|JOY PERSONIFIED:Students of Vidya Sagar participating in 25th year celebrations on Monday.|
CHENNAI: The 25th year celebrations began much the way the institution itself did — a multi-faith prayer and the lighting of the lamp by the key movers and shakers. At Vidya Sagar, on Monday, it was déjà vu — as the oldest students, helpers, teachers and volunteers lit the lamp to start the institution’s silver jubilee celebrations.
A while later, with everyone singing ‘Happy Birthday’ gustily, the cake was cut. The cake itself was the perfect motif for all that Vidya Sagar stands for — it comprised little pieces of cake, every student bringing in one piece. If one were to sit back and evaluate how Vidya Sagar had come the distance it had, a clever person would put his finger on the nub — the involvement of the entire school (teachers, volunteers, parents, and students) in every activity. Perhaps, 25 years ago, it was easier to do so with just three children. Poonam Natarajan had just started a centre for three children, including her son Ishu, in her garage. “It was always about students, parents and staff together. To us, it was and will be more like a community rather than a school — something that is very organic.
The direction it takes depends on the team,” she says, in a telephonic conversation with The Hindu from Delhi where she is now based.“When I first started, I certainly didn’t think of 25 years, or even five! I didn’t have the guts to think of what we will be in the future. But we believed in planning — for every term, 12 weeks at a time. We were so busy planning for each child and setting goals. Actually, each child led the way,” she explains. Right through the years, the child has continued to be the focus of Vidya Sagar, says its chairperson Usha Ramakrishnan. Her association with the institution goes back to 1986, only a year after it was started, and then it was known as the Chennai branch of the Spastics Society of India.
“It’s a fact that Vidya Sagar is a bridge between professionalism and personal care, even as our programmes have changed through the years.”
Vidya Sagar believes that disability is a human rights issue and that belief underlines all projects. Its current director Rajul Padmanabhan says the goal is integrated development of the child and this necessarily means that there is more than just the Centre for Special Education for special kids.
“Now we have the Vision Centre, Employment Education Centre for adults, Family-based Rehabilitation, Inclusion Cell for mainstreaming students, Early Intervention Unit, Training (in Special Education), and Community-based Rehabilitation.”
The Disability Legislation Unit (DLU) works on raising awareness about the rights of disabled people at all levels, says its representative B. Meenakshi. Access, awareness, employment, education and legislation are their focus areas.
The Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) centre was built as the school realised the constraints faced by children with multiple disabilities who are non-verbal. AAC, in association with IIT and Anna University, designs a set of devices that help these children communicate with tools that are indigenous and cost-effective.
Funding for these activities has largely come from the government and fundraising efforts by volunteers and the children themselves (greeting cards, art and a range of gift and stationery items are sold), Ms. Padmanabhan says. There is now time and opportunity to focus and plan for the future. Employment opportunities, early intervention and advocacy will have to be the big drivers even as the school continues to help each and every child that knocks on its doors, she adds.
Source: The Hindu