Anger may be viewed as a bad and destructive emotion by many. But it is exactly what led Mumbai’s Mettaa Spa Owner Joanita Figueredo to create employment for several visually-impaired individuals.
It all started when Joanita got acquainted with many bright students during her volunteering work as a foot reflexology teacher at the National Association for the Blind (NAB) India. She observed that these young people were not only compassionate but had the passion to excel in whatever they did.
However, when she tried to encourage them to seek employment and become financially independent, many of them would share stories of how they were rejected by employers for being differently abled.
At that time, Joanita was working as a yoga teacher and practicing alternate healing therapies after quitting her job as an ICU nurse. As she didn’t have her own business, she decided to help her students from NAB get jobs at various spas in the city. But all her efforts were futile.
“I found out that most spas were all about show-sha. They were high on appearance and egos, and wanted to adhere to a certain image. So, whenever I visited any of them to seek employment for my students, the owners would flatly reject me. Many of them would also ask me if I wanted a donation instead,” she recalls.
These incidents greatly angered Joanita and she made up her mind to start her own spa and employ some of her students from NAB as masseurs.
“I used all my anger to start Mettaa Spa. Metta is a Pali word which means loving-kindness, compassion and an active interest in others. I got acquainted with this word when I was studying foot reflexology at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai in Thailand. As I was very nervous when we started out, I decided to run the spa for only three months with four employees on a trial basis. But I’m happy to say we have done well from day one and haven’t looked back since then,” she says nostalgically.
In spite of its no-frills ambiance and lack of advertising, Mettaa Spa soon became the talk of the town for its unique staff and professional services.
“We made sure that our employees were trained to be extremely carefully with how they made physical contact with our clients. But even after that, we first opened the spa to only senior citizens as we were unsure of how the younger crowd would react if any of the staff made mistakes,” says Joanita candidly.
Inaugurated on January 1, 2009, Mettaa Spa currently has around 10 to 12 visually impaired therapists in the age group of 21 to 35. Joanita ensures that each of her employees is not only given the respect they deserve in the workplace but also encouraged to study and seek employment elsewhere if they wish.
“I always tell my employees to use Mettaa as a stepping stone to a better future. But while they are here, we make sure we motivate them financially through salaries and incentives and even encourage them to save money. We also give them the opportunity to earn per-day wages and tips at the spa and when we offer our services at corporate events. In the spa, we also ensure that the seniors are given a lighter workload than the juniors. This motivates many of our employees to stay back with us. Moreover, besides ensuring they are financially stable with a decent inflow of income, we also give them the opportunity to start their day with prayer and meditation. We don’t follow any particular religion but encourage people to ask for prayer or counselling to face their challenges. I have seen this practice has greatly helped my employees overcome many psychological issues and emotional challenges over the years.”
According to the 2011 Census of India, there are around 2 crore 68 lakh persons with disability (PWDs) in the country. However, data shows that only 36% of these citizens are currently employed.
When asked why employers everywhere should not hesitate to employ differently abled people, Joanita responds: “Coming from the spa industry, I can vouch that my experience of working with visually challenged individuals is nothing short of amazing. I really feel that they have a sixth sense and are more in touch with people’s feelings than others. Sometimes I feel that many of us who have eyesight or are considered ‘medically normal’ often misuse our abilities. We feel entitled in some way to judge people based on their appearances. Differently abled people are far more accepting than the others in this way. I have even noticed that when you employ differently abled people, clients also feel free to be themselves and don’t struggle to maintain a fake image.”
Besides managing Mettaa Spa, Joanita also currently volunteers as a nutritionist every Thursday at Sanjeevani – Life Beyond Cancer, a social organisation that raises awareness on prevention and early detection of cancer and also offers counselling and rehabilitation with focus on nutrition and wellness to persons fighting cancer.
“I strongly believe in service. I don’t serve because of some well-known spiritual guru. My guru is a hard-working mother or any person who works tirelessly for others. I want these people to be able to come here and get a foot massage and not worry about the cost. That’s one of the reasons why Mettaa offers services at much lower rates than most of the other spas in Mumbai,” she concludes.
(Mettaa Spa is open on all days of the week from 10 am to 8 pm. For an appointment, call 098705 99923. Address: 81, Milagres House, Hill road, Bandra West, Opp. Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra – 400 050)