Colours of aspiration

a helping hand

Colours of aspiration

Situated amidst the estate belts of North Kodagu, harmony and camaraderie exist in abundance in the abode known as Swastha.

A centre for special education and rehabilitation, Swastha is the first residential school of its kind in Kodagu, that has been training, educating and rehabilitating children with special needs. Established by The Coorg Foundation, a charitable fund of Tata Private Limited, Swastha began in 2003, with the aim of providing free education and training to differently-abled students.

The Tata group had established a special education centre, DARE (Developmental Activities in Rehabilitative Education) in Munnar, Kerala in 1991, which is running successfully. Here, the then managing director of Tata Private Ltd, Hameed Ashraf, met a special educator Ganga Changappa, who served at DARE for 10 years. “A highly motivated woman, she moved back to her native in Kodagu after her stint at DARE. At that time, we at Tata were looking forward to starting something in the field of education in Kodagu and thus began Swastha with her support,” says Hameed.
“My tie with the Tatas continued after DARE. While I took a two-year break, I was motivated to continue as a special educator when they encouraged me to start a centre in Suntikoppa. They even had infrastructure in place (an old hospital building), which was a perfect location for the centre,” recalls Ganga.

Focusing on employability

A survey was done in the estates of Kodagu and around 20 children with special needs were identified and enrolled by the centre. Simultaneously, they got the right faculty. “I called up St Agnes institution in Mangaluru, who sent us trained special educators,” explains Ganga. While Swastha started with 20 students, today it has 120 students and 25 teaching and caretaking staff. There is one-on-one attention given to each student and now it is a family built on mutual trust.

Swastha began as a single educational and rehabilitation unit. However, as the centre grew, a second centre was started in 2007 in Polibetta for boys above the age of 18 years. Today, it runs tailoring, paper bag and home accessory units where the students make paper bags, gift cards, bookmarks and table mats among others. All these products have big buyers. “Many resorts in Kodagu are our clients. Some stationery shops too give us the support we need. The students are paid for their work and each of them has a bank account,” says Aarathi, the psychologist at the centre.

The focus is more on employability. There are instances where the outgoing students are appointed as instructors within the institution to train others. They also focus on parental training programme, as she explains, “The parents need to know what their kids’ capabilities are.” The centre organises a community-based
rehabilitation programme, where the objective is to provide attention to the needs of the differently-abled in the community including medical facilities.

They even conduct skill-development programmes to train them for a government job. “However, this cannot be done as desired as the government has a three per cent reservation and they are never filled,” she laments. They are looking forward to starting a respite centre for older children as she says, “Many students do not come from a good family background and they need to feel independent and safe once they pass out from our institution.” They have planned to start a butterfly park in the vicinity to get revenue from the visitors and tourists.

Like any other school, the day here begins with prayer, yoga, exercise and attendance. The residents even take part in dance, drama and sports. They regularly perform street plays organised in each taluk of Kodagu, aimed at creating awareness among the peers. “Health, hygiene and conservation are the focus areas. Our students even educate the adults about the ill-effects of alcohol through street plays that are effective,” Ganga explains. With many awards and letters of appreciation in its bag, Swastha holds the pride of sending its students to represent India in the Special Olympics that was held in Australia. “Our students have also taken part in reality dance shows,” she says.

While not all the parents are involved and supportive towards the children’s growth, the ones involved believe Swastha to be a ray of hope. “My son Mansoor breathes a new life of independence after Swastha,” says Mansoor’s aunt, Razia. Usha Kariappa says, “My son Ricky Bopanna has become very systematic and has developed the required skills to sustain independently after joining Swastha.”

The road ahead

Although there are quite a few challenges in the field, Ganga and Aarthi unanimously point out, “In India, social work is taken for granted and is thought in the context that one should do it without getting paid. Our service and time are never valued.” They strongly agree that the attitude towards disability should change and there is an urgent need for improvement including easy mobility of the disabled, more employment and rehabilitation options.
While the faculty feels satisfied about their productive work towards betterment, one of the faculties, Rekha rightly concludes, “While we do our best to make our students independent, there is always a question that haunts us — What next after they pass out from our school?”
To know more about their work, you can contact them on 08276-262502.

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