Continued from Caterpillars To Butterflies
Dyslexic? Mentally challenged? Down’s Syndrome? Hearing and speech or visually impaired? Autistic or suffering from cerebral palsy? SO WHAT! At the DARE school they are all special, equal, treated with compassion and made into self-sufficient individuals. Its motto says “He who does not DARE to win has already lost.” There are no losers at DARE!!
“Compassion is not an idea or something we can imagine.
It is a mental formation that has an immediate result in action of body, speech or mind.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
This immediate result in action is very evident in the classes of DARE school for the differently-abled. Initiated by Ms. Dolly Lai with the assistance of ‘Reach’ in Calcutta, the main focus of DARE then was teaching. The school began to operate out of what is the Kurinji outlet at present, in old Munnar town. Today it is located in a new building in the Srishti complex.
Climbing up to the main office of the school one is greeted with smiles and brightly coloured paintings on the walls. These are the works of the students we are informed proudly. Greeting cards were printed from these and sold to generate income but unfortunately the influx of technology and the intrusion of the internet have edged out this form of greeting. And sadly for these deserving individuals, most of these works of painstaking labour and talent find no market.
We were unable to meet Ms. Neela Guha Thakurta, the principal of the school, as she was indisposed. Ms. Krupa Masoji, Manager, Welfare Institutes, took us on a tour of the well lit classrooms that exude cheer with their colourful charts and beaming children. In the first (Pre-Primary), there were about five students and one teacher seated at each of two low, round tables. Here they are trained in activities of daily living, given skills in self-help, socialising, communication and basic academics. The endearing smiles and enthusiastic welcome of these special needs children were heart-warming. Eager for a little appreciation they showed us their notebooks and a little one even sang something for us. We were intrigued by three mattresses on the floor. “We have some children with cerebral palsy. They are unable to sit, so we let them lie down here while their parents are at work. Here they are taken good care of, easing the burden on the parents”, explained Masoji.
The next two classes were for hearing and speech impaired kids being taught by teachers specially trained in sign language. The medium of instruction is Tamil, their mother-tongue. But education is not the only thing imparted here. Where needed, medical intervention is also taken care of, by Tata Global Beverages, erstwhile Tata Tea. One kid who had a chance to regain partial hearing had a cochlea implant. A visually impaired child is given instruction in Braille, the books having been specially designed for him over here.
Dyslexic and mentally challenged children get Primary-Secondary standard coaching, each child according to individual ability. Those in the age group of sixteen and above get pre-vocational training to facilitate transition to full time vocational training. Dressed in the uniform supplied to them, each child’s neatness and cleanliness spoke eloquently of the basic life skills taught to them by the dedicated teachers. They are also supplied with a nourishing meal at lunch time from a kitchen on the same floor.
Extra -curricular activities like yoga and meditation, physical education, speech therapy, educational trips, counselling (parents and children), tailoring, exhibitions etc. are a regular part of the programme. Emphasis is laid on the overall development of the children enabling some to be rehabilitated in mainstream schools and open employment. Last year DARE hosted an interschool competition where children from other special needs’ schools in the district participated. Competitions were held in dancing, singing, miming, drawing and colouring, hand-writing, painting… Each child was a credit to the trainers and teachers and won the unstinted admiration of all. Hats off to the patience, perseverance and compassion of all who lovingly share their skills and time with these kids!
In recognition of the services provided, DARE has been the recipient of many awards:
The Kerala State Award 1997 for the Best Institution for the cause of the disabled
FICCI Award 1997-98 for “Training and Placement of persons with disability”
NCPDP Helen Keller Award 2000 (National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People)
Strawberry Preserve Unit
The strawberry preserve unit was introduced to ensure self-sufficiency of DARE. With a view to provide a little extra income to the labour in the tea estates, they were encouraged to grow strawberries in their kitchen gardens and sell it to DARE which operated from its own kitchen to start with. The tremendous success and marketing potential of the delicious, pure preserve made from the luscious, farm-fresh strawberries made the unit go professional with a state of the art facility set up in the striking environs of Srishti complex.
A drop in the availability of strawberries in good quantity, thanks to the vagaries of nature in the last four years, prompted them to think of other products. So now the self-confident young adults working in these units produce – yummy pink guava and plum jam, passion fruit sauce, orange squash and orange marmalade under the watchful eye of Ms. Susan Cherian, who has been with the unit for about eighteen years. Sign language is the mode of communication she has to use with her enthusiastic employees. While they labelled and packed bottled jam they awaited a huge consignment of organically grown plums.
“We are very mindful of the quality of fruit we use and the purity of the final product,” stressed Susan. “Our chief aim is to provide a new lease of life and happiness to our young, differently abled workers and to train them well in the process of manufacturing excellent products.”
Continued to “ATHULYA - Wealth From Waste”