The precision and cadence of the band that greets me as I enter the small morning assembly at the Rotary Institute for Children in need of Special Care is heartwarming! The children are practicing for the Republic Day celebrations.
As they walk to their respective class rooms, with teachers in tow, one child came running and hugged me. She was sobbing uncontrollably … as I try to pacify her, her teacher says that she is suffering from a serious bout of depression.
Close your eyes and listen to Prasanth play ‘Kadhal Rojave’ of Roja fame on the keyboard … it is most certainly a performance of a professional. His mother Suhidha proudly says, “I am very happy the school has shaped my son thus. He plays the tabla too and is adept with the playstation. Tell him the date and month of any year and he will promptly tell you the day.” It is hard to believe that Prasanth is mentally challenged.
The Institute is a community service endeavour of Rotary Club of Trivandrum, RI District 3211. Established in 1964, the 50-year old Institute is built on a Government-leased land and has three blocks of 12,000 sq ft each, housing the classrooms and a hostel for boys and girls. It serves as a multifocal treatment-cum-training centre for mentally challenged children and houses pre-primary, primary, secondary and pre-vocational classes. The children are grouped into classes on the basis of their chronological age and intellectual functioning levels. Children from 5–18 are admitted here and education is free. Of 178 students, 60 are hostelites. Day scholars are given transport.
Ms Mothi Habeeb, the Prinicipal is an experienced educator and the staff strength is 48 with 17 special educators, a craft teacher and music teacher. The student-teacher ratio is a comfortable 8:1.
In the spacious dining room children are served a nutritious lunch. They need individual care; parents are allowed to be with the children during the lunch hour but the school’s assistants patiently feed the children when the parents are unable to visit. The school has the support of a vibrant PTA.
Children battling with various levels of disabilities such as CP, autism, epilepsy, chronic depression and speech impairment, receive educational and vocational training along the guidelines of the National Institute for Mentally Handicapped (NIMH). Speech therapy, physiotherapy, classes to help children identify objects, colours, numbers, money concept and domestic skills are held.
Children neatly fold clothes and pile them one over the other in one of the classrooms; in another, some sit around a ‘vegetable store’ manned by Ajmal Hussain (10). Sanoj (14) is excited as he holds up an egg-plant and announces in Malayalam, “Vazhuthananga!” The teacher claps in appreciation and says, “He represented the State team in the Special Olympics Meet held at New Delhi in March.”
The children are extraordinarily talented in extracurricular activities. The school identifies their latent talent and encourages them with special training. “Vivek (11) is a master artist; Vineeth won an ‘A Grade’ in folk song and dance category in the Special Schools Art Festival conducted by the State’s Department of Education. Our children have won 29 prizes this year in various competitions conducted by the Social Justice Department, Government of Kerala on World Disabled Day,” says Mothi, referring to the trophies and awards adorning her spacious office.
The children are engrossed in shaping a beautiful pearl necklace, in one of the classrooms! “Crafts, needlework and ornament-making are part of their vocational skills development,” she adds. Music, dance and yoga are also part of the curriculum. Computer classes offer them the greatest excitement. “Most of these children are too good in computer games!” says the computer trainer Pradeep. “It is also a kind of a therapy — promotes eye-hand coordination.”
The Institute is managed by a ten-member committee comprising Rotarians of RC Trivandrum. Rtn M C Jacob is the Committee President now. He and others such as Rtn K C Chandrahasan, K P Sukumaran, DSN Ayyar, Kesavan, K V Nair and Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai are some of the major donors to the Institute. They ensure it remains adequately funded.
The Rotarians are passionate about the Centre … even more than their involvement with the club.
The Rotarians are passionate about the centre, “and it is even more than their involvement with the club,” says K V Rajagopal, Secretary of the Institute. “They quietly visit the Institute along with their families and celebrate special occasions with the children here and also support in cash or kind during such visits. Rtn Kurien Kalathil undertook the renovation of the hostel, classrooms and the toilet block; Pradeep of RC Trivandrum West sponsored the medicine cupboard. The compound wall was commissioned by RC New Milton, New Hampshire, D 1110. The district governors also contribute generously during the official DG Visits,” he said. Other Rotary and Inner Wheel clubs of D 3211, Lions clubs and corporate offices also lend their support.
It costs Rs 3.5 lakh a month, and the Institute gets assistance from the Government’s Grant in Aid (GIA). The teachers are also very accommodative and dedicated. Sometimes insufficient funds delay their salaries but they just carry on unmindful of this shortfall, says the Principal. “We hope to establish an Endowment Scheme for Rs 1 crore by this year end,” says Rajagopal.
As I take leave, I am overwhelmed by the pack of greeting cards the children give me, all made by them!