Pawan has a gift, he can paint almost anything he sees. “He painted the Nilgiris Mountain Railway train with just thumb impressions and went around the class holding it and whistling like the steam engine,” says his teacher Arul Mary, who is delighted that this 14-year-old special child has begun to express his thoughts through sounds and actions as “he never opened his mouth earlier.” Pawan and other special children living at Rotary Ashia Residential Rehabilitation Centre for the Differently Abled, Ooty, are proving to the world that children with disabilities can also live normal lives.
Equipped with two classrooms, a dining area, separate hostel for boys and girls and a spectacular view of the blue mountains, Rotary Ashia, an RC Ooty Town, D 3202-initiative, is a place of care and love for these kids as they can “tear paper to bits, smudge paint on canvas or simply stare at the mountains. In other words, they can do whatever they want and no one would yell at them,” says Mary, who has been with the school since its inception in 2002.
The school’s correspondent Rtn Sujith recalls how Rotary gave this special school a new lease of life. In 2011, the trust that managed the school, ran dry of funds and decided to send the 28 inmates of the rehab back home. RC Ooty Town stepped in to run the school. “They were children with special needs and it was their home. We couldn’t let them go for want of money,” he says.
Today Ashia has 32 students between 10 – 22 years of age, two special educators, two management staff and two cooks. Lessons are planned according to the Madras Developmental Programme Scale, with yoga and karate also included in the syllabus. A neurologist attends to the students every month. Mary says, “We won medals for running, throwball and volleyball at the District Special Olympics.” Picnics and cultural programmes are regular here.
Talking about the bright and beautiful paintings created by these special minds, he says, “We owe a big thanks to Cynthia (USA) and Dominic (Italy), a tourist couple, who offered painting lessons for the children. He taught them abstract painting and each child came up with a masterpiece.” On the last day of the class they hosted an exhibition. “We sold two paintings for Rs 10,000, and the money was used to improve infrastructure and buy quality painting material for the children.”
Muniyandi (22) of Ashia can only paint squares, but surprisingly his was the first painting that was sold at the exhibition. “I was surprised to see that he drew a street full of buildings and grey clouds,” says Mary. Yamuna’s mother feels that her daughter “is doing much better now. Her paintings are beautiful and if I had the money
I would buy them.” This exhibition is an annual affair now and the paintings are sold online and through WhatsApp.
The students also participate in the annual Christmas sale held at Hebron International School, Ooty, to sell handmade greeting cards and small crafts and that helps them earn Rs 1,000-3,000.
Pointing out that some parents don’t want to take these children home during the holidays too, Mary says, “They are embarrassed or otherwise get tired of them. We have to force them to come and take these kids home.” But the school staff is delighted to spend time with them even on a holiday. “I make a special menu for the children who stay here during the holidays. Non-veg and North Indian cuisines are their favourite,” says the cook Jothi.
The school received special appreciation from the District Collector for a mock fire drill. “Within 90 seconds we had evacuated the campus and the Collector was surprised by the watchfulness of our special 32,” says Sujith. “We want other clubs to help us host these exhibitions in other cities; it will boost our income and we will be able to bring in more special students,” he adds.