew to cook, but running an enterprise?

It was a novel and exciting idea that captured their imagination. Soon, the women were managing supplies, getting local catering orders, supplying nutritious snacks to children at the Shikshana Vikas Kendras, (CherYsh after-school learning centers), experimenting with new recipes and in fact making a profit from their enterprise. They not only had a new livelihood option that took them out of the outdoors but celebrated their skills and opened up a world of new opportunities for learning and self-development.

Commonality in two seemingly disparate worlds - CherYsh-KDDC Community Kitchen

At The Gateway Lakeside, the women were at first tentative and diffident, having been transported to a world outside their villages that they had only heard of but never experienced. But as they walked the premises, listened to the chefs, sat through videos on cooking hygiene, and exchanged recipes, they began to believe in possibilities they had not entertained. They understood the power of collaboration, the world of opportunity available in their backyard, and how little it takes to find commonality in two seemingly disparate worlds.

For the 35 women, The Gateway Lakeside experience was akin to how visitors experience the world-famous - Taj Mahal: unforgettable, welcoming, gracious and above all an enduring symbol of hope and possibilities.