There's power in patience

Justin (17) stands at the door. With his palms together, he says, “Namaste!” and welcomes me to his classroom.

Inside the classroom of nearly a dozen students sits Pooja (16), engrossed in drawing. I place my camera in front of her and ask her what it is. She obliges me and says, “Phattto…” She means photo. When I request her to pose for one, she says, “Namaste.

She knows no other word. Not yet, at least. 

Justin and Pooja are at the Sanidhya Kaushalya Training Centre (SKTC), a rehabilitation centre and special school for (direct or indirect) victims of endosulfan poisoning. A haven to nearly 45 differently-abled students — aged between 6 and 36 — this special school goes a step beyond and identifies talent in them and trains them in activities like craft, tailoring, technology etc.

The classes are categorised as pre-primary, primary and post-primary. It also offers yoga and speech classes to empower them.  

The centre is located in Ujire, a town in Belthangady of Dakshina Kannada.

Between 1980 and 2000, the Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation sprayed litres of endosulfan — an agricultural pesticide (now banned) — aerially over 850 hectares of farms in Belthangady and Puttur taluks in Dakshina Kannada. It was to kill tea mosquitoes. But, the activity ended up affecting thousands of people. 

At the centre, some are terminally ill, some have physical deformities, some suffer from neurotoxicity, late sexual maturity etc — the many direct or indirect effects of endosulfan poisoning. 

A staff of 15 well-trained teachers tend to the differently-abled. Still, it’s an arduous task. 

Josphina, a senior caretaker/teacher at the SKTC with 10 years experience, says, “We never treat them as students; instead, we give them space to build a bond. They take at least a week to register a small task. Say, each word has to be repeated until its meaning reaches their mind. Patience is our tool and love. It’s our bridge that gets us their affection. This rejuvenates our enthusiasm.”

Enough encouragement

Parents, aware of their children’s situation, send them here with the confidence that they will learn something new and retain or develop social skills. 

Sukumar, father of Anjana, a 17-year-old endosulfan victim, says, “She did not interact with her classmates in her old school because of her condition. This isolated her and caused her distress. The behaviour of the teachers towards her was indifferent because of her ‘ugliness’. But here, she is surrounded by children who are kind to her, and she is happy! This is such a relief to us.”  Students now have the skills to make napkins, cotton bags and other utilitarian products. The products sell well, and this reflects their potential, the teachers vouch. 

The SKTC also welcomes victims who are below the poverty line.

There is a persistent effort by endosulfan victims to avail compensation declared by the government. Now, the monthly monetary assistance to the victim’s family is Rs 3,000. 

Srujan, a 17-year-old, wants “no holidays. The school should be open every day because I don’t get enough food at home.”

The idea of serving differently-abled victims of endosulfan poisoning was started by Dr K Vasanth Kumar Shetty at his home, first by nurturing two or three children.  As the number of children increased, he coordinated with Ganesha Seva Trust and the District Health office, and started this centre on January 23, 2019.

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